'Ireland can make history by backing human rights in Palestine in Seanad tomorrow'

Nisreen, aged 17 and her 4.5 year old sister Tahany plant gourd seeds. They can now sustain a small vegetable patch, thanks to the EJ YMCA water project funded by Christian Aid in Rashayda area, southern West Bank. Photo: Christian Aid

Tomorrow Frances Black’s Occupied Territories Bill 2018 will go before the Seanad for vote.

The legislation would ban trade in goods produced in illegal settlements in occupied territories - including Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian 'West Bank'.

Though these settlements are repeatedly condemned by the EU, UN & Irish Government as illegal, they continue to extract valuable natural resources and agricultural produce from occupied land, which is then exported and sold around the world.

The bill does not ban Israeli products, only goods produced in settlements established illegally beyond its borders.

Here Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, sets out her perspective on the context behind the bill and offers her appreciation to the Irish people for their solidarity with Palestinian people.

This bill represents a historic opportunity for Ireland to act

The support this bill has received across the Irish political spectrum has been inspiring, and I truly hope that all of Ireland will come out in support of legislation that will hold Israel accountable for its violations of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, other provisions of international law as well as being an affront to the most basic moral decency.

For decades, Israel has displaced, oppressed and held the Palestinian people captive with total impunity.

Every year our people mark another tragic anniversary, and we have responded positively to every peace initiative, yet we are not any closer to justice. It has been more than a century since the British Balfour Declaration that promised the land of one people to another, unleashing historic forces that changed the fate of the Palestinian people forever.

It has been more than 70 years since the Nakbah, when 800,000 Palestinians were uprooted, dispossessed and expelled as result of widespread massacres and the destruction of their homes, villages and towns. It has been more than 50 years since Israel occupied the rest of Palestine and continues to subjugate an entire people.

Israel’s construction of illegal settlements and the Apartheid Wall are just a continuum of these injustices that persist until today. Israel has carved up Palestinian land, cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank, destroyed the two-state solution and undermined the prospects of peace.

Israeli settlements ravage our land, steal our resources and exploit our people and make up 42% of the West Bank. Many have their own roads and infrastructure in the heart of Palestine – for Jewish use only.

There is no clearer system of Apartheid than when a Palestinian farmer can’t use a settler-only road that cuts through his farm land.

Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in Jerusalem. Photo: Christian Aid

These settlements are also home to extremist, bigoted and armed Israeli settlers that have created a system of terror and violence, whereby they kill Palestinian civilians, destroy crops, vandalize homes and property, and attack mosques and churches with impunity. Not only have these attacks been accommodated by the Israeli occupation authorities in many cases the army has been overtly complicit in protecting the settlers.

As numerous Irish officials witnessed and reported, Israel deliberately persists in building Jewish-only settlements. The only way to bring Israel to compliance with international law and moral imperatives is to hold Israel to account.

Despite decades of injustices, Israel has been given a free hand to continue with its morally, politically, and legally repugnant behaviour.

It is time to put an end to this cruel system of abuse, as well as the preferential treatment that Israel has received for so long. It is time for Europe to act on the basis of its own legislation, policy and principles. We look to Ireland to be the trail blazer in this regard.

We are extremely thankful for Ireland’s longstanding support for Palestine and the Palestinian people. This bond between our peoples has been forged through our shared struggles for justice and freedom. The Irish government's decision to become the first European country to recognise the PLO and call for the establishment of a Palestinian State as far back as 1980 was a watershed moment in our relations.

This is the village of Al Rashayda, a Palestinian Bedouin community in Area C of the West Bank. The community is supported by Christian Aid to build resilience and develop livelihoods in this context of conflict and Israeli military occupation. The Bedouins in Al Rashayda, who used to be nomadic but who are now forced to settle by the occupation's policies, are severely affected by water shortages and movement and access restrictions imposed by Israel, both of which damage their livelihoods significantly. Photo: Christian Aid.

During this dark chapter in our history, we must speak out clearly and courageously in support of our shared universal values of peace, justice, freedom and a life of dignity.

Everything we stand for; everything we struggle for is being challenged from forces across the world. With populism, racism xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, hyper-nationalism, isolationism and entho-sectarianism on the rampage and with the American administration’s embrace of these destructive attitudes as well as fundamentalist Zionism, we are witnessing all those anti peace and justice forces attempting to undermine and destroy our search for a just solution based on international law, multilateralism and human responsibility.

It has become even more imperative that we stand together.

This bill represents a historic opportunity for Ireland to act on these values and once again support the Palestinian people and their just cause. We hope we can count on Ireland to choose the right side of history and justice again.

* Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and a Palestinian lawmaker.

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