The Occupied Territories Bill

 

Sir, – It is welcome news that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are holding to their principled support for the Occupied Territories Bill, in the current negotiations on a programme for government (“Proposed ban on Israeli goods a sticking point in government talks”, News, May 27th).

In this they are rightly supported by the vast majority of the Irish people, and by the majority of TDs in the Dáil. What is very unwelcome is the stand of Fine Gael, supported by the interference and lobbying of Donald Trump’s US embassy, in opposing the Bill.

Indeed, it has been US encouragement that has led the right-wing Israeli government to now threaten to annex the West Bank, in pursuit of its settlement policy.

As a Palestinian-Irish woman who has been living here since 1988, who is forced to live in exile due to Israel’s discriminatory policies and who longs to return to her homeland and walk among her people in a free Palestine, I can say that Ireland has always been a great supporter of justice and equality in the world. This may be because Ireland has itself lived through arduous colonialism.

We Palestinians, see Ireland as a beacon of hope, we have strong faith that it can put a stop to Israel’s seven decades of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, mass incarceration, illegal annexation and racist apartheid by enacting the Occupied Territories Bill.

Now is not the time to forget about the people of Palestine; indeed with Israel’s plan to illegally annex the West Bank, such robust legislation is needed now more than ever to defend international law.

I believe that Ireland has the power to help ensure that Israel’s continued violations of international law does not continue unpunished.

A small but significant start would be to ensure that the next government will enact the Occupied Territories Bill which will ban trade with Israel’s illegal colonial settlements in Palestine. – Yours, etc,

FATIN AL TAMMI,

Castleknock,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – As a group of Irish human rights and trade union organisations that work with a broad range of Palestinian and Israeli representatives, we strongly reject the assertion of the Ireland Israel Alliance that the Occupied Territories Bill is either illegal or extremist (Letters, May 28th).

Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land are illegal under international law – a point repeatedly affirmed by the Government of Ireland and our EU partners. Yet millions of euro worth of goods produced in these illegal settlements are exported each year, sold on the supermarket shelves of those same states.

It is difficult to square this rhetorical condemnation with the continued economic support that flows to the settlements, the engine of the occupation and a key driving force of human rights violations, inequality and injustice.

With the progression of the Bill through the Seanad and the Dáil, various legal opinions were given that expressed the view that stopping trade with Israeli settlements does not breach EU law, ranging from Senator Michael McDowell, himself a former attorney general; Takis Tridimas, professor of EU law at King’s College London and a barrister with an extensive record of practice before the European courts; and Prof James Crawford, a judge of the International Court of Justice.

It is revealing to contrast the approach being taken by the Government to this Bill with the approach taken to banning goods from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. In his autobiography, the former Labour Party minister Ruairí Quinn recalls how, following the renowned strike by the Dunnes Stores workers over their refusal to handle such goods, the government sought to ban their importation. The original advice of the then-attorney general, Peter Sutherland, was that such a ban would be contrary to the law of what was then the European Economic Community.

Undeterred by that advice, the former minister identified a basis under international law for prohibiting trade in goods produced with forced prison labour, which white South African farmers were employing at the time. By then a new attorney general, John Rogers, had been appointed and his advice was again sought. In the words of the former minister, the advice was “very much a case of the legal bottle being half full rather than half empty”. And with that the historic ban was adopted.

The reality of Israel’s disregard for international law has been laid bare in recent weeks, given the agreement reached by Israel’s two largest political parties to annex formally large parts of the West Bank as early as July, further emphasising that Palestinians need international support now more than ever.

This support must move beyond mere condemnation. It requires ending the culture of impunity enjoyed by Israeli authorities, and ensuring that states like Ireland act on their international obligations not to render aid or assistance towards an illegal situation and flagrant breaches of international law.

It was with this in mind that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Prof Michael Lynk, writing in The Irish Times a number of weeks ago (Letters, April 29th), outlined the clear moral, legal and political case for the Occupied Territories Bill and called for its swift enactment.

As Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Fine Gael continue to negotiate a programme for government, we urge them to listen. – Yours, etc,

ROSAMOND BENNETT,

Chief Executive,

Christian Aid Ireland;

PATRICIA KING,

General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions;

MARIE CRAWLEY,

Chairwoman,

Sadaka – The Ireland

Palestine Alliance;

CAOIMHE DE BARRA,

Chief Executive,

Trócaire,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.