Hagai El-Ad, the director of the human rights organisation B’Tselem, and Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), both Trócaire partners, recently visited Ireland and the UK on a historic joint trip to inform the public and politicians about the day-to-day realities facing Palestinians and what the Irish Government can to address human rights violations that are occurring on a daily basis.
Mr El-Ad and Mr Sourani urged the Irish Government to be on the “right side of history” and officially take action against the injustices and apartheid being committed against Palestinians.
Apartheid is a crime against humanity under international law and is a system of institutionalised racial segregation.
For more than quarter of a century, B’Tselem and PCHR say they have documented the many facets of the Israeli apartheid system against Palestinians, best captured in the discriminative legal, legislative, political, and administrative foundations and practices that Israel employed to impose a Jewish hegemony over all territories under its control.
The human rights organisations state that these practices inherently deprive Palestinians of their basic rights, dismantle Palestinian geography, fragment Palestinian society into administrative and political groups under Israeli control and usurp Palestinians’ natural resources and lands for the benefit of Jewish populations.
Mr Sourani said that the situation in Gaza is deteriorating every day as 2.2 million people live in 365 km² in the Gaza strip.
“I have always lived in Gaza, and I never expected the situation would be as bad,” Mr Sourani said.
“There is no movement of goods or individuals. We have one of the highest percentages of university graduates in the world, we have a very skilled working class, a strong business community. But, with the blockade, and the disconnection from the outside world, the level of unemployment rose to 65 percent, those living under the poverty line is 90 percent. As a result, more than 80pc of people are receiving development aid.”
“Israel shifted us to be a nation of beggars which is unfair and unjust. We are freedom fighters, people who are seeking independence. We deserve justice and dignity.”
After meeting with Minister of State Joe O’Brien as well as a number of TDs and senators in Dublin during a visit organised by Trócaire and Christian Aid, Hagai El-Ad, director of B’Tselem, said Ireland could be “a leading voice internationally in ending this apartheid”.
“The occupation and apartheid that we’re fighting in Palestine isn’t a domestic issue, it’s of great international concern. The situation makes the news when there is visible violence like an Israeli attack on Gaza. There are many more mundane aspects such as Israel’s effort to push Palestinians off their land in the West Bank by not allowing communities to be connected to basic infrastructure such as water and electricity. This invisible violence is the day-to-day reality for many Palestinians,” Mr El-Ad said.
He added that the Irish public has a key role to play in the fight for justice in Palestine.
“Politicians and elected officials, even if they understand the situation and responsibilities, they are very concerned about being smeared as anti-Semites, which is tactic that Israel uses very often to push against any criticism against Palestinians. Many politicians would rather dodge the issue and not get themselves into hot water.
“If the public demands that foreign policy be finally aligned with the protection of the rights of people who are suffering day-in and day-out, and if the public demands that there isn’t just lip service but real action, then we have a fighting chance. The public can and should convince its leaders,” Mr El-Ad said.
A recent report from B’Tselem and PCHR found that the Israeli military law enforcement system operates as a “whitewashing” mechanism. The report states that investigations into fighting in Gaza are always carried out by the Israeli military, freeing government level officials – who authorised the bombing policy and ordered the use of lethal military force – from investigation or accountability. As a result, the report states that no one responsible for this policy of repeated human rights violations has ever been investigated.
In February, Amnesty International found similar findings in their report which concluded that all Israeli institutions are involved in the system of apartheid against Palestinians within Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory, and Palestinian refugees in diaspora.
Mr Sourani said that Ireland now has “unique and special role to play” in bringing these violations to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The ICC is now the right place to bring those who have committed war crimes to justice. We are proud in Palestine of our unique and special connection with the Irish civil society organisations, human rights activists and lawyers. We want Ireland to take a leading role in working against the apartheid system, and helping in the struggle for justice at the ICC,” Mr Sourani said.
He added that in recent months, Palestinian people were very proud to see how the international community reacted so quickly and generously to the people of Ukraine following Russian invasion.
“Nobody knows invasion and occupation more than us. We want the world to stand for law, justice and dignity. We are also entitled to the same rights and we need to see it applicable in Ukraine and in Palestine also. We are proud of countries like Ireland who are playing a leading role in this regard,” Mr Sourani said.
He added that despite the current bleak situation, the people of Gaza will continue to have hope for a better future.
“We are on the right side of history. We will never be good victims. Nobody will be able to take the hope or strategic optimism from our heart or mind. We know one day we shall overcome. We are strong enough to resist the criminal occupation but we are much stronger with the support of free and committed people across the globe, especially Ireland, of whom we are so proud to be supported by,” Mr Sourani said.