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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Alamy Stock Photo Palestinian injured in an Israeli strike are rushed to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Holly Cairns What Israel is doing in Gaza is beyond horrific - we cannot stand idly by

The SocDems leader says the moral authority of Western leaders is lying in tatters, but it’s not too late to take democratic steps for peace.

THE CARNAGE IN Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe and the moral authority of Western nations has been exposed as a sham.

As I write, the death toll in Gaza has exceeded 11,000. By the time you read this, it will likely be much higher. Among this number are more than 5,000 children who have died excruciating deaths – they have been incinerated by Israeli missiles, crushed by falling debris or buried alive under mountains of rubble.

In the first three weeks of this conflict, the number of children killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza had surpassed the annual number of children killed in global conflict zones every year since 2019. Gaza is now a graveyard for children, with an average of 160 children killed every day.

For those who survive, life in Gaza is a living hell. Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tonnes of explosives on an area half the size of Louth in just over a month. More bombs were dropped on Gaza in the first two weeks of this conflict than were dropped on Afghanistan in an entire year.

Daily torture

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed and children are enduring operations like amputations without anaesthetic. Every day, 180 women give birth, 15% of whom will experience complications and need medical care that is currently unavailable.

Supplies of food, water, medical supplies and fuel to Gaza remain cut off, with Israeli authorities only allowing a trickle of humanitarian aid to enter. Emaciated women cannot produce milk to feed their babies; one million children lack access to clean water and food supplies are at critical lows.

The level of cruelty and indiscriminate violence being inflicted on a captive civilian population is unprecedented. Nowhere is safe.

UN schools, hospitals, media centres, bakeries and residential buildings have all been deliberately targeted by Israeli missiles. The entire Strip is being reduced to death and dust.

I unequivocally condemn the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israel on 7 October in which 1,400 people were killed and at least 243 people were kidnapped. Taking hostages is a war crime and every hostage must be released.

I understand, and empathise with, the rage, grief and fear of the Israeli people. The appalling attack by Hamas triggered generational trauma that is raw and real. Israel unquestionably has a right to defend itself.

What Israel is doing is not a defence. It is an annihilation – laying waste to Gaza almost in its entirety, decimating civilian infrastructure and killing civilians with impunity.

Israel is imposing collective punishment on 2.3 million people who have been trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison for nearly two decades.

Despite this, much of the Western world can’t even muster up a single word of criticism for the Israeli government. These are countries that claim to respect international law and value human rights. They just don’t appear to view the Palestinians as being deserving of those rights or protections.

Ireland has been almost alone in even demanding a ceasefire. In the UK, even the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has refused to consider a ceasefire. The moral authority of Western leaders lies in tatters, buried under the rubble in Gaza.

What is happening in Gaza is not a war, it is an ethnic cleansing. The violence is not just confined to Gaza. Since 7 October, attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank on Palestinians, which were already at record highs, have increased exponentially.

In the past month, at least 178 Palestinians, including 45 children, have been killed by Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank – an area where Hamas has no presence. At least 1,000 Palestinians have been displaced, including 424 children, and more than 2,000 people have been detained. The number of Palestinians held in administrative detention – a euphemism for internment – increased from 1,319 on October 1 to 2,070 on November 1.

For too long, the Palestinian people have been driven from their land, corralled and confined into open air prisons. Forced to exist under an apartheid regime that has inflicted injustice after injustice on innocent people. This is a regime that has continuously massacred civilians – the escalation of violence in Gaza has just reached an unprecedented level.

Diplomacy matters

Ireland may be a small country, but we must use whatever influence we have to stop this carnage. Next week, the Dáil will debate a Social Democrats’ motion that calls on the government to do more than just condemn Israeli atrocities – it demands actions to accompany those words.

The Taoiseach has previously stated he believes multilateral economic sanctions are the most effective. As a member of the EU, we have an opportunity to advocate for exactly that.

The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, with trade worth more than €46 billion per year.

Trade between the EU and Israel is governed by the EU-Israel Association Agreement, a legal contract that has an ‘essential elements’ human rights clause. This means that respect for human rights is supposed to form the bedrock of the deal, and a breach of those rights is sufficient for either side to unilaterally suspend the trade deal. If the destruction in Gaza is not sufficient to trigger this clause, nothing ever will.

There are other economic sanctions that can be applied. Israel is currently a party to Horizon Europe, a €95 billion EU fund for research and innovation. Access to this lucrative funding stream should also be suspended.

There are measures we can take in this country too. The refusal of the Israeli government to stop the deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists, UN staff and healthcare workers means the diplomatic status of the Israeli ambassador should be withdrawn. The Occupied Territories Bill and the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023 – which penalise economic activity in the Occupied Territories – should immediately be enacted.

The death and destruction in Gaza must stop. If Israel won’t end its slaughter, then it must face consequences like economic sanctions. This is the bare minimum the international community could, and should, do.

Ultimately, we are hoping for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. There will not be a military solution to this conflict, there can only be a political solution.

The Irish government should also pursue all possible avenues at the EU and the UN to build an international alliance for peace to provide a pathway away from violence and back to the negotiating table. The prospect of a lasting peace, and justice, must be kept alive.

Holly Cairns is a Social Democrats TD for Cork South-West and is the leader of the party.