Breen speaks out on Flotilla Attack

June 4th, 2010 - Pat Breen

Interception of Gaza Humanitarian Flotilla: Dail Motion

Wednesday, 2nd June 2010

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the motion tabled by the Government. I remind Deputy Ó Snodaigh, who commented on Deputy Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael Party that the four members of my party who travelled to Israel and Gaza in April 2009 were the first Members of the Oireachtas to travel to the region to see at first hand the devastation caused by Operation Cast Lead. During our visit, we had fruitful discussions with all sides in Gaza and Israel. I assure Deputy Ó Snodaigh that the situation in Gaza is at the top of my party’s agenda.
This debate should focus on ensuring that Europe works together. While we deplore the loss of life which occurred when the Free Gaza flotilla was intercepted at sea by Israeli military forces on Sunday night and Monday morning last and sympathise very much with those who were killed, this debate should focus on the lifting of the siege to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. For far too long, the people of Gaza have been ignored by the European Union and we must use this opportunity to have the blockade lifted. I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his counterparts in other European Union member states to place the blockade of Gaza at the top of their agenda at the next European Council meetings.
Gaza is a strip of land 25 miles long and six miles wide. With a population of 1.1 million, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. On my visit to Gaza with Deputies Timmins, Kenny and Shatter, I described the area as an open prison. People cannot leave the strip which is subject to a blockade. That a metal and concrete fence separates Gaza from Israel speaks volumes.
Operation Cast Lead left a trail of devastation in Gaza. We saw at first hand the misery caused by the three week operation. More than 15,000 homes were damaged and 100,000 people displaced. The casualties of war were 1,400 Palestinians killed against 13 Israelis, some of whom were killed by friendly fire. As in all wars, the victims were children. Of the casualties in Gaza, 40% were children who could not defend themselves and did not stand against a chance against F16 bombers.
Deputies Michael D. Higgins and Timmins referred to the destruction of industry in Gaza. On our visit, we saw an ice cream factory which had employed 250 people and had been razed to the ground. Ironically, the factory had exported most of what it produced to Israel. With unemployment currently standing at 80%, what future will the people of Gaza have?
Before the invasion of Gaza, the area had a strong agricultural sector, producing 400,000 tonnes of food per annum. Israeli bombs destroyed most production, flattening orchards and olive and date groves. As a result, little food is being produced in Gaza. We also saw at first hand the lack of mechanical machines in Gaza. We observed rubble being removed in donkeys and carts. As Deputy Kenny stated, we also witnessed the destruction visited on the American school in Gaza, one of 18 schools bombed in Operation Cast Lead.
Other speakers referred to what has occurred as a result of the blockade. For many years, Israel restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. It was only when Hamas took control in 2007 that Israel imposed an extensive, restrictive regime and created what I have described as an open prison. Gazans may not leave and food cannot be exported.
This debate should focus on lifting the siege and the terrible humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A Gazan who suffers a heart attack and needs to be transported to Jordan or East Jerusalem will probably die before being able to pass the Israeli border checkpoint at Erez.
The events of Monday morning must be condemned, as they have been by many countries all over the world. I am pleased to note Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative, has issued a statement in conjunction with her Russian counterpart. This is a unifying move. The Israeli actions have been condemned by the United Nations Security Council which called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation, an interesting choice of words.
We have a golden opportunity to ensure the crisis in Gaza is discussed at international level and pressure is applied to Israel to lift the blockade. While the wall built around the occupied territories has prevented suicide bombings, it has created a catastrophe. Many questions must be asked about the events of Monday morning and different answers will be given depending on to whom one speaks. Who started the violence when the Mavi Marmara was invaded by Israeli commandos? The activists on board state the commandos started shooting the moment they hit the decks. The Israelis, however, have a different version and claim the commandos were put under pressure. A proper investigation into the incident is necessary to arrive at the truth.
As other speakers have said, I would hope that the MV Rachel Corrie would make its way to Gaza with its humanitarian aid, which is needed. We know Israel has restricted the goods coming into Gaza. Children have not had a proper education since January 2009 and books cannot be brought in. Cement and steel cannot be brought in for fear it would be used for rockets to be launched into Israeli territory.
When we finish this evening’s debate it is important that all the political parties in the House unite. A great Irishman, John Ging, has taken over a job with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza and his life is at risk all the time. He is to be commended on his courage and on how he is trying to unify the people in Gaza regardless of whether they support Hamas or Fatah. I will be asking the Minister some questions later. The time has come for Europe and our counterparts throughout the world, including America, to act to lift the blockade. If anything comes out of the bloodshed from Monday morning it should be that Europe speaks with one voice and works together. I urge the Minister in conjunction with his counterparts, the Spanish Presidency and the incoming Belgian Presidency to put this matter at the top of the agenda.