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Mike Murphy: Why I’m supporting a call on the EU to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements

The broadcaster lends his support to a group of NGOs seeking an end to EU trade with Israeli settlements in occupied territories.

Mike Murphy

I WAS HEARTENED to open the newspaper last week and read the report of the excellent, hard hitting and brave Amnesty International report on the regime of apartheid that Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people.

I recognised, in Amnesty’s painstakingly forensic work, what I saw myself when I visited; the horrific humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, the sprinklers and aqua parks in the settlements while Palestinians had to collect water in canisters to shower, the ripped up olive trees, the harassment of farmers and shepherds, the demolition of homes, and the separate roads for Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

My experiences had reminded me of South African Apartheid, and now here it was, clearly spelt out by an organisation as important as Amnesty International.

At last, I thought, this might propel the Irish government into finally passing Frances Black’s Occupied Territories Bill. But wouldn’t it be great to do this not just in Ireland, but across the European Union? To show, in real terms, that the people of Europe care about upholding International law and defending human rights.

Taking a stand

Then, I heard that more than 100 human rights organisations called the #StopSettlements Coalition have this week launched a European Citizens Initiative – a legal mechanism by which the EU can be compelled to discuss a law – demanding an end to EU trade with illegal settlements in occupied territories.

The coalition includes international organisations such as Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and Avaaz, while here at home Trócaire, Action Aid, UpLift, ICTU, Christian Aid, Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, and the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign are some of those involved.

Everyday people and committed human rights groups are seeking the signatures of at least one million EU citizens to demand that the EU bureaucracy listen to them and act morally. The proposed law would apply to all illegal settlements in territories occupied or annexed by any of the EU’s trade partners, whether that be Russia, Israel, Morocco or any other state.

You don’t have to be an international relations specialist to see that territorial aggression is on the rise and that this threatens international peace, stability and the rule of law. That is why I am strongly of the belief that it’s absolutely essential we create a situation where the EU will no longer reward illegal settlements with trade and profits.

Complicit in oppression

It has been argued that Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestine constitute a war crime, a charge echoed most recently by United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, Michael Lynk, last July. He called on the international community to designate the creation of Israeli settlements as such. The UN has requested that countries not assist them in any manner.

Yet this hasn’t stopped EU states, including Ireland, from trading with them for decades. This trade is a real and serious violation of our obligations under international law not to recognise or assist illegal settlements. Having a law prohibiting such trade would send an unambiguous and much-needed signal that the EU, its members, and its citizens, will defend human rights and international law.

On the other hand, if we don’t pass such a law, this will ensure that the status quo, whereby EU trade contributes to both the economic lifeblood and political legitimacy of illegal settlements, will remain. Worse, it’s been shown that EU trade has actually contributed directly to the expansion of Israel’s settlements.

The EU has been dangerously inconsistent in its respect of the rule of law. Why, for instance, has the bloc – commendably – ceased trading with Crimea after Russian annexation, but – shamefully – failed to do so in the case of Israeli settlements, which the Irish government last year recognised as a form of de facto annexation.

EU – defender of human rights?

The EU finds itself at a crossroads. Is it willing to stand up and show that its engagement with the world will be through a lens of respect of international law and human rights, as its rhetoric claims? Or will it continue its current practice of putting trade and profit ahead of all else?

Sadly it seems that the EU bureaucracy doesn’t even want to talk about this issue; the European Commission at first refused to even register the Citizens Initiative and had to be brought to the European Court of Justice and forced to accept it.

Many years ago the international community – and Ireland in particular – took a principled stand against South African Apartheid; that moral leadership helped bring about historic change there.

Now the European Citizens Initiative gives ordinary people a rare and exciting opportunity to express our views directly and democratically to the bureaucrats in the EU. We the citizens can take the power away from political lobbyists and push for a law that would ensure the EU never again trades with illegal settlements, anywhere, anytime.

One thing is certain. Having only partial respect for international law and human rights is showing no respect at all.

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The world is watching. It’s the European Commission’s move, and I encourage everyone who cares about the rule of law to take two minutes to sign the petition and demand the right decision.

Mike Murphy is a broadcaster and former RTÉ presenter.

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