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Opinion Ireland’s recognition of Palestine is welcome, but it must be followed by real action

ActionAid’s Jamil Sawalmeh and Karol Balfe say only a ceasefire will make a difference to the people of Gaza.


THE WORDS OF Taoiseach Simon Harris, announcing Ireland’s historic decision to recognise Palestine as a state, were compelling and profound.

Outlining a deep connection with our two histories, he spoke of the importance for Ireland when, on 21 January 1919, we asked the world to recognise our own independence, Ireland’s distinct national identity, historical struggle and right to self-determination and justice.

One hundred and five years later, he stated: “We use the same language to support the recognition of Palestine as a state, we do so as we recognise freedom and justice as fundamentals of international law.’

The Taoiseach clearly condemned the violence inflicted on Israel by Hamas on October 7th, and unequivocally set out Ireland’s support for a two-state solution, the release of hostages and the strong desire for peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. His message was designed to be measured.

It was, however, an important moment of solidarity and connection with Ireland and Palestine. Ireland’s struggle with a colonial power shaped the experience of its people, just as the Palestinians’ struggle with a colonial power shapes its people. In both cases land was forcibly taken, a population faced starvation due to famine, and violence was used as a control. Recognition on the global stage mattered to the founders of the Irish State, and today it matters to Palestinians also.

Having their own state is, first and foremost, a right of the Palestinian people, a right recognised by the international community and enshrined in several United Nations General Assembly resolutions.

Acknowledging Palestine’s statehood is not only a principled stance but also a vital measure in rectifying the enduring injustices faced by its people.

Violent occupation

For over 75 years, Palestinians have endured a brutal and violent occupation, as well as effective military control of all aspects of their life. Recognition of statehood is an essential component of addressing the series of violations against the rights of the Palestinian people, perpetrated by the state of Israel. These violations encompass a wide range of actions, including land confiscation, military occupation, settlement expansion, forced displacement, arbitrary detentions, punitive house demolitions and human rights abuses — all of which have had profound and enduring consequences for Palestinian communities.

By affirming Palestine’s sovereignty, Ireland, along with Spain and Norway, are demonstrating their dedication to upholding international law and human rights. As the Taoiseach said, it is ‘the right thing to do’.

But the reality is that this much-needed and welcome action by the Irish government, and other governments, is not enough.

In just under eight months, Israel has killed over 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, 72% of them women and children. It has razed Gaza to the ground, destroying 70% of its infrastructure. There are over 15,000 children killed and over 17,000 left orphans. The population is starving. Women are giving birth in the most horrendous of situations. Almost 80% of the population has been displaced, some up to eight times.

The Taoiseach spoke of offering hope and encouragement to Palestinians in ‘one of their darkest hours.’ This darkness is something almost beyond comprehension. Despite the promise of never again, Gaza is experiencing the worst levels of violence in modern history, with an unbearable loss of innocent lives. The International Court of Justice has clearly set out the risk of a plausible genocide and a man-made famine which is underway.

According to the International Criminal Court, this deliberate famine has been orchestrated by Israel’s state policy. Children are dying of hunger, and many of those who survive face life-long consequences of starvation and malnutrition. They have lost parents, grandparents and siblings, and have suffered the trauma of brutal violence. Israel’s bloody onslaught on Rafah has all but collapsed the humanitarian access so desperately needed.

Aid under siege

Over the past week, one of ActionAid’s partners, Al-Awda Hospital in Jabalia, northern Gaza, was placed under siege by the Israeli army, resulting in the complete blockade of access to and from the facility. This is the only hospital providing maternity and orthopaedic care in northern Gaza.

On Wednesday evening Israeli forces invaded the hospital and forced the medical staff to leave, the outcome for the remaining patients, including newborn babies is unknown.

In a voice note sent to ActionAid staff the hospital acting director told how staff were targeted by snipers, how solar panels were destroyed, and ambulances attacked – all following the same pattern of the last eight months, where Israel kills and maims and then brutally attacks the hospitals that might help people. Similar destruction has happened to schools, universities and mosques. Every fabric of life in Gaza is destroyed.

In the context of these atrocious crimes, plausible genocide and a cruel and brutal famine, Palestinians need an immediate and permanent ceasefire more than anything else at this moment. Recognition as a state is not enough, all countries must exert maximum diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to end the war.

Ireland must take action itself. Whilst continuing to keep pressure on the European Union, we must accept our own obligations including enacting the Occupied Territories Bill — which many organisations in Ireland including Trócaire, Sadaka and Christian Aid Ireland, have pushed for — and pressuring the EU for meaningful actions such as suspending the EU-Israel Trade Agreement.

The horrific violence in Gaza has been perpetrated by Israel, armed and funded by the USA and some EU countries. Those calling for statehood must back that up with calls for a total arms embargo against the Israeli state. Ireland and others must push the United States to stop the brutality.

Finally, and crucially, this recognition should also go hand in hand with establishing accountability mechanisms to end the occupation and prevent ongoing and systemic violations of international law over decades by the Israeli state against the occupied Palestinian territory and its people.

Jamil Sawalmeh is the Country Director of ActionAid Palestine and Karol Balfe is CEO of ActionAid Ireland. ActionAid Ireland is part of a global federation with a presence in over 71 countries working for a world free from poverty and injustice.

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Jamil Sawalmeh & Karol Balfe