Kitty Holland: Call for ban on imports from Israeli settlements

Kitty Holland - Irish Times

Ireland must move to ban goods imported from illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has said.

David Begg, general secretary of Ictu is calling for an “urgent meeting” with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore “to seek an immediate and effective intervention by the Irish Government in light of the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip.”

In a letter to Mr Gilmore, sent over the weekend, Mr Begg calls on the Tánaiste to demand revocation of the favoured trading status Israel enjoys with the EU and an Irish push for an EU ban on trade with Israeli settlements.

In another letter, also sent to Mr Gilmore over the weekend, a coalition of Palestinian agricultural and farming groups calls for “a ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements”.

The appropriation of Palestinian land on the West Bank has continued since 1967. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Israel has established more than 200 settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Some 42 per cent of the West Bank has been occupied by over 500,000 Israeli settlers.

Justin Kilcullen, executive director of Trócaire, says while Palestinians endure check-points, water and medicine shortages, house demolitions and land confiscations, Israeli settlers “enjoy tax-breaks [and] access to swimming pools”.

Among the settlement goods on sale here are agricultural crops, plastic garden furniture made by Keter, and Soda Stream products.

They are labelled as coming from Israel. Their value is small – between €7 and €8 million a year. However Joe O’Brien, advocacy co-ordinator with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) says an Irish ban would be internationally and symbolically “very important”.

‘Meaningful pressure’

The Palestinian farming groups say a ban on settlement imports “would apply meaningful pressure on Israel to comply with international law and end its gross infringements of the human rights of the Palestinian people.

“We urge the Irish Government to implement a ban on settlement trade as a first step towards advocating an EU-wide ban during the Irish presidency of the EU.”

A ban has been backed by Trócaire, Christian Aid, EAPPI and, in September, by the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In May, the EU Foreign Affairs Council condemned the settlements “which threaten to make the two-state solution impossible”, while in October the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, submitted a report to the General Assembly in which he said: “All companies that operate or otherwise have dealings with Israeli settlements should be boycotted until such time as they bring their operations fully into line with international human rights standards and practice.”

Mr Gilmore said he agreed a ban on settlement goods “could have a symbolic impact” but said a ban would “not, of itself make settlements unviable”.

‘No prospect’ of EU ban

“I remain convinced that there is no prospect, at this point, of reaching agreement on a ban at EU level,” Mr Gilmore said last month.

On Friday, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu approved the construction of thousands on new homes in the occupied territory of east Jerusalem, a move widely seen as retaliation for the United Nations vote on Thursday to recognise a Palestinian state.