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In a historic move, the Seanad has voted in favour of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. The bill, which passed its crucial second stage, would make Ireland the first country in Europe to end trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, on the basis that the settlements violate international humanitarian law and human rights standards and are recognised as being illegal by every country in the world bar Israel.

On the bill passing, Rosamond Bennett, Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland said: “Today’s vote sends an important message across the globe, that international law exists to protect people and their rights across the world. For too long, settlements and the produce that comes from them have been at the expense of Palestinian rights, forcing them off their land and into poverty.

“Today’s vote was a vote in support of the rule of law, for justice, and for human rights. We look forward to continuing to support the passage of this important legislation through the Oireachtas.”

What would the bill ban?

The legislation would ban trade in goods produced in illegal settlements in occupied territories, including Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian 'West Bank'. Though these settlements are repeatedly condemned by the EU, UN and Irish Government as illegal, they continue to extract valuable natural resources and agricultural produce from occupied land, which is then exported and sold around the world. The bill does not ban Israeli products, only goods produced in settlements established beyond its borders that Ireland has long condemned as illegal.

A young girl and her sister planting gourd seeds in the West  Bank in a project supported by Christian Aid

Why is it needed?

Under international law, settlement construction is a war crime and a grave breach of international humanitarian law (Fourth Geneva Convention; Rome Statute of the ICC). The settlements created by such a transfer are also illegal under domestic Irish law (Int Criminal Court Act 2006; Geneva Conventions Acts 1962 & 1998).

Israel has occupied the Palestinian 'West Bank' since 1967 and has since transferred over 600,000 of its citizens into illegal settlements in that territory. This has been facilitated by the confiscation of over 40% of available land, and severely reduced the land available for agriculture, housing and basic services. It has caused immense suffering and a deteriorating human rights situation on the ground, particularly due to restricted access to water and electricity.

Farmers from the West Bank, Fayez and Muna al-Taneeb, visited Ireland in the lead up to the vote. The couple have struggled for decades to save their farm despite family land being repeatedly demolished and their crops being polluted.

Supporting the bill

Christian Aid, Trócaire, Sadaka and the Global Legal Action Network are supporting the bill and have urged senators and TDs to ensure its passage into legislation.

Rosamond Bennett said: “A viable and lasting peace in the region has to be grounded in international law and these settlements are a clear violation of international law and may even constitute war crimes under the Geneva conventions.

“By supporting this bill, Ireland is reasserting its commitment to justice, peace, and the rule of law at a time when many of these values are under threat around the world. This bill is an important move in support of these values.”

What happens next?

The bill now goes for further discussion and analysis at the relevant Oireachtas committee. The focus in the short term will be to ensure that this bill gets moved to Committee stage as early as possible in the Autumn.