De Rossa calls for an end to “apartheid” in the West Bank and Gaza

Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa last night criticised Israeli policy and the system of “apartheid” in operation in much of the West-Bank and Gaza. Mr. De Rossa made the comments during a briefing following last week’s visit to the Palestinian Territory, where he led an official European Parliament Delegation.

De Rossa, in his capacity as President of the European Parliament's Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), led a cross-party delegation of eight MEPs on a four-day fact finding mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

(Picture: Erez crossing, where last year MEPs were held up for 2 hours before being given permission to cross)

However the visit was impeded as the permission given by Israel to travel into Gaza was rescinded by Israeli authorities. Although, the official reason given by Israeli authorities was that the revocation of permission was for “security reasons”, it occurred directly after the publication of a statement by the EU Foreign Minister reiterating EU support for a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as a capital for both states, and calling for an end to settlement activity. The delegation firmly believes this was the actual reason for them being prevented from entering Gaza. Mr. De Rossa also described having to wait for two hours at checkpoints for supposed bureaucratic reasons, despite the fact that all the relevant documents had been given to the Israel department of Foreign Affairs prior to the trip.

Mr. De Rossa is not the only Irish politician to have difficulty gaining access to the occupied territories. At a separate conference last night, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin announced that he will make another attempt to visit Gaza in January. Earlier this month Minister Martin told the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs that he had been refused permission to visit by the Israeli authorities. Yesterday he repeated that he “remains unconvinced about the reasons advanced for the refusal of the visit”.

“I think it sends out a very bad signal,” the Minister added. “It is tantamount to a statement that we do not really want people to see what is going on in Gaza.”

Despite the fact that the delegation were denied access to Gaza, they were able to meet with PLC members in Bethlehem and Hebron and also with members of the Palestinian community in an area known as Sheikh Jarrah, many of whom have been evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers. The trip also included a meeting with Prime Minister Salem Fayyad.

Mr. De Rossa also referenced a damning report by the EU Heads of Mission in the Middle East. The council has refused to publish the report however it has been unofficially circulated. That report is a clear indictment of Israel’s policy of claiming to want negotiations for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state while it continues to undermine the very basis for that state.

The report found:

  • The continued expansion of Israeli settlements which have intensified since 2008, and are heading towards 200.000, “making the creation of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem inviable (sic)”
  • Road plans are for Israeli settler use only
  • It is virtual impossibility for most Palestinian residents to get building permits
  • Ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes and evictions of families. Currently 60,000 Palestinians are at risk of having their homes demolished due to lack of permits
  • Some 17 per cent of students face serious difficulties in reaching educational services with a further 32 per cent reporting longer journeys in getting to learning-centres
  • The violence of Israeli settlers, including the taking of life with apparent impunity
  • The report goes on to detail the daily difficulties in accessing health care, access to religious sites, both for Muslims and Christians

De Rossa said that the mood on the ground in the occupied territories was despondent and that;

“The likelihood of establishing an independent Palestinian state through negotiations is rapidly disappearing. Israel’s occupation and colonisation of East Jerusalem, where there are now close to 200,000 settlers, and of the West Bank, where there are now over 300,000 settlers, coupled with the ongoing siege of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians are denied their basic human rights, leaves the moderate Palestinian leadership with virtually nothing to negotiate.”

Mr. De Rossa also expressed concern that there was little hope of a solution amongst Palestinians and “where you don’t have hope you have violence.”

Politico contacted the Israeli embassy for comment. Derek O'Flynn from the Israeli Embassy told Politico; “With regard to de Rossa's comments on 'apartheid'...Israel does not wish to rule the Palestinians and accepts in principle the establishment of a Palestinian state, provided that it not be a terrorist state and that it exists in peace alongside Israel...The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel. But Israeli Arabs in Israel itself are citizens of Israel, and under Israeli law they have equal rights with Israeli Jews, Christians, Druze etc. Israeli Arabs have political parties, serve in the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the IDF. Israel is the only country in the Middle East which is a pluralist democracy and where its citizens have equal rights regardless of gender, race or religion. This is scarcely 'apartheid'.”

The full text of the Israeli embassy's reaction to the comments made by both Proinsias De Rossa and Micheál Martin can be read here.

Politico has gained access to the Report by the EU Heads of Mission in the Middle East, it can be read below, or at the following link: EU heads of mission reports on East Jerusalem, Jerusalem and the Middle East peace process