Gaza: Immediate Ceasefire

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 2:45 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45, 7 Mai 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly condemns the ongoing genocide in Gaza that has left more than 35,000 people dead, most of them women and children; further condemns the actions of Hamas on October 7, which left 1,300 people dead and many families searching for loved ones; abhors the killing of international humanitarian aid workers seeking to deliver vital supplies to the civilian population on the brink of famine; rejects plans for a ground assault on the city of Rafah, with a refugee population of more than one million Palestinians sheltering with nowhere safe to go; regrets the failure of the international community to act decisively in the interests of peace; affirms its support for a two-state solution and the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine; calls for an immediate ceasefire in the region and the release of all hostages; further calls for an end to arms sales and transfers to Israel while the genocide continues; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to write jointly to the UK Prime Minister in pursuit of these objectives.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

In every generation, there come international events of such horror and such moral import that to remain silent is impossible. The burning moral question of this age — this moment — is the plight of the people of Palestine, particularly the nearly two million people in Gaza who have suffered months of bombardment, the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people and the virtual obliteration of large parts of civilian life, including hospitals, schools and the most basic infrastructure.

The bombardment began as a response to the actions of Hamas. On 7 October, Hamas launched a series of coordinated atrocities in Israel, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people, and took hundreds of hostages, including children and the elderly. That act was an outrage that no moral person could support and that no true supporter of the Palestinian cause could think was in the long-term best interests of the Palestinian people. It is vital to state clearly, as our motion does, that there is no contradiction between opposing and condemning the acts of Hamas on 7 October and opposing the shocking, grotesque response of Israel.

To say that Israel's response has been disproportionate would be a grotesque, shameful understatement. The response has been limitless, unrestrained and repeatedly and brazenly in violation not only of international law but of the most basic moral imperatives that we should all live by, including the imperative to protect innocent civilian life. The destruction of hospitals and schools demonstrates contempt for human life.

That has been made worse by the distortions and dissembling of Israeli Government spokespeople, up to and including the appalling Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. I will not list all the distortions, lies and obscenities that have been spoken by Israeli Government spokespeople over the past number of months, because those have, at times, been truly shocking, and I would use up all my time were I to do so. Those spokespeople have sought to shift the blame for innocent civilian deaths and to tell what amount to lies.

As we know, powerful Western allies have not just armed Israel but have too often — as they have over the past 60-plus years — sought to protect Israel from the consequences of its actions, including through the use of repeated vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions. Such actions do not just threaten the prospects for peace in the Middle East; they undermine the ability of Western democracies, which claim to support and uphold human rights, to have meaningful credibility when they talk about human rights. They undermine their ability to robustly challenge truly heinous actors, such as Vladimir Putin, by tolerating the depths of inhumanity that Israel has inflicted in Gaza.

Our motion is clear in both moral and political terms. Some people will ask why we have specifically used the word "genocide" in the text of our motion. In March, the UN special rapporteur said that she found:

"that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of [the crime of] genocide is met".

In January, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that there was a "plausible" case that Israel should take action to prevent a genocide. While it is correct to say that the court has not yet made a specific finding of genocide in a legal case, I ask Assembly Members to reflect on whether anyone could honestly and sincerely argue that they believe, in the four months since that ICC judgement was rendered, that Israel has made any serious attempts to prevent a genocide.

The definition of a "genocide" is the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group, with the aim of destroying that nation or group. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since October, and, as we speak, 1·5 million are sheltering in the border city of Rafah. To put those numbers into context, that is nearly the population of Northern Ireland — the region that we represent — sheltering, beleaguered and hungry, in one city. They are hungry, beleaguered and, in many cases, injured or suffering. They are injured from the conflict — from munitions that are manufactured in Western countries — or suffering from diseases that have not been treated properly because of the Israeli bombardment and destruction of medical facilities.

We do not know exactly when or whether Israel will begin a full-scale invasion of Rafah, but we know that, if it does, the consequences will be grave. That would inevitably and unavoidably lead to the further large-scale killing of one particular national group: the Palestinians. It will be, as it has been repeatedly over the past months, a collective punishment. Collective punishment is specifically outlawed in international law, but that is what is being meted out to the Palestinian people. The wrongs that were committed by Hamas on 7 October — they were profoundly wrong — in no way justify, legally or morally, what has been visited on the people of Palestine since. That is why our motion uses the phrase "ongoing genocide".

It is important not to make trivial comparisons between our experience here and conflicts elsewhere. I wanted to make that point. I hope that the debate will be mature, albeit grave. I am sure that strong opinions will be expressed, but I hope that we can do that in a mature way. It is important not to draw trivial comparisons between Northern Ireland and other parts of the world. That is true of what is happening in the Middle East; it is important not to draw facile comparisons. In the past seven months, as I said, 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel. That is 10 times the number killed in 30 years during our conflict. Indeed, on 7 October, 1,200 or 1,300 people were killed; that is more than a third of the total number killed in our Troubles. None of us can imagine the scale of the suffering being experienced in Gaza, but we in the Chamber know that, at some point, however deep the feelings of injustice are and however real the historical sense is of a wrong that needs to be righted, violence and vengeance need to be replaced by politics and, yes, by peace.

Even if the current ceasefire proposals are accepted by Netanyahu's ultra-nationalist Government — we must all hope that they are and that international pressure is brought so to bear very quickly in the days to come — the people of Palestine and, indeed, those in Israel affected by the events of 7 October will live with decades of pain and trauma caused by the conflict. Young children suffering now with lost limbs and lost parents will carry their pain until the end of this century and beyond, long after all of us are gone. Nothing that can be said or done now, in the Chamber or anywhere else, can undo the trauma of those children or the loss experienced by ordinary Palestinians or, as I said, the Israelis who lost family members on 7 October.

The other day, a representative of UNICEF, after his journey through Gaza, said of what he saw:

"The depth of the horror surpasses our ability to describe it".

Nothing we say now can undo the horror that has happened in the past seven or eight months, but there can be an immediate ceasefire. Politics and peace can replace violence and vengeance. Given our experience and what we have learned in a different context, we should all be willing to stand over the motion, express our solidarity with those who have experienced unimaginable pain, trauma and loss in the past number of months and say that now is the time, finally, to move beyond violence and vengeance and towards peace. I commend the motion to the Assembly.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

Obviously, I support the motion. I say that it is obvious, because Sinn Féin has been unequivocal in calling for an end to the trauma that is being inflicted on the people in Gaza. We have been unequivocal for decades in our support for the Palestinian people.

Words, really, are hard to find to describe what we are seeing. We are now almost desensitised to the violence. If you click on Instagram, you see a story from a friend who is updating you about their running journey and then, boom, there is another graphic picture of something that is happening in Gaza — babies on life support machines, with the hospital being bombed around them; journalists being murdered for speaking the truth; people fleeing on advice, only to be bombed again — and the next story is about a competition for a spa break or somebody who is out at the weekend. The conflict is being live-streamed; we have been watching it for seven months.

We know the statistics. We hear them: 35,000 people murdered; 10,000 people missing; 15,000 children killed since October; over 80,000 people injured in Gaza alone. This is just the latest phase. It has been going on for decades. Those people have been oppressed, forced to move and living in open air jails for decades, and the world has watched on. The world has endorsed it. That should bring shame to us all.

It is a humanitarian disaster.

We woke this morning to news of another missed opportunity: Israel has rejected another opportuniyy for a ceasefire. We know that that is because Israel does not want a ceasefire; Israel does not want peace. We know that Israel wants to continue this, and that is why it is incumbent on us, why there is a moral duty and an obligation on all of us to bring them to that space, force them to do the right thing and put enough pressure and shame on them to make them do what is morally correct and stop the slaughter of innocent civilians.

In Ireland, we know what colonial oppression does. We know what occupation does. We had forced starvation in this country, and they called it "famine" here too. We know the intergenerational trauma that that has left us with. The mothers with empty arms and the children without their parents: what does their future look like? Even when this is finished, they will maintain the scars for the rest of their lives. It does not bear thinking about.

We have to stand in solidarity and call for an immediate ceasefire without any considerations. We must see an end to this. There is a duty and an obligation on us to call for that, put pressure on the western Administrations who fund and support this and make people see what is right. Palestine will be free, and we in Ireland send our solidarity to the people of Gaza.

Photo of Brian Kingston Brian Kingston DUP 3:00, 7 Mai 2024

Every loss of innocent life is appalling, and that applies equally to innocent Israeli civilians, members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinians. There can never be any defence for the loss of innocent life.

The motion before us is poorly worded and factually inaccurate. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was asked by South Africa to consider whether Israel had committed genocide and did not find that to be the case. The ICJ instead ruled that Israel should follow the Geneva convention on how military actions should be conducted. On that basis, we cannot support a motion that is, essentially, inaccurate; in fact, Mr O'Toole accepted that inaccuracy in his speech. The motion rightly condemns Hamas but then wholly fails to acknowledge that the heinous and barbaric actions of Hamas on 7 October last year, when it massacred around 1,200 people in Israel and took more than 240 people hostage, would rightly demand a response from Israel. Hamas set out to provoke that reaction through a murderous onslaught that included extreme cases of sexual violence against women and girls.

The motion affirms support for a two-state solution but fails to recognise that one actor in the conflict, namely Hamas, will not accept a two-state solution. Hamas has, in its charter, the position that the state of Israel should not even exist. The motion calls for a ceasefire and for the release of hostages. The sponsors of the motion must be aware that, on 20 December last year, Israel proposed to stop fighting for a week in exchange for 40 hostages still held by Hamas but Hamas refused. The motion further fails to recognise that taking civilian hostages is a war crime and is explicitly prohibited by the Geneva convention. The sponsors and supporters of the motion fail to show any cognisance of the fact that Hamas, acting in a way that is completely contrary to the Geneva convention, is using the civilian people of the Gaza Strip as human shields. That is not conjecture; it has been accepted and reported by media organisations around the world and is fully supported by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, which has stated:

"the strategic use of human shields by groups like Hamas hinges on exploiting Israel's aim to minimize civilian casualties and the sensitivity of Western public opinion."

The United Nations Secretary-General has also categorically stated:

"Hamas and other militants use civilians as human shields".

While civilian deaths in Gaza are appalling and deeply regrettable, it is Hamas that is responsible for many of them, because it has no regard for the safety of the population.

It is regrettable that the motion was not intended to unite opinion in the Assembly. Instead, it was worded in such a way that it would divide the Assembly at this time, when talks continue towards the goal of a permanent end to hostilities.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I support the motion and do so in recognition that self-defence and legitimate requests for peace never begin with inflicting on a small population a death toll that is at least double that in the London Blitz. We may debate the exact terms used to describe it, but it is worth noting that the International Court of Justice has instructed Israel to prevent its military from committing acts that might be considered genocidal and to:

"prevent and punish ... incitement to ... genocide".

What we are witnessing is the appalling impact of civilian deaths in Gaza. It is not just beyond immoral but serves no purpose other than to create yet another generation coping with loss, grief and trauma. It is therefore difficult to find the words to express how horrified and dismayed I am that the disgusting Hamas attacks occurred in the first place and that the collective punishment of Palestinians continues to this day.

The motion identifies the events of 7 October as the immediate starting point for the current loss and destruction and identifies the need for the release of all hostages taken on that day of terror. No one in the Chamber should line up alongside or legitimise Hamas.

The motion highlights that international aid workers were among those killed. That speaks, at best, to a failure to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches a terrorised population on the brink of famine. Such a failure is not the act of a Government claiming to be operating on behalf of a democratic country. Those engaging in the indiscriminate murder of civilians, including aid workers, on that scale lost the right long ago to use the word "civilised".

It is easy to align ourselves with one favoured group or another for the purposes of political affiliation, and we do that very well in Northern Ireland. What we should be doing, however, is aligning ourselves with humanity. Consider this direct quotation from the 'Voices from Gaza' blog in April 2024:

"In the last six months, I have been displaced 13 times. I won’t move again. There are only three options left for me – either I will be killed, I will flee to Egypt, or this war will end. I am now sheltering in Rafah, where there are more than one million people. It is extremely overcrowded here. The streets are always full of people. If an Israeli military invasion goes ahead, it will be an absolute catastrophe."

Listen also to the voices of those now warning of the consequences of starvation as a weapon of war. UN agencies have reported that 70% of the population of Gaza face hunger, as we speak, and that 5% of babies are acutely malnourished. Save the Children confirmed that, by the end of March, 27 children had died from dehydration or malnutrition in northern Gaza's hospitals. That is Palestinian suffering; it is human suffering. Governments should not meekly stand by and allow it.

In that context, the motion rightly refers to arms sales to those causing that suffering. Here, I am afraid, the UK Prime Minister is operating a shameless double standard, when you compare his response to this with his response to war crimes committed by Russia, for example. As well as facilitating war crimes against Palestinians, he is undermining the rules-based international order, which is now more important than ever.

Photo of Brian Kingston Brian Kingston DUP

I listened to what the Member said about arms sales and support for Israel. Does the Member think that the RAF was wrong to join in the defence of Israel when 300 rockets were fired at it from Iran and other states?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member gets an extra minute.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you. We will always support interventions to save lives. My son served in the RAF. I very much value its contributions in such efforts around the world, but they always have to be for the purposes of saving lives, not destroying them.

As I said, the Prime Minister's predecessors helped to create the international order. If there is any hint of hope emerging from these appalling atrocities, it is in remarks by the Foreign Secretary, who talked of "a political horizon" so that Palestinians:

"can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution".

He also said that we should begin at least:

"to set out what a Palestinian state would look like".

That is the route to peace. We must do more to stop turning a blind eye to those who wilfully ignore that route.

In conclusion, I repeat my party's call for a ceasefire now. I support the motion and am disappointed that neither the First Minister nor the deputy First Minister is in the Chamber to respond to it. What the motion calls for is the least that they can do.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

Last night, amid hopes of a ceasefire, we saw Israel raining bombs on 1·5 million Palestinians who had fled, in the hope of shelter, to Rafah. They had fled Israeli war crimes in Gaza City and been driven from north to south, with people being indiscriminately killed all the while. Rafah has been described as "a city of children", and it has been described as that because those children's parents have been murdered by the Israeli state. Entire families have been killed by the Israeli Government, and those children now seek refuge in tents in Rafah, where Israel continues to bomb and indiscriminately kill them.

There is an onus on all of us here to act, move heaven and earth and do anything that we can through these institutions to ensure that the genocide cannot continue; to make the voices of Palestinians heard in every room and every political chamber that we enter; and to implore leaders around the world to follow the example of South Africa and refer Israel for its war crimes to the international courts to show that we will not be silent in the face of atrocity. Many of our councils have now adopted an ethical procurement policy. Many organisations have begun to look at divestment, and, in motions in councils across Ireland, we have called on Israel to desist and ensure that ceasefire continues. We need to stand united in order to ensure that those diplomatic efforts continue.

Why is today important? It is because we can show international solidarity and the need for a unified voice for peace, for a ceasefire and for humanity so that we can tell Israel, "Stop bombing children. Stop targeting hospitals. Stop forcibly starving an entire population." What in that is controversial? Those are not defensive actions. They are war crimes committed while the world watches, and blocking humanitarian aid is not defensive either. Killing humanitarian aid workers is certainly not defensive.

In 2014, during yet another Israeli bombardment of Gaza, I, along with others in Derry and across Ireland, helped to establish the Gaza toy drive. For months — it was for over a year — much of that humanitarian aid failed to reach Gaza and the people who were in need, because the Israeli state blocked it.

However, it reached them eventually. It reached them with a message of solidarity and hope: in your darkest days, Ireland will always stand with you.

Future generations — your children and your grandchildren — will ask you what you did when Palestinians were being indiscriminately murdered. You can stand silently today, or you can stand with them. Every Member in the Chamber today has that choice. Will you say that you stood with them, or will you say that you sat in silence while western Governments orchestrated and funded the killing of Palestinians? Today, we stand at a critical juncture. We have an opportunity for our voices to resonate with others across the world that are calling for an end to the genocide and for a ceasefire. Today, I call on every Member to join that call to end the violence, the apartheid, the genocide and the occupation. Ní saoirse go saoirse na Palaistíne.

[Translation: No one is free until Palestine is free.]

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP 3:15, 7 Mai 2024

I will speak briefly on the motion. It is a timely reminder of the terrible ongoing conflict in the Middle East, as has been acknowledged. All life is precious, and every loss of innocent life is a terrible event, regardless of the circumstances. Just as was the case throughout our troubled past, there can be no defence of the loss of innocent life, regardless of the perpetrator. Sadly, there are those in local politics and across the international stage who have been all too eager to create mischief and politicking around the ongoing trouble across Israel and Palestine. With that in mind, it is important that we stick to the facts and avoid conjecture as we consider the motion today.

As the motion rightly refers to a ceasefire, we should acknowledge the efforts to achieve a ceasefire over recent months and the lack of interest that the terrorist organisation Hamas has had in reaching a ceasefire with Israel. On 1 November, Hamas stated that it would repeat its 7 October attack:

"time and time again until Israel is annihilated".

In that context, it is no wonder that Israel stated on 3 November that no ceasefire would be agreed until all hostages were released. A temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip took effect from 24 November to 30 November 2023. On 20 December, Israel proposed a further cessation of hostilities for a week in exchange for 40 hostages still held by Hamas. In response, Hamas declined the offer, asserting that the release of Israeli hostages would not be considered unless a ceasefire was put in place first. Such a situation is deplorable. Hostages should be released now to allow for a lasting ceasefire to be enacted.

The motion also refers to a two-state solution. For a two-state solution to be possible, both parties must be willing to adopt it. Mr Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas, said that Hamas rejects ceasefire agreements by which Gaza would become Singapore, preferring to remain at war with Israel until a Palestinian state is established from the river to the sea. He recently stated:

"We will not recognize Israel, Palestine must stretch from the [Jordan} River to the [Mediterranean] Sea."

Furthermore, Hamas, in its founding charter of 1988, which was revised in 2017, calls for the state of Israel to no longer exist. It certainly does not recognise Israel or the Jewish nation in any shape or form. Sadly, there is not much hope for a two-state solution when one state cannot bring itself to acknowledge the existence of the other.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is a cause of grave sorrow to us all, as were the horrifying events that unfolded on 7 October when whole families and communities were butchered at the hands of Hamas or carried away as hostages into Palestine. The war that ensued has continued that pain and has touched and changed thousands of lives. I trust that, soon, we will see the release of the innocent hostages and the cessation of hostilities.

Photo of Connie Egan Connie Egan Alliance

My heart breaks for every person impacted by the atrocities in Gaza without exception, and I support the motion. It should not cause controversy to stand in the Chamber and clearly state that we need to see an end to the horrific violence in Gaza. The grave war crimes go beyond any sense or reason in this world. I condemn the Israeli Government's depraved collective punishment of Palestinians and Hamas's grotesque attacks on 7 October. I support calls for the release and safe return of all hostages. There must be an immediate ceasefire and mediation to implement a two-state solution, creating lasting and cooperative peace across the region. This cannot go on. When we sit and see the posts on social media, on our phones or on our TVs, it can feel distant, and we can feel disconnected from the atrocities, but this is reality, and it is happening right now. Look at the devastation hitting Rafah: hundreds of thousands of civilians being forced to flee the city — a city already overcrowded and with a dire lack of food, water and medication — in fear for their lives. Where do those people go? We must call out Israel's collective punishment of the people of Gaza. It is shameful that the UK Government facilitates the devastation by removing funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for getting the essentials for survival to those in Palestine.

The ongoing and horrific violations of international law have led to mass death and, with that, mass grief. Communities who, just like you and I, have hopes of building a better life for their children and younger generations and those around them in their communities are experiencing immense suffering, unlike us in the Chamber today, who, after going back and forth with our words and motions, will go home to our warm beds and hot showers while they fight for their lives in apocalyptic conditions, cramped into rooms with dozens of others, unable to access sanitised water and facing extreme nutritional deficiencies. We cannot stand silent over the devastating cycle of violence and genocidal acts. The atrocities are innumerable in so many ways and to so many people. All of it is despicable.

I hope that this is not an issue for politicking; these are people's lives. I genuinely thank the SDLP for tabling the motion in a way that a lot of people, I hope, will support. I also pay tribute to Sinéad, as chair of the all-party group on UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace and security. As chair of the group, Sinéad coordinated a letter with other members. We wrote to the president of the UN Security Council, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, and Micheál Martin TD. A lot of people in our communities want to see us doing something and having our voices heard. I was happy to stand with that, with others, when the Assembly was not sitting, to try to make the case for lasting peace and ceasefire and to highlight the horrendous treatment of women and girls in the region and the violence that they are experiencing.

This should not be a debate. We should always, in every instance, call for peace, safety and security. Our commitment to a two-state solution reflects our belief in the principles of self-determination, mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence. When we look at what has been allowed to occur to the Palestinian people over the last decades and months and even the past weekend, we know that something has to give. Where does all the death and destruction end? In Northern Ireland, we often pride ourselves on being kind, helpful and neighbourly to those in our towns and cities. We must extend that internationally to help secure a just future for every Palestinian and Israeli so that they can live in peace, safety and dignity, with equal rights.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

"Only the dead have seen the end of war" is what they say. War is not a video game, although, when you listen to some people, you know that, to them, it is nothing more than "Kill TV". In reality, when you are dead, you do not get a second life: you are dead. When you are maimed, you are maimed for life. When you are psychologically damaged, it will take years to rectify the issues. In some cases, they will never be rectified. War is an absolute abomination; it really is. One thing is absolutely true about war: the people who suffer are, time and time again, the innocent civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinian.

The Gaza conflict is devastating, but so is the conflict in Sudan, with 15,000 dead and two million internally displaced, and so is the conflict in Yemen, with over 350,000 dead, including 85,000 children starved to death and four million people displaced, and not a peep out of anybody. There are conflicts in Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Congo and Ukraine: nothing. As I will tell you in a minute, Ukraine has a lot to do with what we see in the Middle East.

I will make three points — they are not necessarily related — in the hope that they will provide a bit of balance. First, I have concerns about the motion. It seems to gloss over Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation; Hamas, which throws men off the top of buildings because they are gay; Hamas, which uses rape as a weapon of war; Hamas, which kidnaps and abuses children; Hamas, which strips out water infrastructure to create missiles to fire at Israeli cities; Hamas, which has a stated aim of the total destruction of Israel. That is not innocent Palestinians' fault.

My second point concerns the assault in Rafah. That will be devastating for the innocent Palestinians who live there. You simply cannot put a 120-millimetre, high-explosive shell from a Merkava main battle tank through a kitchen window to kill a terrorist without affecting the family in there. You simply cannot drop a tower block with a 500-lb joint direct attack munition (JDAM) and call it "proportionality". A full-blown engagement in Rafah will be devastating. Israel has a right to defend itself, but it must do so within the laws of armed conflict: necessity, proportionality, distinction and humanity. It is absolutely clear, without a doubt, that Israel has, at times, gone beyond those laws of armed conflict.

My last point is about arms sales. The UK's arms sales to Israel are limited. They are very small; in fact, the vast majority of them are navigation systems for some of Israel's aircraft and radar systems. Those radar systems are needed to defend against the rockets that come in, and we now say that we want to take them away. Whether we like it or not, Israel is surrounded by hostile nations. We have all ignored Iran's malign influence in the region through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah in the Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in the Yemen, all of which are linked to the Russian Federation via organisations such as the Wagner Group. It is the same in Syria and in Iraq. It is really difficult to stand here and say that there should be an arms embargo, but maybe the question about arms sales is an ethical one. That is a different question, and we have to look at it in the round, but it is difficult to isolate one country when it is surrounded in such a way.

I know how the debate will end up. It will be a case of, "You didn't support the motion, so you don't support peace". That is how it will end up, so let me summarise and make it clear that we support an immediate ceasefire. We support the immediate release of all hostages. We support an increase in humanitarian aid. We support an international response, with an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)-type organisation drawn from the regional countries.

We support a two-state solution, as per the Oslo agreement. We support de-escalation in the area. However, we cannot support the motion, which is naive at best and misses so many points.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 3:30, 7 Mai 2024

I dedicate my short remarks to all the hostages who remain under Hamas control in Gaza.

On 6 October 2023, in Israel, many Jewish families were preparing for their special weekend holiday and religious celebrations. Many family members travelled home to be with their parents and loved ones, including many members of the security forces, who were unaware of the murderous plan that lay ahead. At 6.30 am on 7 October, Hamas terrorists launched more than 2,000 rockets into Israel in the space of just 20 minutes. Families were woken from their beds and forced to take shelter in safe rooms as the deadly terrorists reached the border to carry out their attacks on civilian neighbourhoods. The Hamas terrorists entered these very peaceful communities on a murderous rampage, going from door to door killing, raping and burning alive men, women and children.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in the kibbutz Be'eri, just a few kilometres from the Gaza border, I stood in what was left of the home of Vivian Silver. Vivian was a 74-year-old Canadian-Israeli peace activist and a women's rights activist. She worked in the kibbutz to organise programmes to help Gazans, such as with jobs training and fair pay for Gazan construction workers. When she retired, she founded Women Wage Peace and volunteered with Road to Recovery and Project Rozana to transport patients from Gaza who were travelling to Jerusalem for treatment. On that dark day of 7 October, her home was found burned and gutted when first responders arrived. With no signs of a body, it was assumed that she had been abducted. It was not until five weeks after the attack that her remains were identified through DNA. More than 100 of Vivian's neighbours were murdered that day, with many more taken hostage. Children were prised from their parents' arms, senior citizens were pulled from their beds and babies were lifted from their cribs and driven into the deep, dark depths of the Gaza Strip.

Just a short distance away, another massacre was taking place as young people were enjoying the Supernova music festival. A total of 364 innocent people were gunned down — murdered, some raped, some then burnt. Some had taken cover in bomb shelters only to have grenades thrown into the shelters by Hamas. When I visited that site, it was heartbreaking to see the hundreds of memorials set up by family members of those who had been killed. In just a matter of hours, over 1,300 people were murdered and many more wounded. As Vivian Silver knew, no good could ever come from war. There was a ceasefire prior to 7 October 2023. Twenty thousand citizens travel daily from Gaza into Israel for work, and many friendships were built. I visited the crossing and saw how open it had been.

It is a sad reality for the people of Gaza that they have suffered for far too long over the years from the actions of Hamas. Whilst Hamas leaders siphoned off funding for their lavish lifestyles and the building of their terror tunnels, ordinary Palestinians were being deprived of basic needs that their neighbours enjoyed. Hamas must be held accountable for its actions. We will always stand for democracy in the Middle East and against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, who want to bring instability to the region.

I want to put on record that every effort must be made to bring about peace, protect civilians and provide aid to those who need it. We stand too in condemnation and anger at all the innocent lives that have been lost — Palestinian, Israeli and all those who strive for peace. We have no problem, on these Benches, saying that. Hamas will never be content until Israel and all Jews are destroyed. Hamas does not abide by laws or agreements and, in its thirst for death, uses hospitals, playgrounds and every method that it can to use its own people as shields.

I want to see peace and stability in Israel and the Middle East. That must involve the immediate release of hostages and an end to attacks on its closest neighbours.

Photo of David Brooks David Brooks DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of David Brooks David Brooks DUP

Does the Member agree that it has been inappropriate in the past but that it would be even more grotesque in the future should parties in the Chamber choose to indulge in relationships with Hamas, see Hamas speak at their events and so on, as Sinn Féin has done in the past?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

I agree with the Member. As I bring my remarks to a close, I must point out that, as a society, we cannot allow the radicalisation of our citizens by professionals who want to spread hate and bring discord to these shores. It is important that that dangerous rhetoric is challenged, because it will have disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, it is being led by people who cannot even point out Gaza on a map. That needs to be challenged. The Chamber should be united against violence, as my party has been, not only here in our Province but across the world.

Photo of Kate Nicholl Kate Nicholl Alliance

You do not have to travel very far in Northern Ireland to realise that people have different views on Israel and Palestine: it is hung on lamp posts for people to see. However, I had hoped that, today, we could be united in our humanity. I have watched on in horror at Israel's treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and at the UK's refusal to call for a ceasefire, which Alliance has advocated for since October. My colleagues have already set out, unequivocally, that we condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Firing rockets, kidnapping and summary executions constitute clear war crimes and crimes against humanity. I think of all those who are being held hostage and of how terrifying that must be for them and their families.

What is happening in Gaza is not self-defence. Israel's seizure of Gaza, forced expulsion of over one million Palestinians from northern Gaza and indiscriminate bombings of civilians and civilian infrastructure is not self-defence. It is collective punishment. It constitutes a war crime, and it has to be condemned by all, as should be the broader acceleration of illegal occupation and intensification of the subjugation of Palestinians in recent years. Consecutive right-wing Israeli Governments, especially the current Netanyahu Government, have intentionally accelerated the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, pushed annexation and dispossession of Palestinian homes, incited hatred against Palestinians and normalised settler violence. Since 2021, Human Rights Watch, some Israeli human rights organisations and human rights experts have said that those actions are so severe that they amount to crimes against humanity.

I want to pick up on one thing before I go on to my next point. It relates to Doug Beattie's point about how there are other conflicts going on in the world and there is silence on those. That is true. I have been working a lot with Iranian women and members of the Sudanese community. I was at a rally relating to the appalling events in Sudan. That is where I met Mohammed Samaana and Sue Pentel. They were standing in solidarity. Supporting this motion is not saying that there are not other conflicts happening in the world — of course there are — but it is important that we focus on what is happening and on the impact that it is having on people who are here. People care so deeply about it. Palestinians in our community are so concerned. I think that Masoud is here today. There are people in our community who have been doing so much to raise awareness, so I welcome the opportunity to have this debate and discussion and to raise awareness of what is happening.

My party deputy leader, Stephen Farry, who leads on foreign affairs for the party, has worked with human rights groups to advocate for the rights of Palestinians in the region under international law. He has repeatedly called for the UK Government to hold the Israeli Government accountable and warned of the dangerous potential consequences of these war crimes. Accountability is essential to prevent further recklessness and destruction. We are looking at what is happening in Rafah right now. I was struck by something that Save the Children said:

“For children in Gaza, this offensive could be the deadliest and most destructive chapter of the conflict yet. They need actions, not words. The UK must do everything in its power to stop the incursion from happening, including suspending arms sales to Israel, and demanding an immediate and definitive ceasefire.”

Save the Children also said:

"People in Rafah have nowhere safe to go."

It is deeply concerning.

I made my very first Member's statement on this matter, when I talked about Hind Rajab. I keep thinking about that girl, who was six years old. I think about her every day. She was six years old, and she was sitting in a car with her relatives around her who were dead. She was talking on the phone and asking for someone to come and get her soon, because she was scared of the dark. She was saying, "Please come and help me", and you just think of a six-year-old child. They are not statistics: they are human beings. There is a problem in the media with the dehumanisation and — I think they call it — adultification of children in Gaza. What is the number? On 4 April, Save the Children reported that nearly 26,000 children — just over 2% of Gaza's child population — have been killed or injured in six months. Children are dying from starvation and disease at the highest rate that the world has ever seen — the highest rate that the world has ever seen.

Photo of Connie Egan Connie Egan Alliance

Does the Member agree that that is an absolutely harrowing statistic, which only reinforces the need for a ceasefire?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Kate Nicholl Kate Nicholl Alliance

Thank you for that. I completely agree. Especially as parents, you just cannot get your head around how it is being allowed to happen and the international silence and hypocrisy around it.

We stand by a two-state solution. There is a mountain to climb, but there is no sustainable alternative that respects human rights. Alliance wants a just future for every Israeli and Palestinian, and for them to live in peace, safety and dignity, with equal rights. We have the opportunity to send a message from this Assembly. I support the motion.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome that we have the opportunity today to talk about this incredibly important issue. I will struggle immensely to fit in my thoughts and feelings in articulating the horror and the level of atrocities that have been carried out over the past few months in Palestine, but I will certainly do my best.

Many here today, and outside the Chamber, will question why Assembly time has been devoted to international affairs when there are other pressing local matters. However, the scale and relentless nature of the war crimes that are being perpetrated by the Israeli Government represent such a horrific disregard for human life that we in this Chamber, I feel, are morally obliged to raise them, to ask for an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and to join in the international calls for an immediate ceasefire. I want to thank the vast number of my constituents who have been in touch on this issue, some of whom have hosted and held rallies and have spoken so passionately about it.

Since October last year, Israel's brutal offensive has seen the slaughter of at least 34,735 Palestinians, wounded at least an additional 72,889 people and devastated the lives of countless thousands more. For people in this part of the world, the memory of conflict, albeit on a far smaller scale, still looms large. We would do well to consider the pain and trauma that will, undoubtedly, harm the people of Gaza for generations to come. Numbed and appalled, in this part of the world we have watched in sheer disbelief at the terror of bombing civilians and the wholesale destruction of schools, hospitals and places of worship. One of the worst things that I have seen is the complete denial of aid — fuel, food and water — to the civilian population, which is struggling to survive and has nowhere to turn. Members, when future generations look back at this moment and our debate on this motion, they will surely wonder why so many of us were so slow to act when newborn babies and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were being denied basic meals. It is absolutely unthinkable.

As 'The Washington Post' tag line states, "Democracy Dies in Darkness". Whilst the reputation of Israeli democracy is evermore in tatters, surely this week, with the attack on Rafah, it is at a new low. On 15 May 2021, the IDF levelled the al-Jalaa building in Gaza, toppling its 11 floors with just half an hour's notice. The building housed the Al Jazeera and the Associated Press offices. Little more than a year later, the IDF murdered the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in cold blood, a crime for which no one has ever been held accountable.

Just last week, a Bill was passed to end the full operations of Al Jazeera in Israel. The philosopher and holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt once said that, if you cannot say something, you are living in a tyranny. For Al Jazeera, nothing at all can now be said inside the state of Israel. The concerted and systematic targeting of the Middle East's most prominent journalistic organisation is indicative of Israel's increasingly undemocratic tendencies and highly revealing of a state that has scant regard for the rights, dignity and political aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Recently, a UN representative on human rights said that Israel had violated at least three of the five acts listed under the UN genocide convention. So regular are such atrocities that the acronym WCNSF — wounded child, no surviving family — has become a medical first, unique to Gaza. Surely that compels all those with a voice to condemn the genocidal campaign by Netanyahu and his supporters. Whilst we all share the pain at the atrocities of 7 October and urge the immediate return of the hostages, it is pressing today that we in the House call for a total ceasefire and immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and plead with the international community to renew all efforts to achieve lasting peace and a two-state solution. What in God's name is divisive in asking the House to condemn war crimes, the starvation of innocent children and the bombing of hospitals, where people are injured and cannot get up out of bed to flee? I ask every elected representative in the House to truly dig down deep, ask their conscience, take a long, hard look in the mirror and support the motion. If you do not, I am really concerned about your morals, frankly.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP 3:45, 7 Mai 2024

"You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Satan."

That is an extract from a 1916 novel named 'The Power-House'. It illustrates perfectly what war is. We can take peace so much for granted, yet there are people all over the world who are suffering war. Currently, there are 35 armed conflicts in Africa, 21 in Asia and seven in Europe. I suggest that some of us would struggle to name them. There are six armed conflicts in South America and Central America. As has already been mentioned, according to the UN, since 2014, over 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen and an estimated 227,000 people are dead as a result of ongoing famine and lack of healthcare facilities due to that war. That is what war is.

Of course, every one of us here should call for the ending of war. Just as 9/11 changed everything for the US and, indeed, the world — remember that we sent troops — 7 October changed everything for the Israeli people. That is a stark comparison that must be made.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I will give way once I have made progress.

Israel must have the right to defend itself. How it conducts the war should be tried and tested at the highest levels of court in the world, not, I suggest, by the SDLP through its motion, which is flawed. It grieves me that my party cannot support a motion that calls for the ending of war. Who are the SDLP Members or anybody else in the House to decide what is genocide and what is war? The motion states that 35,000 people are dead: where did they get that figure? I am not disputing it; I am asking where they got it. <BR/>If it comes from the Ministry of Health, it is from a terrorist organisation called "Hamas", so we have to be careful.

The sound bites and coverage that we all see on social media have been mentioned today. A lot of that cannot be attested to, so where do we get our information? We all have to be careful about what we view and what we see, because we live in a new age of technology.

I will give way now.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has said a few things since I asked him to give way that I could respond to, but I appreciate his giving way. He is always open to debate. He said that everything had changed for Israel on 7 October. I acknowledged that 7 October was appalling and unjustifiable, but will he accept that the logic that he is using is, effectively, an eye for an eye, meaning that Israel can kind of do whatever it likes? The equivalent could be said for Palestinians, who could say that the actions of the last seven months have changed everything for them and therefore, by that logic, justify any response from Hamas or, indeed, any other violent actor. Is it not the case that, ultimately, you need to de-escalate and scale violence down?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Yes, we are in the midst of war. How do we de-escalate that war? The Israeli state tells us — I have no love for the Government of Israel — that there are two objectives. The first is to bring home the hostages who are still underneath the ground in those tunnels, and the second is to completely destroy Hamas. How can we say that we want peace in the Middle East and that we want a two-state solution when one of the greatest barriers to that two-state solution is Hamas? How can we not see that and not add it to a motion?

Millions of pounds were sent into Gaza, but the Government of Gaza — Hamas — did not use it the concrete and steel to build hospitals and schools; they used it to build a network of tunnels so sophisticated that it compares to the underground network in New York. War is not the only thing that brings humanitarian crises and consequences to people; bad government does too. Therefore, we cannot and should not judge from here, seeing only limited information about what is going on on the ground. I appeal to Members to forget about your sound bites and your politicking. Let us call for a proper ceasefire in order that something good will come out of the carnage that is being perpetrated on Israeli families and on Palestinian families, and let us hope and pray that, some day, there will be lasting peace in Israel.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

I support the motion. Other Members have spoken to the facts and the statistics: 100,000 Palestinians dead or injured, 70% of them women and children; and 1·4 million innocent civilians now cornered in Rafah, corralled like cattle. They were told to move south towards Rafah for their own safety, but they are now more vulnerable than ever, with doom and death breathing down their necks. Ultimately, there are no words that any Member can offer today that can comfort the besieged and slaughtered people of Palestine. There are no words that any MLA can offer that will strike at the heart of the horror that the Palestinian people are enduring. Our words are not enough, and that is why I want to use my time today to give ordinary people in Palestine a voice. I want to amplify the words of those people, who do not know whether, tomorrow, they will see dawn or doom and whether, tomorrow, they will see dawn or death.

My friend and SDLP colleague Killian Feehan has spent time in Gaza bringing help and aid there over the years. He has built abiding relationships and has reached out to his friends in Palestine over recent days, first, to see whether they are still alive and, secondly, so that they can give a voice to those who are fighting for survival under attack from a genocidal regime. I will share with you the words of Killian's friend, a young woman called Tala. At just 30 years old, Tala has witnessed more destruction and brutality than any of us should see in a hundred lifetimes. This is what Tala said:

"My heart aches. The pain felt in my beloved Palestine goes beyond words, touching the soul in a way that even tears cannot fully express. The entire world now knows of our horror. Silence and inaction will haunt you all of your life, and you shall endure the guilt of living next door to genocide. Human beings are supposed to live together, not to be left to die alone."

Nicola, aged 31, became a father for the first time last year. His words to Killian cut deep. Nicola said:

"There is nothing more brutal and inhumane than watching your son die in front of your eyes while you are tied up with no place to run. Please stop the destruction now. This is the scream of all fathers in Gaza."

George, at just 24 years of age, implored us to make this plea today:

"At a time when humanity is being extinguished in Gaza, send us yours. As the rest of the world turns their back on Gaza, come to our aid and stand with us."

It is critical that we keep sight of our common humanity and resist the urge to allow today to descend into whataboutery and one-upmanship. The words that I quoted were shared with us by three young Palestinians, three living, breathing human beings out of millions who now live with no guarantee of seeing tomorrow. Think about how that feels: millions of people do not know whether they will see tomorrow.

Those people love their parents just as much as we love ours. They love their children just as much as we love ours. They yearn for the same things as we yearn for: food, shelter, safety, peace, dignity and the freedom to build a better future for themselves and those around them. It seems obscene to me — it is obscene — that calling for an end to the slaughter of innocents has not yet received universal support.

My call today is simple: honour the pleas of innocent men, women and children. Do the right thing. Demonstrate your humanity. Demonstrate your morality. End the genocide. Call for peace with a collective and united voice.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I cannot support the motion, because it is partisan and unbalanced. There is no recognition of the right of Israel to defend itself even after the most horrendous events of 7 October. Is there even a recognition in the motion of the right of Israel to exist, which would have to be the starting point for any solution? Indeed, the motion does worse than not accepting the right of Israel to defend itself; it, in fact, expressly wants to deny Israel the right to defend itself. It calls for:

"an end to arms sales ... to Israel".

How is Israel to defend itself if the House says, "You shouldn't get any arms"? The inescapable inference from the motion is that those who tabled it think that Israel should not be able to defend itself.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. First, as others and I have said, the scale of what Israel has done in the past seven months goes way beyond any concept of defending oneself.

The Member spoke about Israel existing. If he reads our motion, he will see that the text affirms support for a two-state solution, and clearly implicit in recognition of a two-state solution is that the state of Israel would exist.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The motion is without a word of rebuke for Hamas. Not a word of rebuke for its actions since 7 October. Not a word of rebuke for the thousands of rockets fired into Israel.

Yes, there is a call to stop arms sales to Israel, but not a word of rebuke for Hamas for bombarding Israel with rockets, night after night. There is no call in the motion for Hamas, a terrorist organisation, to give up its assaults or its dogma of dedication to the annihilation of Israel. There is no call to recognise the state of Israel. Rather, there is a quite partisan approach to the whole issue.

That partisanship was carried further in the single Sinn Féin contribution. That contribution did not manage to make any mention — not a word — of condemnation of Hamas. There was not a word of condemnation of hostage-taking. Maybe that is no surprise, coming from a party that does not apologise for but supports the actions of the IRA in taking hostages. They could not even bring themselves to condemn the hostage-taking or to call for the release of hostages. Those same people talk about morality and lecture those of us who dare to speak against the motion. In the words of Ms Hunter, they question our morality. Well, sorry, but morality cuts both ways, and this is a motion that is crying out for the insertion of some morality in recognising the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself. It should contain unbridled condemnation of Hamas. In the absence of all those things, this is a tawdry motion that is not worthy of support.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 4:00, 7 Mai 2024

It is important that the Assembly has a chance to discuss the urgent, pressing need for a ceasefire to be implemented to stop the Israeli killing machine. Despite all the declarations from this place about peace and peace processes, it is unforgivable that it has taken this long to have the debate about condemning genocide and the actions of Israel. It is long overdue for the Executive to call for a ceasefire. Rather than cosying up to states and Governments who fund the slaughter and the apartheid state, the Executive should call for a ceasefire. They should call for there to be no engagement with the apartheid state and for the expulsion of Israeli diplomats from these islands. So far, they have refused to do so.

The scale of what has been taking place is horrendous and unimaginable. One can only imagine what it is like for Palestinians who are trying to live through probably the first live-streamed genocide of our times. Although the scale is grotesque, it is not an aberration. The violence did not begin on 7 October. There has been a 7 October every other month or so for Palestinians, who have been living under terror, occupation and apartheid since at least 1948 — before that, if you include the violent British mandate system that was imposed on Palestinians.

There are a few issues with the motion that need to be mentioned before this place can hopefully call for a ceasefire. The first is that it equates the violence of those who are living under brutal occupation with those who seek to resist and push back against it. People often say, "What about peaceful protests?" Of course, that is always the preferred and usual way by which folk can and do stand against war and slaughter. However, when people tried to march peacefully for an end to Israeli occupation and violence, what happened? The Great March of Return was an attempt to do that. Palestinians with flags and banners were mowed down like dogs. Hundreds were killed, but there was no outrage from most Western states. Note the different reaction from states and Governments. We live in a cruel world: one in which some lives matter more than others. In that cruel world, in the eyes of most Governments, Palestinians are always at the bottom of the pile, their lives do not count and their stories do not matter. They do matter, however, to the millions of people across the world and across these islands who have marched to condemn the slaughter and to call for a ceasefire, the implementation of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the expulsion of Israeli ambassadors.

Palestine is a litmus test for the world. It is a litmus test for humanity that people are meeting that test. Across the world — in the Middle East and elsewhere — most Governments are failing that test. The EU, Britain and the US are complicit in the slaughter. They are not just turning a blind eye to it, which would be bad enough, but are up to their necks in funding and backing it. Shame on them all.

The people have still marched and taken to the streets. I commend all those people who have done so. I particularly mention the students and young people who are marching in the US and camping out in universities there. Here, I salute the students at Queen's who have occupied the Lanyon Building today to call on the Queen's administration to call out the Israeli state.

Palestine is the end of the world that never ends. It is up to Palestinians to determine what their future looks like, free from assault, slaughter, massacres and occupation. It is a mistake for the motion to dictate what that should look like. In my view and that of many others, it is a mistake to impose a discredited, unworkable two-state solution on Palestinians, many of whom do not accept it for many reasons. We have recently seen that even the US does not want a two-state solution. It has resisted calls to implement one for decades.

The Oslo Accords gave the green light to the extension of illegal and immoral Israeli settlements. Palestinians have every right to dismantle that apartheid system and apartheid state, and we support them in their right to do so. Unfortunately, the motion does not support that. Israel has to be seen as a settler, colonial, apartheid state. Growing numbers of people see it that way. The logic that should follow, as it did with South Africa, is that the state and the system should fall.

Despite all the talk of agreeing a ceasefire, what does Israel do? With all the talk of a possible ceasefire in our midst, Israel goes to the border at Rafah, states that it will intervene there and implements slaughter on a mass scale. In that context, people need to go back to mobilising and to go back on to the streets to call for a free Palestine from the river to the sea. People need to end support for that apartheid system, that apartheid state and that brutal apartheid regime.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I call Colin McGrath to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I begin by thanking all Members who participated for the way in which they contributed. They added to the conversation that we need to have, and this is an appropriate place in which to have it. It has been good to have those contributions in order to allow us to continue with the discussions.

The debate was not one for grandstanding, dog-whistling or making assumptions. One of the key underlying reasons for that is that, if we have learnt anything in the past 26 years here, it is that an agreed peace, imperfect though it may be, can be incredibly fragile. Peace has to be the ultimate goal. It can never be won by a military operation alone, or through violence or subjugation of another, but rather by negotiation, agreement and reconciliation.

I listened to the debate, and I agree with most of the remarks made. Some were a little bit off the mark, while some were rather typical. The past 24 hours have been turbulent for the future of Palestine. We have heard that Hamas has accepted a deal negotiated by Egypt and Qatar that would allow for a 40-day ceasefire. We have heard that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the deal falls short of Israel's wants, although one has to question what wants he is looking for. Is it the future of Israel, or are his actions about holding on to power and remaining as Prime Minister?

Amidst all of that, we have heard that, following Israel's overnight strikes against Rafah, five people have been killed. That is just overnight in one event that five civilians have been killed. What would happen if that were to happen here? What if we had woken up this morning and found out that five people from here had died as a result of actions that had taken place? There would be an outcry in the Chamber from all parties. Nobody would come in here to defend the actions of one or the other. If five civilians had lost their lives, there would be an outcry from everyone. Where is the outcry for the more than 35,000 people who have died as a result of Israel's bombardment since 7 October? Where is the outcry for the 14,000 children whose lives have been taken since 7 October? Do their lives not matter? Do they not breathe the same air as the rest of us? Do they not bleed the same blood as we do? Did their lives not have the same potential as the life of any child who was born in Northern Ireland? They are children, but to some people in power, they are nothing more than collateral damage in a conflict that has been raging for hundreds of years. Their lives are gone, and that cannot be undone.

We do not support the actions of Hamas: that is written clearly in the motion. We do not agree with taking hostages or hiding behind women and children or international workers to achieve your aims. We do not agree with any of that, but likewise, we do not agree with the IDF's carpet bombing of schools and hospitals to achieve its aims. We do not agree with the murder of innocent women and children. Consequently, we do not agree with the United States earning $4 billion a year from exporting arms to Israel or the United Kingdom exporting nearly £600 million of arms since 2008.

While the text of the motion debated today concerns what has happened since 7 October, it is important to recognise that a genocide has been happening in Palestine over the past number of years. It has been a genocide — an ethnic cleansing on an unsurpassed scale. In the past 70 years, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people have been dispossessed of their land, property, jobs and homes. The people forced to leave their homes and families have never been able to return.

Of the nine million Palestinians worldwide, only a small number still live in Palestine. Their lives are constricted and controlled by the Israeli Government. Walls have been built to keep Palestinians out. Their water and electric supply is restricted. If they want to enter Jerusalem, they must request a special permit. If they want to avail themselves of healthcare, they often have to travel to another country to do so. Can any of us imagine if we were asked to live like that?

The deliberate killing of such a vast number of people from that nation and ethnic group, with the aim of destroying the nation, is the dictionary definition of genocide. It is not just something I am saying; it is the dictionary definition — go and check it. The definition is clear to see.

What about the solution? How are we to find peace? The first step must and can only be that we stop the killing. Someone has to step forward and interrupt the cycle of violence, otherwise, it will roll on and on. That today we can debate and discuss the matter is a testament to what can be achieved when we stop the cycle of violence, bloodshed and killing. We know that it took time. We know that it was and is a painful process. However, the pursuit of lasting peace is never easy, because, in that process, there has to be an acknowledgment of the hurt and pain that has been handed out.

We must see recognition of the state of Palestine. Only then can the people of the Middle East begin the process of becoming neighbours. Some have referenced that we have not acknowledged that Israel has a right to exist. We clearly state that there should be a two-state solution. It is implicit that the motion includes Israel. No one is saying that Israel should not have its place. Others said that we have ignored what Hamas has done. As I said, the text of the motion is clear, and I have stated that we do not support that. Reference was made to the other genocides taking place in other parts of the world, and that is correct, but the motion is about what is happening in Gaza. It has unique features that make it more relevant to people here. I suggest that Members are contacted more about Gaza than other disputes around the world. Another important thing is that, if we permit what is happening in Gaza, we give permission to the genocides that are taking place in other parts of the world.

Surely we can teach the world what it is to overcome violence and become good neighbours. That is what we have experience of here. If we cannot even do that, what is it that we are doing here? I urge all Members to stand up for peace and for humanity, to join the call for an immediate ceasefire and to support our motion as presented today.

Question put. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 44; Noes 26


Ms Armstrong, Mr Baker, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms Bradshaw, Miss Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Mr Donnelly, Mr Durkan, Ms Egan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Miss Hargey, Mr Honeyford, Ms Hunter, Mr Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr McAleer, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr Andrew McMurray, Mr McNulty, Mr McReynolds, Mrs Mason, Mr Mathison, Mr Muir, Ms Mulholland, Ms Á Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Ms Nicholl, Mr O'Dowd, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Sheerin, Ms Sugden, Mr Tennyson

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Hunter, Ms McLaughlin


Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mr Beattie, Mr Brett, Mr Brooks, Ms Brownlee, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mr Dunne, Mr Elliott, Mrs Erskine, Ms Forsythe, Mr Frew, Mr Harvey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kingston, Mrs Little-Pengelly, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Robinson, Mr Stewart

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Harvey, Mr Kingston

The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Easton

Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly condemns the ongoing genocide in Gaza that has left more than 35,000 people dead, most of them women and children; further condemns the actions of Hamas on October 7, which left 1,300 people dead and many families searching for loved ones; abhors the killing of international humanitarian aid workers seeking to deliver vital supplies to the civilian population on the brink of famine; rejects plans for a ground assault on the city of Rafah, with a refugee population of more than one million Palestinians sheltering with nowhere safe to go; regrets the failure of the international community to act decisively in the interests of peace; affirms its support for a two-state solution and the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine; calls for an immediate ceasefire in the region and the release of all hostages; further calls for an end to arms sales and transfers to Israel while the genocide continues; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to write jointly to the UK Prime Minister in pursuit of these objectives.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 4:15, 7 Mai 2024

Members should take their ease while we change the top Table before the Adjournment debate.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Blair] in the Chair)

Motion made: That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Blair).]