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I call upon Ireland to vote for justice and ban Israeli settlements goods from its markets

Palestinian Catholic priest Manuel Musallam urges the Irish parliament to vote for a bill that would prohibit imports from illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories

On Wednesday, 11 July, the upper house of the Irish parliament, the Seanad, is expected to vote on a landmark motion that would ban the purchase of goods and services from illegal Israeli colonial settlements.

Israel and illegal settlers control the majority of the land, turning the birthplace of Jesus Christ into an open-air prison.

As a Palestinian Catholic priest, I call upon Ireland to support this motion. I couldn't do otherwise: The occupation is a sin. After decades of violations of international law, it is long overdue for the international community to take action.

As a nation that has historically rallied for just causes of freedom and self-determination, it would be a contradiction to continue to allow such products into the Irish market. 

The Nakba continues

I was born under the British Mandate of Palestine, witnessing the Nakba, the catastrophe of my people where almost two thirds of my people became refugees. This Nakba has not ended but continues up to this day.

Even though the PLO took the painful compromise of recognising Israeli control over 78 percent of historic Palestine so as to achieve the two-state solution, the Israeli government continued its policies of forcible displacement of Palestinians, construction of illegal colonial-settlements, the revocation of residency rights for Palestinians in Jerusalem and threats to demolish entire Palestinian villages such as Khan al-Ahmar, Abu Nuwar and Jabal al-Baba.

When I was ordained a priest I knew that my work would be to bring a word of hope to the hopeless. But my years of experience taught me that kind words are not good enough. The Irish church knows this very well from its own history. We had to take concrete steps in order to defend our rights.

I survived the Israeli bombardments of 2009 only to realise that the international community was willing to provide Israel with more impunity

As time passed, with Israel treated as a state above the law, I realised that I would have to raise my voice demanding our rights and reminding everyone of our existence. This is precisely why I am asking the members of the Irish Senate to do what is right and vote in favour of justice and peace by banning Israeli settlement products from their market.

For Israel, the colonial-settlement enterprise entails grabbing as much Palestinian land as possible in order to prevent the existence of a Palestinian state. This has been well stated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 2004 legal opinion on the Israeli Wall in Occupied Palestine, where it clearly conveyed that Israel's colonial settlement enterprise violates the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Just look at the situation of Bethlehem which is surrounded by 18 illegal colonial-settlements. Israel and illegal settlers control the majority of the land, turning the birthplace of Jesus Christ into an open-air prison. It is clear that Israel could not care less about international condemnations as Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated for the first time in 2000 years of Christianity.

Rewarding the occupation

As the Trump administration continues to reward the crimes of the Israeli occupation, including its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and denying the existence of the occupation, most European countries, with the exception of Sweden, have not taken measures to bring hope to the Palestinian people of ending the occupation.

As a priest I have served the Palestinian people since 1963. Refugees in Jordan, Palestinian citizens of Israel in Nazareth, people living under occupation in Zababdeh and Jenin as well as in Gaza. I survived the Israeli bombardments of 2009 only to realise that the international community was willing to provide Israel with more impunity.

The situation has never been worse than now. We need action before everything is lost

The situation has never been worse than now. We need action before everything is lost.

I recall the British efforts, mainly through statements, to stop the wall in the Cremisan valley, a traditionally Christian area of Bethlehem. Why bother to speak out? When the Israelis began to destroy the valley they did so with British machinery provided by JCB. Ireland also opposed the wall in the Cremisan area.

The fact that matters, however, is that if Israel decided to place settlers in the Cremisan valley, their products could be traded in the United Kingdom and Ireland without any problems. Israel knows this and acts accordingly. 

Father Manuel Musallam (C) gives a sermon as he leads the Sunday prayers at the Latin church in Gaza city, on 8 July 2007 (AFP)
We have heard from those who are against banning settlement products: some claim that banning settlement products will negatively affect Palestinians working in settlements. This is not an acceptable argument: conservative estimates suggest that Palestine is losing $3.4bn as a result of the Israeli occupation.

Whoever cares about the Palestinian economy would care about ending its main barrier which is the Israeli occupation.

Who cares about Palestine?

Others claim that Ireland cannot take a decision on its own given its commitments to the European Union. Whether as a country on its own, or collectively as part of the EU, European countries have the responsibility to take action for the implementation of international law, not to sustain war crimes.

The Palestinian people have great respect and love for Ireland and its people. The Palestinians look forward to your decision.

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As a priest, I have questioned my ability to keep going. How are we going to survive as Palestinian Christians with a wall strangling our lives and settlements mushrooming all over our land? How can we find dignity in our land if our rights continue to be denied in an apartheid regime?

I pray and think of our ancestors that have kept the word of Christ alive in the Holy Land and realise that we have the responsibility to continue. But we cannot do this alone.

Dear members of the Senate, whoever truly cares about Palestine, about justice and peace, there are no excuses not to ban Israeli settlement products from your market.

- Father Manuel Musallam is priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Father Musallam was the parish priest of Gaza during the Israeli bombardments of 2009 and was responsible for several Catholic Schools in Palestine, including in Jenin, Zababdeh and Gaza.

Photo: Palestinians pray inside the Church of the Nativity as people gather for Christmas celebrations in the town of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 24 December 2017 (AFP)

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