An Irish bill on Israeli settlement goods could make history

Ireland may be on its way to make the purchase of goods and services from Israeli settlements illegal.

Ireland Palestine Op-ed photo Reuters
The 'Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018' seeks to ban the sale of goods originating in Israeli settlements in Ireland [AP Photo]

On July 11, the upper house of the Irish parliament, the Seanad, will vote on a landmark bill that, if passed, would ban the purchase of goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements. The “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” was put forward by  Irish independent Senator Frances Black and co-signed by Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher, John G Dolan, Grace O’Sullivan and David Norrison on January 24 this year. 

However, just six days later, the Seanad voted to delay the debate on it indefinitely after Israel protested. On January 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the Irish ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, who explained that the Irish government did not support the bill. Netanyahu had claimed the bill sought to “harm the state of Israel” and was an attempt to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Six months later, on June 27, Black announced that on Twitter that the proposed law is back on the schedule for a debate in the Seanad. And just a week later, Fianna Fail (Warriors of Fal), the second-largest party in the Irish parliament, declared that it was going to back the bill, raising hopes among Palestine supporters in Ireland that it would indeed pass. 

If the Seanad approves it, it would then be passed to the lower house of the parliament for a debate and vote. If passed, the bill will have to go through several more stages of review and amendment before it is signed into a law.

Although its opponents have labelled it as “radical” and claimed that it harms free trade, the bill actually enforces compliance with both international and Irish law.

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Israeli settlements in both the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights are illegal and constitute a war crime under both the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which prohibit occupying states from transferring their own civilian population into occupied territory.

Passing the bill would simply mean that Ireland is moving to modify its domestic legislation to comply with its third-state obligations under IHL.

Currently, the country is importing a variety of products from illegal Israeli settlements, including fruit and vegetables, wine, plastics, big brand beauty products such as “Ahava”, and others.

All of these are already clearly labelled as products from illegal Israeli settlements under the new EU labelling regulations issued in 2015 – ie, they cannot be labelled “Made in Israel”. This allows Irish – and EU consumers in general – to make an informed choice when shopping.

The EU imposed these labelling rules based on the notion of “differentiation” between Israel and the Palestinian land it occupied in 1967. But Black’s bill takes this a step further. It suggests that simple labelling is not enough and proposes to enforce international law by banning goods produced within illegal settlements.

This is not an “extreme” or “radical” measure, as some have claimed. It simply identifies settler-made products for what they are: illegal. These products are made on stolen land with stolen resources, under the protection of a criminal regime. Their presentation and sale as legal products helps to normalise Israel’s crimes – the continuous annexation and colonisation of Palestinian land.

This bill comes at a time when the international community continues to be complicit in aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes and violations of Palestinian rights. Even the EU continues to maintain strong economic, cultural and political ties with Israel that on occasion violate its own commitment to IHL.


Israeli settlement-building in the territories occupied in 1967 has been continuous and relentless over the last 50 years. Despite the insinuations of much of the mainstream media, it is not just Israel’s right-wing parties that support the settlements.

No Israeli government has ever shown interest in halting settlement expansion and in fact, each one has openly funded it. It is also government policy to offer Israeli settlers incentives such as cheaper housing, affordable mortgages and tax cuts.

Today, this expansionist policy has resulted in approximately 750,000 settlers living in the West Bank, many of them earning a living in various industries producing goods for export to the EU.

Indeed, it is in the nature of the Israeli Zionist project to expand and colonise the whole of historical Palestine. This has been clear to Palestinians for a long time, and yet the international community has either failed to comprehend this or has had no interest in stopping it.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill reflects the historical support for Palestinian rights in Ireland and is an opportunity to pave the way for third states to fulfil their obligations and responsibilities under international law. This could be the beginning of serious legislative changes in Ireland and elsewhere that uphold the rights of the Palestinian population and help secure justice and freedom in their lands.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.