Von der Leyen does ‘not speak for Ireland’ on Israel-Hamas conflict

The Irish president joined criticism of the EU Commission leader’s comments on the Middle East conflict.

Claudia Savage
Monday 16 October 2023 21:33 BST
Von der Leyen and Metsola arrive in Israel in show of solidarity after Hamas attacks

Irish President Michael D Higgins has criticised Ursula von der Leyen’s comments on the Israel-Hamas war.

Mr Higgins said the EU Commission president was “not speaking for Ireland and she wasn’t speaking for the opinions that they hold”.

He was speaking at the World Food Forum in Rome, where he joined criticism of Ms von der Leyen’s comments on the Middle East conflict where she did not urge Israel to ensure its retaliation for the Hamas attacks to conform with international law.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in Israel and Palestine since Hamas’s action on October 7.

In retaliation, Israel cut off food, fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip, an area inhabited by 2.3 million people, around half of whom are children.

Mr Higgins has previously said that Israel’s response must respect international law, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Israel is engaging in “collective punishment” in the region.

As well as the thousands killed in Israeli counter-attacks, at least 9,700 have been wounded in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestine health ministry, with hospitals nearing collapse due to lack of resources.

In the past week France has ordered a ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and Germany has offered military help to Israel.

Ms von der Leyen was criticised for failing to urge Israel to protect Palestinian civilians and stay within the bounds of international law.

She has said: “I know that how Israel responds will show that it is a democracy.”

President Higgins said a “better performance” was needed from EU leadership.

“I don’t know where the source of those decisions was. I don’t know where the legitimation for it was and I don’t know where the authority for it is and I don’t think it was helpful,” he said.

“It may not have been meant to have malevolent consequences but certainly we need a better performance in relation to European Union diplomacy and practice.”

As a result of air strikes, rapidly diminishing supplies, and a mass evacuation order from Israel, more than a million people have fled their homes in the north of the Gaza Strip.

According to the UN, 60% of them are in the approximately eight-mile area south of the evacuation zone.

Mr Higgins said Israel’s stated intentions for future action in Palestine reduced international law designed to protect civilians “to tatters”.

“It’s one thing, when we look at historic breaches of international law, that is incredibly bad, but to actually announce in advance that you’re going to break international law, and that you announce it again and again, and that you do so on an innocent population,” he said.

“I have thought about it and I think that it really reduces all that code that was there from the Second World War through the Geneva Conventions about the protection of civilians, it reduces it to tatters.

“One has to bear in mind how important it is to retain and insist on the veracity and the cogency of international law.”

Hamas is a militant group which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and has sworn to destroy Israel.

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