The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has heard claims of intimidation and attacks on children by Isreal as part of its expansion of settlement activity in Palestinian territories.

Dr Jilan Abdalmajid, Ambassador, Mission of State of Palestine said that already this year, twelve thousand housing units have been "advanced through plans", in fifty-five Israeli settlements.

An additional "eleven new illegal outposts" have been set up this year, she said.

Only the Nethlerlands took legal action, Dr Abdalmajid added, which "sends a clear message" to the Palestinian people.

"Israel acts with impunity," she said.

"It is an annexation - pure and simple", said Éamonn Meehan, a former Trócaire CEO and a board member of Sadaka, an Irish pro-Palestinian advocacy group.

The committee is examining demolitions and the forced displacement of people in the occupied Palestinian territory.

It will hear from the Israeli Ambassador on Thursday.

Dr Abdalmajid added that the Palestinian Authority has postponed, and not the cancelled, elections.

Last month, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas postponed the rare parliamentary elections, saying Palestinians in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem must be allowed to vote.

"East Jerusalem is key to the elections", Dr Abdalmajid told deputies today, as it is "an integral part of the state of Palestine".

"We need a strong mandate from our people," she added.

She said that the human rights situation "continues to deteriorate" and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing.

John Brady, Sinn Féin TD, offered his condolences for what he said was the most recent "slaughter" of innocent civilians on the Gaza Strip, which occurred last night.

He noted that there are currently 650,000 people living in the Israeli settlements.

Dr Abdalmajid recounted how anti-Palestinaian protestors threatened to "slaughter you all" and "kill you one by one".

Israeli protestors are "intimidating and attacking people including children... and vandalising property," she said.

Israel operates an oppressive racially-motivated "system of apartheid", Dr Abdalmajid added.

In relation to last month's postponed elections, Dr Abdalmajid said that the international community had failed to bring to bear sufficient pressure on Israel to ensure that it allow voting in East Jerusalem.

When Israel refused to allow voting in the city, she said they the Palestinian Authority was left with no choice but to postpone the elections.

Ireland's chance to 'change the course of history'

Ireland has in its hands the chance "to change the course of history" in Palestine, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Professor Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney and an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, said: "This isn't about a lack of options...this is about political will."

Ireland can take "baby steps or strides", she told the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

Professor Erakat noted that the political cost of doing nothing might be low, as Palestinians have been "so thoroughly dehumanised".

"My cousin was murdered at a check-point on his sister's wedding day this past summer", she said.

He was travelling between two Palestinian cities, she said, and his body remains "in a freezer in Tel Aviv University".

During a visit to Dublin two years ago, Professor Erakat experienced an unprecedented "visceral connection" to the Irish people because of "our shared histories of resistance".

She said that Palestinians are losing faith of ever having their own state, as they are now living in "20 non-contiguous ...Indian reservations".

"We are looking for the right to belong. We are looking for the right to exist. We do not want to be erased. A formal state does nothing to protect us in the face of this reality."