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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Merkel stands by Israel even when it kills Germans

Earlier this year Angela Merkel was awarded Israel's "presidential medal of distinction." The German chancellor merited this honor, some journalists dutifully reported, because of her "unwavering commitment to Israel's security."

That "unwavering commitment" might help explain why Merkel does not appear perturbed by what happened to Ibrahim al-Kilani. He had spent twenty years in Germany, qualifying there as a civil engineer, before returning to Gaza in 2001, where he had married and started raising a family. On Monday, Ibrahim, his wife Taghreed and their five children were wiped out in an Israeli attack.

Ilias, the youngest of the children, was only four. His sister Yasmin was six. The other siblings -- Yassir, Sawsan, and Rim -- were aged between eight and twelve. It should not be necessary to spell out that they were entirely innocent of any crime.

One day after this family was wiped out, Germany and all European Union governments issued a statement on the events in Gaza. As the Union's foreign ministers were meeting that day, they had every opportunity to demand an explanation from Israel as to why it had just killed a family of EU citizens.

Yet the EU's statement did not even mention the al-Kilanis. Rather, the foreign ministers stressed that they recognized "Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks."

Israel was politely asked to make sure its military action was "proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law."

Cowardice

It is hard to remain calm when reading those carefully chosen words -- of abject cowardice. Not for the first time, the EU was blaming Palestinians for the atrocities visited upon them by a brutal occupation. The truth was turned upside down.

Many of us have long suspected that the European Union doesn't really care when Palestinians are killed by Israel. Now we can say for certain it doesn't care even when Israel bombs EU citizens.

Ahmad al-Kilani, Ibrahim's cousin, made this point in an interview with a Turkish news agency: “No German or American nationality stops Israel from murdering us. Israel is like a monster that destroys everything it encounters. This is genocide.”

Eventually, the German foreign ministry announced yesterday that it was seeking "clarification" from Israel about why it killed the al-Kilani family.

That is a hollow gesture, when you recall that Merkel explicitly stated last week that "we stand by the side of Israel, when it comes to self-defense." She has not withdrawn that remark, despite the abundant evidence that the al-Kilani family and the people of Gaza more generally have not been bombed for reasons of "self-defense" but in grotesque acts of aggression.

The al-Kilani family had already suffered enormously from Israel's latest attack on Gaza. They had fled their home in Beit Lahia, an area in northern Gaza that Israel has shelled continuously.

Stand by Palestine

They had sought shelter in Shujaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City. On Sunday, they witnessed a horrific massacre in that neighborhood.

They tried to escape once more, finding an apartment in Rimal, supposedly a safer part of Gaza City. It has been reported that Taghreed al-Kilani was preparing an iftar, the meal that ends a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, when Israel shelled them.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the current Israeli offensive.

Insipid requests from the European Union for Israel to behave in a "proportionate" manner won't stop the slaughter. It, therefore, falls to ordinary people of conscience around the world to take action.

We know what we have to do: intensify our campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. If Angela Merkel and other Western leaders are so determined to side with Israel, the rest of us must stand by the Palestinians.

Thanks to Shahd Abusalama for help with research and translation.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2014.

Friday, July 11, 2014

EU regurgitates Israeli propaganda

The daily press briefing at the European Commission seldom fails to illustrate the cozy relationship between journalists and the powerful. So harmonious is this rapport that many of its attendees "graduate" from being spoonfed stories by official EU spokespersons to eventually becoming spokespersons themselves.

Michael Mann offers a case in point. He used to be on the staff of The Financial Times. Today, he commands a higher salary as a mouthpiece for Catherine Ashton, the Union's foreign policy chief. Part of his job involves regurgitating Israeli propaganda.

This week he issued a statement which claimed that Israel's latest bombardment of Gaza constituted "retaliatory fire." Everything was in response to rockets launched by Palestinians, he suggested.

There was no acknowledgement that Israel has been subjecting Palestinian civilians to collective punishment -- in clear violation of international law. There was no mention of the seven-year siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza. There was no recognition that Benjamin Netanyahu's government has used the murder of three Israeli teenagers as a pretext to kill much higher numbers of Palestinian children in recent days (more than twenty children have been killed in Gaza over the past few days; a death toll that is likely to rise).

Instead, there was an anodyne call for "restraint."

Bubble

Like most of the Brussels elite, Mann lives in something of a bubble. For the past few months, the main topic of conversation within this cocoon has been which dodgy politician will become the European Commission's new president. The harm inflicted by the EU's austerity policies and by its "strategic" partners (as Catherine Ashton has categorized Israel) has been largely ignored.

Diplomats based in Israel live in a bubble, too. The EU's embassy in Israel is located in a skyscraper in the business district of Ramat Gan, a city beside Tel Aviv. The convivial coffee shops and restaurants which the embassy's staff frequent provide no clues of the immense human suffering in Gaza, around seventy kilometers away.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU's ambassador to Israel, ventured a little bit outside the bubble on Monday. He didn't go to Gaza, however, but to Ashkelon in southern Israel. There, he expressed solidarity with Israelis facing the "unacceptable threat" of rockets from Gaza.

The ambassador elaborated on this gesture of solidarity in a softball interview with the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz. "I wanted to underline that shooting rockets indiscriminately at civilians cannot be a legitimate or an acceptable response to any kind of grievance that you have," he said.

Listeners to the video of the interview posted on the Haaretz website were spared any explanation of what kind of grievances Palestinians may have.

Awkward fact

The awkward fact that they have long been treated as laboratory rats for the Israeli arms industry was omitted. That's hardly surprising, if you delve a bit deeper.

In June, Israel signed an agreement that enables its weapons manufacturers -- the very people profiting from the current attack on Gaza -- take part in the EU's scientific research programme. Known as Horizon 2020, that programme has been allocated a colossal €80 billion ($109 billion) between now and the end of the decade.

Faaborg-Andersen was so keen to stress his empathy with Zionists that he effectively gave an "up yours" salute to the main Palestinian plea for justice: the 2005 call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. He was at pains to stress that Israel is welcome to continue exporting goods from its settlements in the occupied West Bank, even though some EU governments have recently advised firms against doing business with the settlements.

"The EU is not banning anyone," he said. "We are against boycotts. We are against BDS. We are against the isolation of Israel."

Embracing Israel

Far from isolating Israel, some of the EU's leading representatives appear intent on embracing it tighter. Last month, Daniel Calleja, head of the European Commission's enterprise department, lead the Union's second "mission for growth" to Israel in as many years.

Among the Israeli firms which have been involved in this "mission" to increase business with Europe are Elbit, a supplier of the drones now being used to bomb Gaza and of surveillance equipment installed in the apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice almost exactly ten years ago.

Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, has been taking part, too.

There is, of course, an important caveat that should be added when the EU claims to oppose boycotts. It is only against boycotts of Israel.

Under US pressure, the Union decided to boycott the Palestinian government formed after the 2006 election. EU representatives, who constantly harp on about democracy, didn't like the result of that exercise in democracy because the wrong party -- Hamas -- won.

Those of us who try as best we can to live in the real world detect a heady stench of double standards from EU representatives. The representatives, however, seem oblivious to that stench. I guess that's what happens when you live in a bubble.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 July 2014.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Diplomat who used sex to sell Israel advises top EU lobby group

Two markedly different images of the Israeli military have emerged: the grainy and the glossy.

The grainy image is epitomized by the new video of soldiers murdering two teenage boys. This image is often captured by amateurs. It is authentic.

The glossy image is of a caring force that does everything to avoid civilian harm -- the most moral in the world, according to some politicians. This image is constructed professionally. It is fraudulent.

Spindoctors occasionally try to add a new layer of gloss, hoping that it will conceal the cruelty with which Israel has become synonymous. One such effort was a photo-shoot for Maxim, a magazine popular among certain types of men. It featured a number of scantily-clad women, all of whom had apparently served in the Israeli military.

Rebranding

The 2007 feature was reportedly the brainchild of David Saranga, a "rebranding" specialist then working for Israel's consulate in New York.

During an investigation for Spinwatch, an organization monitoring the "public relations" industry, I learned that Saranga has now brought his "makeapartheid sexy" campaign to Brussels (needless to say, the campaign is not actually called that).

Saranga can often be seen hanging out with the main figures in European Friends of Israel (EFI). That group was formed by members of Britain's Conservative Party, who felt that there should be a strong Zionist lobby within the European Parliament.

EFI has arranged for Saranga to train its staff and supporters about how to "sell" Israel on "social media" websites. The group appears to have paid close attention. Its Facebook page brims with hasbara as Israeli "public diplomacy" is called. A particular emphasis is placed on Israel's technology industry, which is busy inventing things that "could save your life," as one post claimed.

"Protecting lives"

EFI applies Israeli gloss liberally. Earlier this year, I heard Marek Siwiec, a Polish member of the European Parliament (MEP) who chairs the group's political board, praise Israel for the "humanitarian aid" it was providing to victims of Syria's civil war. "Israel is protecting hundreds of thousands of lives," he said. "I think this phenomenon should be more presented for the European public."

Siwiec airbrushed an inconvenient truth out of this "phenomenon." Many victims of the appalling situation in Syria had been previously dispossessed by Israel. I'm referring here to those Palestinians who sought refuge in Damascus after they were forcibly displaced in the Nakba -- the ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel's establishment.

Transparent?

When I later asked Siwiec a few basic questions about EFI, he boasted of how it was a "transparent organization." Yet he refused to divulge any details about its finances.

After some further digging, I found out that EFI has received backing from some very wealthy entrepreneurs. One of the them was Yaron (Ronny) Bruckner, who died last year. His Luxembourg-registered property and consumer goods firm Eastbridge has been stepping up its business activities in the US. In 2011, it bought the New York skyscraper that previously housed the insurance giant AIG.

Another man to sit on EFI's administrative board was Marc Grosman. He owns Celio, a clothing retailer with more than one thousand stores in sixty different countries.

Almost certainly, these two men have helped fund EFI. At the same time that Bruckner became one of the EFI's administrators in 2011, a new rule was added to the group's statutes. It set the maximum annual donation which EFI board members can make to the group at a cool €5 million ($6.8 million). Before then, the yearly limit had been a mere €1,000 ($1,400).

Trade triumph

Unfortunately, EFI has enjoyed some success during its eight year history. It was instrumental in ensuring that the European Parliament approved a trade deal between the EU and Israel in 2012.

Despite its technical name -- the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) -- that deal was of huge political importance. It has meant that Israeli pharmaceutical companies -- and potentially the manufacturers of other Israeli goods -- can ship their products to the European Union without having to undergo costly quality controls. In effect, this means that Israel is being accorded commercial preferences usually reserved for businesses inside the EU.

The EFI's success on that dossier can be at least partly attributed to how the current European Parliament veers more towards the right than the left. The group seems to be nervous, however, about the prospect of encountering greater difficulties in the assembly that will be formed as a result of this week's election.

It has asked budding MEPs to sign a pledge that they will work against boycotts of Israel. More than likely, it would not have done so if it did not feel under pressure. Some EFI stalwarts have admitted to me that they regard the Palestine solidarity movement as too strong for their liking.

This is a testament to people power. The Palestine solidarity movement is not backed by profit-hungry corporations. It does not hire "rebranding" specialists to place photo shoots in mass circulation magazines. And yet by patiently and diligently building public awareness, it is striking fear into the hearts of Israel's elite and its "friends."

Israel is losing its propaganda war. No amount of gloss can save it.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 21 May 2014.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Turkey's fickle support for Palestinian struggle

On a flight from Istanbul to Brussels last night, I learned something that I had not previously known. Armenians have used the term aghed -- catastrophe -- to describe the massacres inflicted on them by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Palestinians, of course, also refer to the vicious ethnic cleansing undertaken by Zionist forces in 1948 as a catastrophe -- or nakba in Arabic.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, this week offered his condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed 99 years ago. He also promised to respect those who voice "different opinions." Could this mean that a taboo is finally being broken?

Under the Turkish penal code, those who argue that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians constituted a genocide are liable for prosecution. Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, was convicted of denigrating Turkishness for expressing such views in 2005; two years later he was murdered.

Political football

Victims of injustice -- and their descendants -- deserve acknowledgement that horrific crimes were perpetrated against them. They should never be used in a game of political or diplomatic football.

In the recent past, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, has toyed with the idea of formally recognizing that Armenians suffered a genocide. This same institution has approved a law designed to punish Palestinians who commemorate the establishment of Israel as a catastrophe.

More than likely, Israel will not recognise the Armenian genocide any time soon. Doing so would aggravate tensions with Turkey at a time when both sides want to boost their economic ties -- at the Palestinians' expense, needless to say.

Attending the Palestine International Forum for Media and Communication in Istanbul, I listened to a representative of Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party proclaim his country's support for the Palestinian struggle.

That support is fickle.

Trade rises

If Turkey really supports the Palestinians, it would be imposing tough economic sanctions on Israel. Instead, the value of annual trade between Turkey and Israel has increased: from $3.4 billion in 2008 to $4 billion in 2012.

Turkey introduced an arms embargo on Israel in 2011. Yet it has continued to take delivery of military products ordered before then. And despite the embargo, Israel's defense ministry is reportedly examining how to arrange fresh weapons sales to Turkey.

It's not hard to understand why Israel is eager to resume business. Turkey has long been a loyal customer for the Israeli arms industry. It is second only to the US in having the largest army in NATO. Turkey splurges around 1.8 percent of its gross domestic product on the military - higher than the average for European countries.

Erdogan had a public row with Shimon Peres when Israel was bombing Gaza in 2009. Though his stance was commendable, it does not erase the fact that Erdogan's government had been willing to buy Israeli weapons until then.

In 2005, Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit won a contract to supply Turkey with drones. These two firms were the main manufacturers of the warplanes that Israel has used to attack Gaza. (IAI is now called Israel Aerospace Industries).

The aforementioned arms embargo, it should be recalled, was only imposed after Israel murdered nine Turkish human rights activists while they were sailing towards Gaza. In 2010 - the year that attack occurred - Turkey was the second largest importer of Israeli weapons.

Dash for gas

Another news story this week related to Turkey's potential investment in the Leviathan natural gas field off present-day Israel. Energy firm Turcas confirmed that it is in discussions with another Turkish company Enerjisa to buy gas from this field. It had previously been reported that Turkas was exploring the development of a pipeline to bring gas from Israel to Turkey.

This news offers a reminder as to how it was energy issues that made the imperial powers so interested in Palestine in the first place. In the early twentieth-century, Haifa hosted a pipeline transporting oil from the Persian Gulf.

The Turkish Petroleum Company had a virtual monopoly on this oil from 1925 to 1961. The firm's name (later changed to the Iraq Petroleum Company) was misleading. It was controlled by British and German banks and Royal Dutch Shell.

I suspect we will hear much more about Israel's reputedly abundant energy reserves. By some estimates, Israel's shale deposits could supply 250 billion barrels of oil.

Shale oil has become synonymous with an ecologically destructive extraction process known as fracking. But a firm called Israel Energy Initiatives claims that new technologies can allow this oil to be produced with "low environmental impact."

The claim lacks credibility. The only way that fossil fuels can have a low environmental impact is if they are left in the ground.

If there is a rush to exploit the energy resources under Israel's control, then we can be sure that those who stand to benefit won't care a fig about human rights.

Turkey's professions of solidarity with the Palestinians will ultimately remain hollow, then, so long as the Ankara authorities continue to eye business deals with Israel.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 April 2014.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Shining Big Tobacco's shoes

Two very powerful Americans - let's call them VPAs - have been welcomed to Brussels by the EU's grovelling grandees over the past month.

The first of these visitors was Barack Obama. Displaying his usual charm, the president received a lot of attention when he declared his love for Belgian beer and chocolate.

By contrast, the second visit of a VPA went largely unreported. It was by Tom Donohoe, head of the US Chamber of Commerce. Last week, he met top-level representatives of the European Commission.

The low profile nature of his trip belies Donohoe's influence.

The US Chamber of Commerce boasts of being the world's largest business association. It has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying since 1998.

Donohoe, who commands a $5 million annual salary, was in town to discuss the planned trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement.

Nothing to hide?

While Donohoe was chatting with Karel de Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, their meeting took place behind closed doors. De Gucht's spokesman refused to give me any details about what was discussed, replying with a bland comment about how it was a "stakeholder meeting", rather than a formal negotiation. That was despite how de Gucht claimed not long ago that he has "nothing to hide".

As it happens, de Gucht has many things to hide. And he has good reason not to be transparent. Because if de Gucht was really candid about what he and his colleagues are doing, they would probably face mass public resistance.

The truth is that de Gucht is conniving with big business to destroy or dramatically weaken health, environmental and labour standards and democracy itself.

The US Chamber of Commerce was the American pressure group most consulted by officials working for de Gucht in 2012 and 2013. The proposals which the EU side has put on the table for the trans-Atlantic trade talks closely resemble the chamber's wish-list.

Aggressive

Tom Donohoe is an ideological extremist. Under his leadership, the US Chamber of Commerce has vigorously opposed all attempts to make health insurance more affordable. Any regulation that puts the interests of ordinary people before corporate profits will be fought "with every resource at our disposal," he has said.

Even though he has been at odds with Obama on medical care, Donohoe has pledged his support for what he recently described as the "aggressive trade policy" now being pursued by the Obama administration. Both the US and the European Union have the potential to set the "gold standard" for twenty-first century agreements on trade and investment, he said last week.

Karel de Gucht has been saying pretty much the same thing, while trying to give the impression that he is standing up for the interests of ordinary people.

Towards the end of March, de Gucht launched a "public consultation exercise" on one particularly controversial idea. This idea involves setting up a specialised court system that corporations could use to sue governments and demand financial compensation for laws and policies that harm their bottom line. In trade jargon, the idea is known as "investor-to-state dispute settlement".

The public consultation exercise is a sham.

De Gucht remains committed to having the specialised court system introduced. He has done nothing more than to promise that the idea will be handled a little differently than it was in the 3,000 other international trade agreements in which it has been included.

Until now, for example, the judges - or arbitrators as they are called - who assess cases brought under such systems have often been corporate lawyers. De Gucht has made a commitment to introducing a code of conduct designed to guarantee the impartiality of these judges.

The questionnaire which de Gucht has invited members of the public to fill in as part of the "consultation" exercise does not grapple with the most problematic aspects of the proposed system.

It does not address how the system would help perpetuate inequality. Only corporations would have access to this system. The rest of us would have none. The system has been designed almost exclusively for the 1%, to use a term made popular by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Earlier this year, de Gucht stated that he understood why there was much concern about how the tobacco industry had availed of the "dispute settlement" provision in previous investment accords to challenge anti-smoking initiatives.

Philip Morris, the cigarette-maker, is exploiting an agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland to seek a $2 billion payment over losses it allegedly incurred after Uruguay became the first Latin American country to ban smoking in public places.

More recently, the same Philip Morris has begun proceedings against Australia over a law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packages, with graphic images of suffering and disease.

Intimately involved

What de Gucht neglects to mention is that the whole concept of having these specialised investment courts set up through a trans-Atlantic agreement can be traced to the tobacco industry.

The tobacco industry has quite literally drafted some of the key proposals for the planned accord.

Back in 1995, both the EU and US authorities formally tasked a corporate club called the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue with providing advice on how trade between the two sides could be increased. British American Tobacco and Philip Morris have been intimately involved in this lobby group, which has since been renamed the Trans Atlantic Business Council. For much of its history, the group's Brussels office was run by Jeffries Briginshaw, a former representative of British American Tobacco.

Not surprisingly, this group wants the kind of "robust mechanisms" included in the trans-Atlantic deal that have enabled Big Tobacco to challenge health legislation in other parts of the world.

The US Chamber of Commerce has close connections with Big Tobacco, too. It has tried to thwart an American government effort to have a clause inserted in another planned trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would recognise that tobacco is a special product requiring stringent regulation to protect human health.

Given the secret nature of their conversation, we don't know if Karel de Gucht upbraided Donohoe last week for supporting an industry that deliberately aims to get children and adolescents hooked on its lethal products. But I very much doubt that he did.

For all his promises to defend the public interest, de Gucht has been happy to shine Big Tobacco's shoes.

•First published by EUobserver, 14 April 2014.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Arrested for confronting arms-dealers

I spent seven hours today in a police station cell. Why? Because I tried to disrupt a feast of flesh-pressing between weapons dealers and top political figures.

As the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) was about to begin in Brussels this morning, two peace activists poured buckets of fake blood outside the venue's entrance. Disguised as corporate lobbyists, I and a few others then sat down in the dark red puddle. We were promptly arrested.

The purpose of the action was to make the invitation-only attendees walk through "blood". This was entirely appropriate: the arms industry thrives on wars in which innocent people are killed as a matter of routine.

We may not have caused too big a headache for the event's organisers. But we certainly drew attention to how the EDA, an official European Union institution, is trying to confer respectability on an industry that deserves to be reviled.

Grotesque

Stripped of their jargon, the speeches delivered at the conference had a sinister edge. Bernhard Gerwert, chief executive of Airbus Defence and Space, called for the EU to help finance the killing machines of the future through its scientific research activities. "Research and development is only worthwhile if we have the ambition to build the next generation of products," he said.

It was particularly grotesque that Dimitris Avramopoulo, the Greek defence minister, gave a keynote address. Until recently, Greece spent more on its military than any other EU country as a proportion of national income. One largely-overlooked contributor to the Greek economic crisis is that it had been splurging on weapons from Germany and the US.

The unemployed, patients waiting for vital treatment and the homeless had nothing to do with this profligacy. Perversely, though, they are paying the price for it through reduced access to social services.

Avramopoulo did not confess today that the level of Greek military expenditure has been irresponsible. Rather, he charmed his hosts by urging that the EDA be granted more power.

Foolish?

Considering that the agency has been explicitly tasked by the EU's governments to push for increased spending on warfare, his plea can only be interpreted as a desire to keep repeating the same foolish policies over and over again.

An important caveat is that these policies do not appear foolish to the establishment. If you are an arms dealer, it makes perfect sense to argue for more public support.

More than likely, it's coincidental that the EDA held its yearly get-together one day after Barack Obama visited Brussels. Still, it's fitting that the two events came so close together. The agency is fixated on building a European equivalent -- or rival -- to America's drones programme.

I'm sure that the EDA's guests were too polite to acknowledge that Obama has used this programme to flout the law. Under his presidency, the right to due process has been discarded. If Obama wants someone dead, all he has to do is put their name on a list.

In fact, I'd doubt that the word "drone" was used much, if at all, during today's proceedings. The EDA's newly-published annual report refers to these monstrous warplanes as "remotely piloted aircraft systems" (RPAS).

Readers of this turgid document are told that drones (sorry, I mean, RPAS) have "proven their value in the military sphere in recent operations." Drones have proven so effective in bombing wedding parties in Yemen that the agency now wants them to be flown in civilian airspace.

From previous experience, I know that the food tends to be excellent at the EDA annual conference (once upon I time, I was allowed to attend such events).

Sadly, I wasn't able to sample whatever delicacies were on offer this time around. I had to make do with cheese sandwiches, waffles and water, passed through the bars of a police station cell.

But given that the EDA's activities are so nauseating, it's probably just as well my stomach didn't have to deal with anything more substantial.

•First published by EUObserver, 27 March 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Transporter of Israeli settlement goods benefits from EU science grant

A transporter of food grown in Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank has benefited from the European Union's scientific research grants.

Cargo Air Lines, an Israeli firm, and its subsidiary Liège Air Cargo Holding Services (LACHS) have taken part in a €3 million ($4 million) surveillance technology project, mainly funded by the EU.

Yossi Shoukroun, the head of LACHS, told me that the freight company handles fruit and vegetables "coming from both Israel and Palestine," along with herbs and flowers. Asked if such products originate from Israeli settlements, Shoukroun replied that the company does not have "any ability to find out where the product really grows."

This is tantamount to an admission that a proportion of the goods in question are from Israeli settlements. Israel's main food exporters all trade in produce from settlements in the West Bank. Such produce is routinely labelled "Made in Israel," even though it has not been grown within Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Unperturbed

Although the European Commission, the EU's executive, officially regards Israel's settlements in the West Bank as illegal, it has no qualms about providing financial support to a transporter of goods grown on those illegal colonies.

A spokesperson for Commission said its officials were "not aware of the possibility" that Cargo Air Lines and LACHS transported items which "might have been produced on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank."

According to the spokesperson, no official investigation has been conducted into why the firms have benefitted from the EU's project -- known as iDetecT 4ALL -- "nor are there legal grounds" on which a probe could be launched. Israeli participants may only be excluded from the EU's research projects if their contribution to those projects is performed in the West Bank, the spokesperson added.

As it happens, there is prima facie evidence indicating that work relating to the iDetecT 4ALL project, which ran from 2008 to 2011, was carried out on Israeli settlements.

Refusal to probe

The aim of the project was to examine how surveillance equipment can be used to raise the alarm when "intruders" approach sites considered to be of economic importance. Motorola Israel, another participant in the project, has installed a "virtual fence" -- using sensors and thermal cameras -- around Israeli settlements, on the pretext that they needed to be protected from "intruders."

Yet when this matter was brought to the attention of the European Commission in 2011, it also refused to investigate. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's science commissioner, said then that she was satisfied that Motorola Israel was based within the State of Israel.

So that makes everything OK, apparently.

Last year, the Israeli press alleged that the EU caused an "earthquake" by devising guidelines stipulated that firms and institutions active in Israeli settlements were not eligible to receive EU subsidies. If implemented (and there is no guarantee that it will be), that policy would involve the Union taking a more assertive line towards Israel.

And yet the EU's executive continues to overlook how it is supporting Israel's theft of Palestinian land in other ways.

Mockery

Israel is the most active non-European partner in the EU's scientific research programme, which has been allocated €80 billion ($111 billion) between now and the end of the decade.

The way Cargo Air Lines and LACHS are soaking up research grants makes a mockery of the EU's oft-repeated denunciations of Israeli settlements.

LACHS is based in Liège Airport, which is partly owned by the Belgian state of Wallonia.

A new report by François Dubuisson, professor of law at the French-speaking college Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), emphasizes that the EU and its governments have an obligation to avoid providing any aid or assistance to Israel's illegal settlements by, for example, trading with them. A similar point was made by the 2004 International Court of Justice rulingon Israel's wall in the West Bank.

Neither the Belgian nor the EU authorities have any desire to examine LACHS' involvement in the trade in illicit settlement goods. There are no restrictions in place to stop goods from Israeli settlements being sold in Belgian stores.

On a recent trip to a local supermarket, I noticed that Israel was listed as the country of origin for ten out of 15 fresh herbs on display. There was nothing to inform the customer if these herbs were from within Israel's internationally recognized borders or from illegal settlements in the West Bank.

That is not to say that placing more precise labels on these goods will rectify the situation. As these goods are grown in illegally occupied land, it follows that their export should be banned completely.

So long as the EU rejects calls to do so, it will remain an enabler of Israeli apartheid.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 March 2014.