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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The day I tried to arrest Tony Blair

It was only when I saw the glow from Tony Blair’s tan that I knew I couldn’t chicken out.

Without telling anyone, I had hatched a vague plan the previous day to place the former prime minister under a citizen’s arrest during his scheduled visit to the European Parliament on Monday but was not certain that I would have the guts to proceed with it.

When I realised Blair was just a few metres away from me, I walked swiftly towards him and placed a hand on his right arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said. For a millisecond, he looked at me with his penetrating eyes, treating me to an expression that seemed to blend puzzlement and contempt. I had intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station but I was abruptly shoved out of the way by at least one of his bodyguards. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted at his back, as he made his way towards a meeting room.

My attempt was inspired by the Arrest Blair campaign that George Monbiot, the environmental activist and Guardian columnist, has set up. I was aware that the protester Grace McCann had made an earlier effort to arrest Blair after he appeared at the Chilcot inquiry in January. As mine was the second attempt since Monbiot launched his initiative, many well-wishers have expressed a hope that it will be a case of third time lucky. I wouldn’t bet on the chances of a successful arrest but would encourage others to have a go, provided they use peaceful means.

I am no expert on the legal issues surrounding citizens arrests but I did know that a precedent had been set by Peter Tatchell, when he tried to apprehend Robert Mugabe, also in Brussels, in 2001.

Britain and Belgium have both ratified the Rome statute, which entered into force in 2002. This accord, which covers the activities of the International Criminal Court, refers to the crime of aggression. In my view, the war that Blair and George Bush declared against Iraq just over seven years ago constitutes such a crime as it was demonstrably not an act of self-defence. So far the ICC has only issued indictments against Africans; why should international justice not apply to white men like Blair and Bush?

Although my attempt was motivated primarily by my outrage at the Iraq war, I also wished to highlight the obscenity of Blair’s current role as a “peace envoy” in the Middle East. Last year I visited the house of Maher Hanoun and his family in East Jerusalem – which was stolen from them by Israeli settlers a few months later. Blair has an office in the nearby American Colony hotel but has uttered no more than a few feeble words of concern at the ethnic cleansing on its doorstep. How can a man so willing to accommodate the destruction of Arab culture be trusted to bring peace?

Originally published by The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why I tried to arrest Tony Blair

A short while ago, I was up close and personal with Tony Blair.

As the former prime minister made his way into a packed committee room in the European Parliament, I stepped up to him and laid my hand on his arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said. For a split second, he looked directly at me, treating me to an expression that seemed both blank and quizzical. Then I was pushed away firmly, though not too aggressively, by one of the phalanx of body guards surrounding him. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted after him, adrenaline giving me the kind of high I haven’t experienced in years.

I had prepared a more lengthy speech about how I believed Blair should be prosecuted for authorising the war against Iraq as this involved crimes against peace and the crime of aggression. I had also intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station so that I could file a criminal charge against him. Yet to no surprise, I did not get a chance to recite these arguments and to test out my hastily acquired knowledge of the Nuremberg principles that were set down following the Second World War and the more recent Rome statute (the agreement under which the International Criminal Court was founded).

I will happily admit that my attempt was the work of a copycat. A woman named Grace McCann made a more daring effort to apprehend Blair as he left the Chilcot inquiry in January. And Peter Tatchell suffered permanent damage to his health when he was beaten up by thugs shielding Robert Mugabe, as he tried to hold the Zimbabwean autocrat to account for human rights abuses in 2001. I guess that I could invoke Oscar Wilde’s defence of plagiarism –“talent borrows, genius steals” – but it would be more honest to say that I could not think of a more original method of protest.

Although I passionately concur that Blair must be tried at some point for lying to Britain and the world about his motivations for joining George Bush’s offensive against Iraq and for helping to cause the deaths of possibly 1 million Iraqis, there are several other offences for which he should be tried. His similarly gung-ho enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan; his refusal to condemn Israeli atrocities during its 2006 attacks in Lebanon; his acceptance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank; his approval of the use of cluster bombs during NATO’s bombardment of Serbia in 1999 are all despicable and worthy of criminal investigations.

More generally, I am tired of the notion (rarely questioned among the media or political elite here in Brussels and some other European capitals) that war crimes are only committed by men with names that westerners have trouble pronouncing or by “savages” in distant lands. I fully support the work of the International Criminal Court but am outraged that all of the indictments it has issued have been against Africans. And why have all the proceedings relating to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia been against Serbs and Croats and Bosnians? Were the NATO forces that relentlessly bombed Serbia incapable of committing crimes?

I am troubled, too, about how Blair is now an international envoy to the Middle East. The film-maker Ken Loach has pithily explained the absurdity of that appointment. “They say that satire died when Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize,” Loach told a little-reported event in Brussels last year. “Well, it died again when Tony Blair was appointed a special representative for the Middle East.”


To prove just how unworthy of that job he is, Blair has only visited Gaza twice since he took up the role of envoy in 2007. And he has kept largely mum about the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, even though he can see some of the houses that have been expropriated by Israeli settlers from his office in the luxurious American Colony hotel. (OK, he recently described the building of new settlements in East Jerusalem as “unhelpful” but that hardly counts. “Unhelpful” is the kind of term that’s suitable if you encounter a grumpy waiter in a restaurant, not for denouncing the attempted erasure of an entire culture).



George Monbiot, the environmentalist and founder of the . Arrest Blair campaign, has indicated to me that I am eligible to a share of a bounty he has collected (after I go through a verification process). Because Blair has abetted crimes committed against the Palestinians, I have asked Monbiot to donate any money I might be owed to a Gaza-based human rights organisation. My feeble efforts are nothing compared to the relentless work undertaken by many of those who have to live with the consequences of war crimes.

First published by The Samosa www.thesamosa.co.uk

Friday, March 12, 2010

Flouting its own laws, EU accommodates "Made in Israel"

Historians looking back on November 2008 might record it as a time when normally astute commentators succumbed to a fantasy. In the same week that Barack Obama became America's first black president, some governments on the other side of the Atlantic tried to chime with the message of hope his public relations machine had honed to near-perfection. The highest echelons of Britain's ruling Labor party even tried to rekindle a modicum of the magic that many sensed when it came to power 11 long years earlier. Although Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had until then been cheerleaders for Israeli aggression, their ministers suddenly transformed themselves into champions of Palestinian rights.

This sleight of hand was performed with the aid of a terse document dispatched from London to Brussels. In it, Britain expressed concern about how goods originating from Israeli settlements in the West Bank may be benefiting illegally from European Union trade preferences that theoretically only apply to businesses within Israel's internationally-recognized borders. The one-page note stated that the British customs authorities were conducting spot checks on imports claiming to be "Made in Israel" and would forward the findings to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU).

Leaked ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers, the note garnered the kind of fawning media coverage that the spin doctors who became synonymous with Blair and Brown often worked hard to manufacture. "Britain is taking the lead in pressing the EU to curb imports from Israeli producers in the occupied West Bank as a practical step towards halting the steady increase in the construction of Jewish settlements," Donald Macintyre, Jerusalem correspondent with the London-based Independent, reported.

More than a year later, where is this combination of leadership and practicality now? Despite the clear promise to present evidence to the Commission, officials working with that institution say that nothing has been formally transmitted to them from Britain or any other EU government since then that would enable them to take action against Israel over its abuse of trade preferences.

This is partly explained by the inability of inspectors to detect abuses. A spokesman for the British customs authorities told me that during 2009, just one "labeling irregularity" had been identified when fruit and vegetables purporting to be from Israel were examined. In that case, the documents accompanying a consignment of food said that it had originated in Israel but a perusal of its packaging revealed it was actually from the Jordan Valley, according to the spokesman.

The low number of "irregularities" found does not mean that Israeli exporters are generally playing by the rules set out in the association agreement between the EU and Israel, which came into force in 2000. Under it, goods from within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries can generally enter the EU without being subject to customs duties but this privilege does not extend to goods from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Phyllis Starkey, a conscientious Labor Party Member of Parliament, noted recently that the total amount that Britain raised on customs duties levied on goods from Israeli settlements in 2009 amounted to less than £22,000. By contrast, the annual sum gathered on goods from the settlements in the 2005-08 period was £110,0000. Starkey estimates that as much as 80 percent of all exports to Britain from the settlements are shipped under false pretenses. Britain is Israel's third-largest trading partner.

EU officials should not be allowed shirk their responsibilities to investigate these matters further. In 2005, following complaints that goods from the settlements were routinely labeled as "Made in Israel," the EU introduced guidelines ("technical arrangements," in diplomatic parlance) designed to help customs officials distinguish between a bona fide Israeli good and one from the OPT or the occupied Golan Heights. But these rules -- which essentially involve checking postcodes -- have proven notoriously easy to circumvent. The Israeli business magazine Globes has advised how to do so: "You invent an address within the Green Line [the internationally-recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank] and operate using this address. In this way you do not have to pay the customs fees that apply to products exported from across the Green Line. The method works, but not for those whose company carries a name that gives away the true location -- such as Golan Height Wineries."

Some Israeli firms brag openly about how they can sell goods from the settlements abroad without paying duties. Cosmetics-maker Ahava uses Dead Sea mud extracted from the occupied Jordan Valley in its products. When quizzed about this by the BBC, the company's representatives admitted that they give the address of their headquarters and not the site of production when exporting. Thus, they can avail -- fraudulently -- EU preferences.

The relaxed attitude of civil servants to how European and international law is being flouted by Israel -- Britain's 2008 initiative notwithstanding -- is in stark contrast to the courage displayed by numerous ordinary people. Supermarkets in several EU countries have been flooded with complaints from customers outraged at how they are stocking herbs or oranges from illegal settlements.

In response to this burgeoning grassroots awareness, Britain's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published recommendations to retailers on how to differentiate between food originating from Israeli settlements, that from within Israel, and that grown by Palestinian farmers (several anti-poverty organizations sell Palestinian olive oil and other produce using a "Fair Trade" label). The interpretation of these recommendations has meant that shoppers can encounter confusing and clumsily-phrased notices while searching for groceries. The Morrisons supermarket chain has displayed the following instructions beside its stocks of "Best Medjool" dates: "Please note product labeled 'Produce of Jordon [sic] Valley' is produced in the West Bank (Israeli settlement) and produce of Israel is not from the occupied territories."

Betty Hunter from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign described the guidance to retailers as "absolutely inadequate" as she believes that no goods from Israeli settlements should be sold in Europe, regardless of whether they have been subject to customs duties. Activists from her group plan to attend the annual shareholder meetings of Britain's main supermarkets later this year and to advocate a complete ban on such goods. (The campaign is also committed to a wider boycott of Israeli goods.)

John Hilary, director of the organization "War on Want," concurs. "It is quite clear that the settlements are illegal under international law," he said. "For us, there is no justification for goods from the settlements to be allowed in any European country at all."

Yet EU officials have not only failed to defend international law, they have accommodated Israel's abuse of it. Last month, the European Court of Justice ruled that goods from illegal settlements are not eligible for preferential treatment from the EU. The verdict related to the activities of Brita, a German manufacturer of water filters, which buys accessories and syrups from Soda-Club, a company based in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone located near Maale Adumim, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Charles Shamas from the Mattin Group, a Ramallah-based organization that monitors the EU's relations with Israel, followed the court proceedings vigilantly. During the final stages of the proceedings in the autumn of last year, he revealed how the EC's lawyers told the court that the whole issue could be resolved if the Palestinian Authority issued certificates for the goods, rather than Israel. "This was a fallacious argument," Shamas said. "The Commission did not want to tell the court that these operators [in Israeli settlements] should be frozen out of any preferential treatment with the European Union."

Maysa Zorob, Brussels representative with the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, said that exports from Israeli settlements are a "very inconvenient issue" for Europe. "I doubt that the EU's member states will be excited about implementing the ruling of the European Court of Justice," she added. "The EU has a big economic interest in supporting these products and granting them tax-free status would mean there would be a lot more trade. A lot of big companies manufacture in the settlements and give the postcodes of Israel proper when exporting. The problem is that Israel has quite a big margin for fraud."

Another signal of how the EU is eager to develop closer ties with Israeli firms, including those known to operate in the settlements, came in late 2009, when both sides agreed to liberalize agricultural trade between them even more fully. As a result, 80 percent of Israel's fresh produce and 95 percent of its processed foods can be exported to the EU free of customs duties.

Theoretically, food and drink companies in Israeli settlements will not benefit from this latest deal. But in practice they will. Agrexco, one of the leading Israeli exporters of agricultural goods, is known to mix goods from within Israel with those from the settlements in its depots and label the whole lot as Israeli. This firm alone is estimated to control more than 60 percent of all exports of settlement produce.

The EU's weak response on this issue can be traced to those heady days of November 2008. Within a fortnight of the UK's declaration on mislabeling of Israeli exports, Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, was sharing a platform with Israeli President Shimon Peres and voicing hopes that the value of British trade with "our firm friend" Israel would jump from its 2007 level of £2.3 billion to more than £3 billion by 2012.

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously and accepting both of them," George Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four. That is the kind of duplicity Britain tries to get away with by embracing the very same Israeli firms whose theft of Palestinian land it professes to disdain.


Originally published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gaza: time for Europe to end its crime of silence

Before I visited Gaza 10 months ago, I continuously heard it being described as the world’s largest open-air prison. Yet it was only when I passed through Erez, the high-tech border crossing run by a private Israeli firm, that I grasped what the phrase meant. The debris of destruction wrought by “smart weapons”, the constant surveillance from warplanes overhead, the heavy air pollution, the grinding poverty, the absence of basic materials needed for reconstruction: all these factors combined to make me feel something akin to suffocation. If there was anything positive to be gleaned from this grim experience, it was the generosity and camaraderie I encountered when local people told me stories about what they had endured as Israel bombed all around them in late 2008 and early 2009. The stories varied but there was one thing they all had in common: with the borders sealed by both Israel and Egypt, nobody could escape.

Catherine Ashton has stated that she wishes to visit Gaza on her first trip to the Middle East as the EU’s foreign policy chief next week. Her aides tell me that she views it as important to see Gaza first hand because the Union is a major donor of humanitarian aid there and it would be useful to see how that money is used. That is a good reason for going to Gaza but I can think of a better one: to investigate how Europe has abetted Israel’s war crimes.

As she bones up on the region’s politics, Ashton would be well-advised to read a new report from the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Inspired by a “people’s court” on the Vietnam war set up by the British intellectual Bertrand Russell, this tribunal has detailed how the EU has assisted Israeli violations of international law by failing to take action against the damage inflicted on aid projects funded by the European taxpayer and by forging closer political and commercial links with Israel at a time when its grip on the occupied Palestinian territories was being tightened.

If Ashton plans to prosecute Israel for how Operation Cast Lead, as its bombardment of Gaza is officially known, caused at least €11 million worth of damage to EU-financed infrastructure, then she would be proving she has not entirely abandoned the principles she espoused when she was a peace activist in her youth. More than likely, however, she will not even entertain the idea of legal proceedings. The bill for the damage is almost certainly far less than the profits accruing to those European companies, who supplied essential components for Israeli weapons. Amnesty International, for example, found electrical components labelled ‘made in France’ when its investigators examined the remnants of the bombs that killed 1,400 Gazans, most of them civilians.

At this stage, it is not clear that Ashton will be allowed enter Gaza. Other senior European politicians – including the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner – have been prevented from travelling there by Israel. Should Israel refuse to allow her through Israel, she should follow the example set by Ireland’s Micháel Martin, who recently went to Gaza via Egypt.

It is understandable why an Israel that claims to boast the world’s most moral army would want to prevent the outside world from witnessing the conditions in which it forces Gazans to live. But we in Europe cannot allow our governments roll over and accept that Gaza is out of bounds because Israel has declared it a “hostile entity” (a designation that doesn’t exist under international law). Nor should we tolerate the EU’s refusal to have any engagement with Hamas, which won a 2006 election that Europe’s own observers deemed to be free and fair. Freezing out Hamas serves to drive a greater wedge between the political representatives of Palestine and fits in with the age-old colonial tactic of “divide and rule”. Moreover, it runs counter to the EU’s stated objective of helping to bring peace.

Visiting Bethlehem last month, Silvio Berlusconi claimed not to have seen the massive concrete wall that penetrates deep into the heart of this historic town. The Italian prime minister’s refusal to see something that is as plain as the nose on his face (his penchant for cosmetic surgery notwithstanding) might be just another example of the buffoonery for which he is notorious. But it is in keeping with how Europe is turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering that is all too abundant in the West Bank and Gaza. In so doing, it is committing what Bertrand Russell called the “crime of silence”.

Originally published in The Samosa www.thesamosa.org.uk

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Potato drags GM foods back to Europe

Genetically modified (GM) foods appear to be back on the European Union’s political menu – thanks to a potato.

Manufactured by the German chemical firm BASF, a potato named Amflora became the first GM crop to be authorised for cultivation by the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, in 12 years Mar. 2.

It is unlikely that the same length of time will elapse before the next such approval is granted by Brussels officials. Files relating to 17 other GM crops – including varieties of maize, oilseed rape and more potatoes - are on those officials’ desk and awaiting a formal rubber-stamp.

Although many of the EU’s governments are opposed to the introduction of GM foods, the Commission’s most powerful representatives have long been eager to resume the approval of new varieties. Last year, it sought unsuccessfully to force France and Greece to ditch moratoria they had placed on the planting of Mon-810, a corn variety developed by the American multinational Monsanto.

EuropaBio, a group representing the biotechnology industry, notes that some of the crops under consideration in Brussels have been grown in north America for nearly two decades. Willy de Greef, the group’s secretary-general, said that food safety authorities have “thoroughly assessed” GM crops and found them to pose no threat. “But this has never stopped some of the anti-GM activists from selling the same old story,” he said.

BASF, for its part, has wasted no time in announcing that it has developed other types of potatoes, including one resistant to the type of blight widely assumed to have caused a famine that killed one million Irish people – one eighth of the country’s inhabitants – in the nineteenth century.

Claims that GM foods have been scientifically verified as safe and could cure global hunger will be familiar to anyone who has followed the often-heated debate about their effects. The cosy relationship between the scientists happy to give their blessing to these foods and the corporations that have invested heavily in them is not as well-known.

Amflora’s approval followed a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy. Since its inception in 2002, the authority has delivered more than 40 assessments on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), all of them favourable. Its panel on GMOs is chaired by Harry Kuiper, a Dutchman who previously coordinated a scientific research programme involving three leading biotech firms: Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Marco Contiero complains that eighteen of the 21 scientists tasked by EFSA with analysing applications to plant GM foods are biochemists “with only one or two experts on the environment”.

“If we talk about releasing living organisms into the environment, we must have the advice of scientists who know about this,” he added. “The problem we have with EFSA is that it doesn’t have the means to carry out risk assessments or independent analysis of data submitted by companies.”

In relying on EFSA’s counsel, the European Commission has glossed over contradictory information provided by other authorities. The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency have both expressed concerns about issues related to Amflora, which contains a gene resistant to some antibiotics. While the potato’s starch is intended for industrial use – such as in glue manufacturing – biotech firms admit that its by-products are likely to be used for animal feed and could therefore enter the human food chain. Policy-makers on public health have warned that planting antibiotic resistant crops could undermine the effectiveness of several medicines deemed vital in treating diseases that affect humans.

The stakes could be particularly high in the case of Amflora, as it is designed to be resistant to neomycine and kanamycine, two drugs used to treat tuberculosis. Across the world 2 billion people are infected with TB, which takes 2 million lives per year. Yet John Dalli, the EU’s new commissioner for public health has defended his authorisation of Amflora. He told the TV channel Euronews that that the likelihood of the potato harming efforts to cut TB deaths is “so remote that the assessment is there is no danger at all to human life.”

Contiero, however, dismissed claims that GM foods will ultimately benefit humanity as “propaganda”. Far from offering the possibility of wonder foods that will make hunger history, biotech firms are intricately linked to an industrialised system of agriculture that helps exacerbate hardship. “Monsanto owns 90 percent of GMOs in the world,” he said. “And together with Bayer and Syngenta, it owns almost 50 percent of all seeds. The fact is that three companies – Bayer, BASF and Pioneer – also own 65 percent of the pesticide market. Biotech companies buy seed companies because this gives them a direct control of food production and food prices. Decision-makers should look very seriously at how they control food prices. This is an issue that people tend to forget.”


Originally published by Inter Press Service (www.ipsnews.net)

Monday, March 1, 2010

An unholy alliance

One of the pitfalls of specialising in European politics, as I have for the past 15 years, is that certain assumptions become hardwired in your brain. For a long time, my critical faculties shut down when I heard senior EU representatives speak of the Middle East. I happily accepted the official narrative that they were striving for a just resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and that it would be foolish to park the so-called peace process in a “blood-soaked lay-by”, in the words of former EU commissioner Chris Patten.

Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza just over a year ago illustrated how naive and gullible I had been. In the first instance, Tony Blair blocked the EU from formally calling for a ceasefire because he wanted Israel to be given whatever space it perceived necessary to fight Hezbollah (Israel’s slaughter of Lebanese civilians in that 33-day war elicited no more than statements of “regret” from London).

It is true that the Union did urge a halt to the violence that Israel inflicted on Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants in late 2008 and early 2009. Yet by describing that attack as “disproportionate”, key EU representatives implicitly approved the Israeli version of events – that everything had been provoked by the missiles Hamas was firing on the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Sderot. “Gaza was a crisis waiting to happen,” Marc Otte, the Union’s Middle East envoy, told me. “Do you think the Palestinians could continue to launch rockets on Israel without Israel reacting?”

Otte has resorted to a wilfully selective reading of recent history. Far from merely reacting to what Hamas had done, Israel had created the conditions that prompted Hamas to dust down its crude DIY weapons (no match, it must be said, for the cutting-edge killing machines in the Israeli arsenal). Until a few months earlier, Hamas had observed the cessation of hostilities between it and Israel that Egypt had brokered in June 2008. All that changed on 4 November that year, however. Because most of the world was preoccupied with how America was electing its first black president, Israel’s decision to break off the ceasefire with a raid on Gaza that killed six members of Hamas went largely unnoticed internationally. As a result, most mainstream press ignored how the rockets sent by Hamas into southern Israel were in retaliation for the November raid.

Even worse than its complicity in spreading Israeli falsehoods, the EU has failed to hold Israel to account for its war crimes. The investigation carried out by a UN-appointed team led by Richard Goldstone, a retired South African judge, into the conduct of Israel’s war on Gaza was as thorough as was possible under the circumstances (with Israeli officialdom refusing to cooperate). But when the 575-page it produced was discussed by the UN’s General Assembly in November 2009, 22 of the EU’s 27 countries refused to endorse it. A key finding that there was no “justifiable military objective” behind 10 of the 11 incidents it examined, in which civilians had been targeted by Israel, proved too unpalatable for most EU governments.

While some headlines in 2009 conveyed the impression that there was friction between Israeli and European diplomats over everything from the status of Jerusalem to a Swedish tabloid story alleging that Israeli soldiers systematically ripped out the internal organs of Palestinian corpses, the reality is that Israel enjoys extremely cordial and profitable links with the EU. That reality was underscored by Javier Solana, making a farewell trip to Israel in the autumn, shortly before he stepped down as the EU’s foreign policy chief. “There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union,” he said. “Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It's a member of all the [EU’s] programmes, it participates in all the programmes.”

The most troubling aspect of this cooperation, in my view, is how Israeli arms companies have become eligible for EU funding. With Israel the main external participant in the Union’s “framework programme” for scientific research, the EU has become the second largest source of research grants for the country. Tel Aviv-based officials to whom I have spoken predict that Israel’s participation in the multi-annual programme, which went into operation in 2007, will be worth €500 million by the time it concludes in 2013.

The beneficiaries of these grants include Motorola Israel. Motorola is taking part in an EU-financed surveillance project known as iDetect4All, which uses sensors to detect intruders of buildings or resources of high economic value. The concept behind iDetect4All is similar to that behind a radar system that Motorola has installed in 47 Israeli settlements in the West Bank over the past five years. The Jerusalem Post has described that system as a “virtual fence” that uses thermal cameras to pinpoint people who are not authorised to enter the settlements.

Another recipient of EU grants is Israel Aerospace Industries, the manufacturer of warplanes used to terrorise Palestinian civilians. It is playing a lead role in the EU’s “Clean Sky” project, which aims to reduce aviation’s contribution to climate change by developing less polluting aircraft engines. Because IAI has been given carte blanche by the European Commission to apply for patents on any innovations realised during this project, it is entirely conceivable that planes used in the future bombardment of Palestine will have been developed with the unwitting help of the European taxpayer.

It is highly probable that Israel will be integrated even further into the Union in the near future. During 2008, the EU’s foreign ministers approved a plan to “upgrade” their relations with Israel through a “privileged partnership” that would enable Israel to become part of the Union’s single market for goods and services. Work on giving concrete effect to this upgrade has stalled since then because of the war on Gaza and unease in some European capitals at the hard-line rhetoric of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. Nonetheless, some significant steps have been taken in the past few months. In November last, for example, an agreement on agricultural trade was finalised; under it, 80% of Israel’s fresh produce and 95% of its processed foods can be exported to the EU free of customs duties. A cooperation agreement between Europol, the EU’s police office, and Israel has also been reached (though still awaits a formal rubber-stamp from the Union’s governments). This is despite numerous reports from human rights organisations that detainees in Israel are routinely tortured and despite rules in force since 1998 that oblige Europol not to process data obtained by cruel methods.

One factor that has helped pave the way for all this cooperation is that a cottage industry of lobby groups dedicated to promoting Israel has started to flourish in Brussels. The American Jewish Committee, the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith have all set up EU affairs offices over the past few years, while a cross-party alliance of MEPs (known as European Friends of Israel) was founded in 2006. These groups have responded to the widespread public revulsion at Israeli aggression by branding Israel’s critics, including left-wing Jews, as anti-Semites (an absurd claim, considering that most Palestinian solidarity activists abhor anti-Semitism). They have also contended that it is in Europe’s interest to bond with Israel because it is a prosperous economy, that has proven resilient in the face of global recession.

This well-oiled propaganda machine has helped convince policy-makers that Israel should be viewed as something akin to a Mediterranean Canada, a “normal” industrialised country with many similarities to Europe. But Israel is not a normal country; it is one that illegally occupies the land of another people.

The EU’s ever-deepening relationship with Israel cannot be divorced from the brutality meted out on daily basis to the Palestinians. The deeper that relationship gets, the more that Europe will be accommodating the oppression of Palestine. The EU cannot help solve the problems of the Middle East if it is making those problems worse.

Originally published by ESharp! (www.esharp.eu)