Since I first came here to Amsterdam in 1998, I have been in the Netherlands on many occasions and have always enjoyed myself. While I intend to continue visiting this country, I have realised that I need to reassess some of my assumptions about it.
Until recently, I was under the impression that the Netherlands was a democracy, in which freedom of expression was regarded as sacrosanct. Then I read some comments attributed to your foreign minister Uri Rosenthal.
The minister is putting pressure on the Dutch anti-poverty organisation ICCO to cease funding The Electronic Intifada, an excellent website that consistently defends the rights of the Palestinian people. Rosenthal has indicated that he cannot tolerate how ICCO supports this website, given that the Dutch government is a strong supporter of Israel. He has threatened to withdraw Dutch state grants to ICCO, telling the organisation: “It is alright to be critical but not to directly oppose the government”.
Rosenthal’s comments about The Electronic Intifada follow a report by a Zionist lobby group called NGO Monitor. This group accused The Electronic Intifada of being anti-Semitic without providing any evidence to back up its claims. Sadly, this is a typical tactic of the pro-Israel lobby. As soon as somebody tells the truth about Israel being an apartheid state and a vicious colonial project, it is only a matter of time before the lobby will label him or her an anti-Semite. This is a deliberate move designed to muzzle debate.
When Rosenthal says “it is alright to be critical but not to directly oppose the government”, we need to ask exactly what he means.
I am proud to be a contributor to The Electronic Intifada because I know that it defends the core human values enshrined in international law. It fearlessly exposes how international law is violated by such activities as the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the merciless blockade of Gaza.
Is it no longer acceptable in the Netherlands to defend international law?
Rather than becoming so exercised about The Electronic Intifada, I would urge Rosenthal and his government colleagues to investigate those Dutch organisations that facilitate abuses of international law.
Perhaps, for example, they could take a trip to the Israel Centre in Nijkerk, which is run by Christians for Israel. I visited this centre myself last summer and discovered how its shop sells many products manufactured by companies who are active in illegal Israeli settlements. These included cosmetics from Ahava, a firm based in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.
Perhaps, too, the Dutch government could examine the activities of the Sar-El Foundation, one of several organisations here in the Netherlands dedicated to supporting the Israeli army. Max Arpels Lezer, the chairman of this foundation, has boasted of how Dutch volunteers who take part in training exercises with the Israeli army “help the battle against the Palestinians” as if helping the oppression of an entire people is something admirable.
For some bizarre reason, the Sar-El Foundation is considered to be a charity. Donations to the foundation are, therefore, tax deductible. This is despite how the Israeli army that it supports has committed crimes against humanity, according to the United Nations investigation led by the retired South African judge Richard Goldstone into Israel’s attacks on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
Can somebody please explain to me how one Dutch organisation can be treated as a charity, when it supports violations of international law? But when another Dutch organisation – such as ICCO – defends international law, the government threatens to punish it. Where is the justice here?
Late last year a very interesting diplomatic cable from the American embassy in The Hague was released by the website WikiLeaks. Drafted by Clifford Sobel, as he was preparing to step down as ambassador to the Netherlands in 2005, the cable states that Britain and the Netherlands are America’s most trusted allies in western Europe. The cable commends Dutch diplomats for being willing to act as America’s “eyes and ears” in the countries where they are posted and describes the Dutch as “go-to-guys” when the US is seeking a mediator to resolve internal disputes in NATO.
Among the similarities between The Netherlands and the US are that both governments consistently accommodate Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Some veteran observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict to whom I have spoken have gone so far as to name The Netherlands as Israel’s most steadfast supporter in Western Europe.
Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister until last year, proved especially amenable to Israeli propaganda.
During 2008 and 2009, Verhagen blamed the violence in Gaza entirely on Hamas. In doing so, he ignored how Hamas observed an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel between June and November 2008. It was Israel which resumed the cycle of violence by attacking Gaza on 4 November that year, a day when the world was preoccupied with the election of a new American president.
Almost all of the victims of Operation Cast Lead, the three-week bombardment of Gaza that Israel launched in late December 2008, were Palestinians. In total, 1,387 Palestinians were killed. Almost 800 of these took no part in the hostilities, according to investigations by human rights monitors. These included 320 children.
By contrast, nine Israelis were killed during the violence. Six of them were Israeli soldiers, three were non-combatants.
If gestures of solidarity were required in early 2009, then surely it was the people of Gaza who required them most. Verhagen decided instead to express his solidarity with Israel. In January 2009, he travelled to Sderot in southern Israel, where he voiced concern about the rockets being fired by Hamas. If he had extended his trip by a few kilometres and ventured into Gaza, Verhagen would have witnessed far worse suffering caused by far more lethal weapons. But he refused to visit Gaza, showing no interest in seeing first-hand what was happening.
Could this be the same Maxime Verhagen who had previously presented a strategy paper to the Dutch parliament officially aimed at giving human rights a central role in his country’s foreign policy? Could it be the same Maxime Verhagen who stated in 2008 that “human rights apply to all people, in all places and at all times”?
I have a question for Verhagen and for other Dutch politicians today. Why do the human rights you claim to champion not apply to the Palestinian people?
·Excerpt from a presentation given in the ABC Treehouse, Amsterdam, 15 January 2011. Thanks to the Netherlands Palestine Committee for organising the event.