The EU: the Middle East's not so honest broker
Paul Murphy MEP is taking part in the Freedom Flotilla II, aboard the MV Saoirse. On Sunday, he outlined his reasons for taking part in the flotilla, here; in this second installment, written yesterday, he highlights EU complicity in the oppression of Palestinians, saying, "It is important for those of us involved in opposing the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel (particularly those of us who are MEPs!), that we publicise and protest the fact that the EU is complicit in this."
Waiting here in a port in the Mediterranean is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. We are simply hanging around in a beautiful location, with hot sun and a sea to swim in. In other circumstances, this would be paradise. As it is, it’s certainly not a bad way to spend a few days, but the anticipation of what is coming in looms over everything. The mood is generally good and people are getting on well, but it’s clear we are all eager to get going.
One of the major fallacies about the Middle East is the idea that the EU plays the role of honest broker. It works as part of “the Quartet” - the US, Russia, the EU and the UN - supposedly trying to help find a solution to the problems in the Middle East. While US support for Israel, as illustrated by the $3 billion per year in direct aid it gives it (around 75% of this being military aid), is almost universally recognised, the EU is often wrongly regarded as a neutral party in the conflict. In particular, the EU’s role as the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authorities is often cited to bolster the argument that the EU assists the Palestinians. This is added to by rhetoric like that from Javier Solano (who until 2009 was the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy in the EU - and incidentally the man behind much of the strategic drive for a more militarised Europe), according to whom, “The European Union has never and will never let the Palestinian people down.”
The reality, unfortunately, is quite different. I had the good fortune of meeting with David Cronin, an activist journalist, in Brussels before leaving for Gaza. In the discussion with him and in his book - Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation - this reality is laid bare. It is important for those of us involved in opposing the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel (particularly those of us who are MEPs!), that we publicise and protest the fact that the EU is complicit in this.
This complicity and support comes in a variety of forms. There is direct complicity in providing the weapons that are used to kill Palestinian civilians through EU research funding for Israeli armaments companies and European Union countries’ weapons deals with Israel. There is also the enabling factor of the EU’s political approach, which is to refuse to condemn brutal Israeli actions and the moves to further upgrade trade relations with Israel on behalf of the EU.
Probably the most shocking aspect for me is the direct funding by European taxpayers of Israeli armaments companies. This takes place via the EU Framework Programme for research. There is a high degree of EU-Israel co-operation in this area, including in the areas of “space” and “security” (often code words for “military”). Of the 45 initial “security “ projects, ten of them involved co-operation with Israeli firms or institutions!
Cronin particularly highlights the funding received by Motorola Israel in an EU project called “iDetect 4All”. Motorola is guilty of a high degree of complicity in the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. The “Israeli Defense Sales Directory 2009-10” lists them as “the leading Israeli company in developing and manufacturing a wide range of electronic fuses for aircraft and bombs and guided munitions.” They have also provided a wide range of surveillance material used in the settlements in the occupied territories. The “iDetect 4All” project seems to be in this vein, with the project description drawn up by the European Commission saying that it is to detect people or objects that could threaten “critical infrastructure”.
Other recipients of EU research funding include two major Israeli armaments companies - Israeli Aerospace Industries and Ebrit. IAI is taking part in the ‘Clean Sky’ initiative, a research project with a budget of €1.6 billion (half provided by the European Commission and the other half by industry) to develop less ecologically destructive aircraft. Perhaps as a result of this funding, in future Palestinians will be able to rest more soundly in their beds knowing that the aircraft raining down bombs on them are less harmful to the environment. Ebrit is taking part in an EU project whose aim is to deliver a blueprint for flying drones in civilian airspace in 2015. It produces many of the drones that are responsible for killing Palestinians. Both of these companies are also involved in providing technology for Israel’s apartheid wall in the Occupied Territories.
In addition to this funding of Israeli armaments companies are weapons sales from European companies to the Israeli state. Eleven of the top 20 weapons dealers to Israel are EU member states. These include France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. Of course, even this is carried out with the customary EU hand-wringing, with France insisting that they do not sell complete weapons to Israel – only the components of them! What good is that to those killed by French weapons components found by Amnesty International in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead?
Even Ireland, which is chief among those states which pretend to be friends of the Palestinians, and which often stresses its supposed “neutrality”, is guilty in this respect too. David Cronin quotes Jeff Halper, an Israeli human rights activist, saying that the brain of the Apache helicopters used by the Israeli military is made in Ireland. This refers to the Data Device Corporation which used facilities provided by the IDA in Cork to make parts of Apaches that are then sold on to other US firms and end up in Israel. Shannon airport has also been used, not only for rendition flights carrying prisoners destined for Guantanamo bay and US troops going to Iraq, but also Apache helicopters in a US cargo plane on the way to Israel.
In many ways more significant than the direct support for the Israeli Defence Forces is the political support that is given to the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinians. Numerous examples are cited in David Cronin’s book that contradict the very occasional and very mild statements of criticism of Israeli policy made by EU leaders.
This was evident in the response to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in 2006, which left 1,400 dead and forced over 1 million people from their homes. At the G8, Tony Blair worked with George Bush to ensure that the declaration issued by the G8 did not include any criticism of Israel. This attitude was also seen in action when the EU suspended aid to the Palestinian authority for 15 months from 2006, a punishment for Hamas not agreeing to comply with a series of conditions after it won the elections.
This same attitude was seen again at the time of the Israeli onslaught against Gaza at the end of 2008 and the start of 2009, known as “Operation Cast Lead”. The European Union’s special representative to the Middle East placed all of the blame with Hamas and the Palestinians, asking: “Do you think the Palestinians could continue to launch rockets on Israel without Israel reacting?” German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Hamas “clearly and exclusively” bore responsibility for the attacks! When the IDF carried out a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, the British government refused to call for an international investigation, trusting the IDF to investigate itself, as Israel was “a country that has respect for the rule of law”!
Another important issue is the upgrading of trade relations between Israel and the EU, with Israel pushing to be effectively treated as an EU state, with no tariff barriers for imports and exports. In June 2008, foreign ministers from the EU and Israel agreed to upgrade their relations, thus heading in this direction. With the unleashing of the Israeli assault on Gaza, this process was slowed, but was not formally frozen and in reality did continue. There is now new momentum for these discussions. The EU and Israel have agreed that that this agreement will not place any demands on Israel in relation to its treatment of Palestinians. Typically of the EU, it may separately issue a declaration on that issue, but they won’t allow the systematic oppression of the Palestinians to get in the way of doing a deal that will further benefit the Israeli establishment and provide handsome profits for EU armaments companies.
I’ve only been able to touch on some of the many issues that David Cronin highlights. Hopefully they are enough to demonstrate that a mass movement needs to be built across Europe to oppose the EU’s complicity in the oppression of the Palestinians. I would recommend to everybody to buy the book, which contains countless other illustrations to prove that point.
I’m heading off now to a meeting on the boat to discuss our final preparations for departure. Hopefully, we will be setting sail shortly!
Paul Murphy is the Socialist Party and United Left Alliance MEP for Dublin, having replaced Joe Higgins when Joe was elected to the Dail. Paul is writing a daily blog and updating pictures from the Irish Ship to Gaza at www.paulmurphymep.eu.
Image top via @USBOATTOGAZA.