The EU helps Israel oppress Palestinians
Why boycotts, divestment and sanctions are the just way forward.
Politico — 11/12/15
Despite Israel’s descent into unmasked, right-wing extremism, particularly with the current escalation of its brutal occupation and repression, Europe remains largely complicit in supporting Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights, despite the empty rhetoric coming from the European Union.
All the buzz in Brussels and Tel Aviv about EU labeling of products from Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory cannot hide the fact that Europe’s relationship with Israel conflicts with its espoused values and legal commitments.
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Ignoring its obligations under international law and, in particular, the ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2004 against Israel’s illegal wall, the EU maintains a web of military relations, weapons research,banking transactions and settlement trade with Israeli companies, banks and institutions that are deeply implicated in human rights violations.
The EU has also obstinately refused to enforce the human rights clause in its association agreement with Israel, effectively whitewashing the persistent violations of international law by Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. More than 300 trade unions, NGOs and other civil society organizations from across Europe have called on the EU to end its support for Israel’s crimes, including by suspending the association agreement. The call was supported by more than 60 MEPs.
If Palestinian rights are seen today by much of the world as the “litmus test for human rights,” as described by John Dugard, the South African jurist and former U.N. rapporteur for human rights, the EU has failed that test.
Labeling the illegal products of Israeli colonies instead of banning them is seen by Palestinians as yet another EU failure to uphold European and international law.
The EU continues to provide funding to Israeli military companies, such as Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, that are accused of complicity in Israel’s war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, condemned as a “massacre” by Brazil’s president and France’s foreign minister, has exacerbated international anger and further eroded Israel’s already thinning support in European public opinion. A former British deputy prime minister and former French prime minister openly called for sanctions against Israel. The deputy chairman of Germany’s second largest party called for an arms embargo on Israel — along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Although the EU still votes as a bloc in support of U.N. resolutions upholding basic, U.N.-stipulated Palestinian rights, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and still condemns Israel’s settlements as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, these positions have not been translated into any effective measures of accountability against Israel.
Seeing how swiftly the EU adopted sanctions against Russia for alleged violations of international law in Ukraine that pale in comparison to Israel’s crimes in its decades-old occupation of Palestinian territory, one cannot but accuse Europe of hypocrisy for failing to adopt the evidently more justified sanctions against Israel.
Some may argue that the 2013 EU guidelines on relations with Israel’s occupation and settlements are practical manifestations of Europe’s rejection of Israel’s sovereignty over occupied Arab territories. Far from reflecting a principled approach that consistently upholds human rights and international law, however, these guidelines were a direct result of growing public discontent in Europe with Israel. A 2014 BBC poll, for instance, shows Israel competing with North Korea in popularity as seen by two-third majorities across Europe.
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Much of Israel’s declining support among European citizens can be attributed not only to increased awareness of Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights and its political shift to the fanatic right, but also to effective campaigning at the civil society level by the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.
Started in 2005 by the broadest coalition of political parties, trade union federations and mass organizations in Palestinian society, BDS calls for ending Israel’s 1967 occupation, ending its institutionalized racial discrimination, and upholding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were uprooted and dispossessed in 1948.
The impact of BDS on Israel is now widely recognized. According to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), foreign direct investment in Israel dropped in 2014 by 46 percent in comparison with 2013. An Israeli co-author of the report attributed this sharp decline in investment to the assault on Gaza and BDS.
A Rand Corporation study predicts BDS could reduce Israel’s GDP “by 1 to 2 percent” annually over the next 10 years, while a World Bank report reveals that Israel’s exports to the Palestinian economy dropped by 24% in the first quarter of 2015. Top Israeli weapons manufacturers complain of a plummeting exports “crisis,” partly due to “less desire for Israeli-made products.”
Weeks ago, Veolia, the French giant, became the first large international company to end all its operations in Israel under BDS pressure. This followed an extensive seven-year BDS campaign against the company, due to its complicity in the Israeli occupation, which cost it tenders around the world worth over $20 billion.
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Support for BDS is growing among academics, artists, trade unions, students, churches and environmental groups around the world, including in Europe. The EU must do much more than labeling illegal Israeli products to reflect this trend and fulfill its moral and legal obligations.
Former South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Far from being neutral, the EU is enabling the oppressor to carry on its injustices.
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights advocate and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He is a non-resident research fellow at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University.