“I know nothing” is a catchphrase associated with the TV sitcom Fawlty Towers. Less amusingly, it also sums up the line of defence from European Union officials when quizzed about how they are facilitating Israel’s crimes against humanity.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU’s scientific commissioner, this week attempted to give an assurance that the technology firm Motorola Israel’s participation in research activities financed by the Union did not pose any legal or ethical problems. She stated that her aides do not have “any information about any radar systems Motorola Israel might or might not have installed in the West Bank.”
Her statement -- made in response to a query from a British member of the European Parliament (MEP) -- smacks of either dishonesty or incompetence. If the officials who drafted her reply had done a little searching beforehand, they would have learned that the European Commission has been recently appraised of Motorola’s work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In May, the Palestinian organization Stop the Wall sent a detailed paper to Geoghegan-Quinn outlining how a number of Israeli beneficiaries of EU science grants are abetting human rights abuses. Point (d) on that paper was devoted entirely to Motorola Israel. It said: “Motorola has created at least four surveillance systems used in at least 20 illegal Jewish-only settlements and military camps throughout the occupied West Bank.”
Treating Palestinians as “intruders”
Motorola Israel is taking part in two EU-funded research projects, with a combined value of over €9 million, at the moment. One of them, named iDetect 4All, relates to the development of equipment designed to raise the alarm when an “intruder” approaches a building or resource considered economically important.
The technology involved in this project appears to bear many similarities to the “virtual fence” that Motorola has installed around a network of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. A 2006 report in The Jerusalem Post noted that this radar system uses thermal cameras to identify “intruders” to the settlements. Reading between the lines, that means Motorola is helping to keep Palestinians away from illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
According to Geoghegan-Quinn, “checks” have taken place to ascertain that Motorola Israel is based within the state of Israel. These found that it was eligible to benefit from EU science grants.
Yet the checks cannot have been too profound. The “association agreement” covering EU-Israel relations explicitly says that both sides must respect human rights. If Motorola Israel is – as can be proven – enabling human rights abuses, then it should be kicked out of the research programme immediately.
Call for action
Motorola Israel is one of numerous Israeli firms taking part in the EU’s research programme, which has a total budget of €53 billion for the 2007 to 2013 period. Last week, several groups representing Palestinian academics and students protested at how many of the activities under this programme connect European universities with Israeli arms manufacturers and others who profit from the occupation of Palestine. A call for action signed by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) urged third-level students and teachers in Europe to devise a strategy for ending cooperation between their colleges and Israel.
Palestine solidarity activists based in King’s College London have already begun a campaign against an EU nanotechnology project linking their university with Ahava, a firm producing cosmetics in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. The campaign has drawn support from the renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky and the poet Remi Kanazi.
Details of EU-funded science projects can be found on a database called Cordis. If you work or study in a university, enter the name of your college into its search engine, along with the word “Israel.” There is every likelihood that the resulting information can be used to challenge your university’s authorities about their links with Israel. Don’t be shy in kicking up a fuss on campus. Institutions that cooperate with Israeli apartheid must be confronted.
●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 27 October 2011.