Monday, February 13, 2012

EU border agency shops around for Israeli warplanes

Israel’s war machine may be recruited to stop impoverished foreigners from reaching the European Union.

A pilotless drone manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) recently took part in a demonstration exercise organized by Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, in Greece. A statement issued by IAI indicates that the drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV) in question belonged to the Heron range, which was used extensively during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Frontex has put out a call for tenders on drones that can help it identify boats carrying migrants en route to Europe.

Nonchalant attitude to war crimes

This morning I contacted Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, to ask why it is considering the purchase of warplanes from a company known to have profited from crimes against humanity. “[EU] member states are interested in surveillance technology,” Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure replied. “So we are looking at what is out there. The fact that it has been used for other purposes cannot prevent us from looking at this technology.”

Her nonchalant attitude says much about the relationship between the EU and Israel. Human rights monitors have documented how Israeli soldiers killed 87 civilians with drones during Cast Lead, illustrating how they were one of the main weapons in an offensive that left around 1,300 Palestinians dead. When Herons are the tools of oppression and occupation, it is not acceptable for an official EU body to claim that they have been used merely for “other purposes.”

Business as usual for EU-Israel relations

A few weeks ago, there was a minor ripple of excitement when a paper drawn up by EU diplomats based in East Jerusalem and Ramallah was leaked. It argued that the Union should take steps to prevent the money of European taxpayers from helping the expansion of Israeli settlements.

IAI’s subsidiary Tamam provided equipment installed in Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank. As one of the objectives of that monstrosity is to ringfence settlements regarded as strategically important by Israel, the IAI would appear to be the kind of company that the EU diplomats had in mind when they implicitly complained about how the Union is greasing the palms of the occupation’s profiteers. It is significant, though, that other branches of the EU’s labyrinthine bureaucracy -- such as Frontex -- are perfectly happy to consider supporting such companies by buying their wares.

Under the EU’s treaties all of its activities are legally obliged to respect fundamental human rights. Sadly, the memo explaining that fact does not appear to have been sent to Frontex. Last year, Human Rights Watch published the findings of its investigation into the detention of almost 12,000 migrants who entered Greece at its land border with Turkey between November 2010 and March 2011. Guards working for Frontex regularly apprehended those migrants and brought them to detention facilities that were so shabby that they were condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, the report found.

Frontex assists human rights abuses

Attempting to migrate to another country is not a crime. So by taking part in such operations, Frontex assisted in the jailing of people who had not been accused of a recognizable offence. In other words, it abetted human rights abuses by criminalizing the innocent. Yet that didn’t stop the European Parliament from giving Frontex a present of €44 million in September. That sum is additional to the agency’s annual budget, which rose from €6 million in 2005 to €86 million in 2011.

IAI calls human rights workers “stupid”

I also called IAI earlier today to check if the type of Heron being assessed by Frontex was deployed in Gaza. “The Heron is used only for gathering information,” said the company’s representative Hadal Paz. When I pointed out that human rights monitors have amassed credible evidence indicating that civilians were killed with Herons in Cast Lead, Paz responded. “That fact that somebody wrote something in a stupid article doesn’t mean it is correct. I read your website [The Electronic Intifada] very carefully and a lot of the information you have there is incorrect.”

Paz did not, however, provide one specific example of any inaccurate detail in EI’s reporting.

When speaking to Moncure from Frontex, I asked her if she was aware of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. She didn’t appear to know what I was talking about. It is vital that this knowledge gap be plugged. You can contact Frontex at this email address: Please let its management and staff know that shopping around for Israeli weapons is an affront to humanity, regardless of what they want to do with those weapons.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 February 2012.

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