This weekend’s visit by José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, to the West Bank is a calculated insult to ordinary Palestinians and to the taxpayers he purports to represent.
On Sunday morning, Barroso is scheduled to inspect the EU-funded police training school in Jericho. His presence there will be a grotesque celebration of how the Union is picking up the tabs for the Israeli occupation, though it’s unlikely he will put it in those terms.
Barroso’s visit takes place just one week after the Palestinian Authority’s police brutally repressed protests by their compatriots in Ramallah. The bitter irony is that the protests were against earlier instances of police brutality. As the EU “mentors” the PA’s police in “public order” techniques, it is fair to say that my tax euros are being used to deny Palestinians the right to freedom of assembly and expression.
The recent behavior of the PA police is part of a broader pattern. When Israel bombed Gaza mercilessly in late 2008 and 2009, the PA’s forces suppressed demonstrations in the West Bank. Police who beat protestors in Hebron in January 2009 then impeded the injured from receiving medical treatment. The report by the United Nations fact-finding team headed by Richard Goldstone, the retired South African judge, concluded that the arbitrary arrests undertaken by the PA forces at that time contravened international law. (The UN report remains valid, even if Goldstone has subsequently tried to distance himself from it).
Javier Solana, the EU’s then foreign policy chief, commended the violations. In his contribution to a book called The Path to European Defence, Solana wrote that the PA police “managed very well.” He argued that the way those forces handled the situation offered proof that the EU training mission for PA police had made “progress.”
Jericho also hosts a prison that was opened in 2011 with the aid of the Dutch government. In March this year, the EU supported a training course for 20 police officers on “quelling prison disorder.” The Jericho course focused on techniques for using tonfas, batons traditionally associated with Chinese martial arts.
Propaganda material published by the EU’s Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (COPPS) says that the officers were trained to avoid inflicting injuries and abusing the rights of inmates. I don’t find that reassuring for two reasons. Firstly, it has been documented that detainees held by the PA have suffered widespread beating by sticks and other forms of torture.
And secondly, the the EU is facilitating the detention of political activists opposed to the PA’s acquiescence in Israel’s crimes against humanity. The EU is, therefore, enabling the abuse of human rights on a massive scale.
The guidelines for the COPPS “mission” closely resemble a blueprint for “counter-insurgency” in the West Bank and Gaza put forward by Britain in 2003, when Tony Blair was prime minister. The central purpose of COPPS is to boost cooperation between the PA purposes and Israel. Not only does it deny Palestinians the right to resist, it requires them to police the occupation of their own homeland.
COPPS has a new chief: Ken Deane. He is the third former member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland or its precursor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to head the EU’s operation. The other two were Colin Smith and Paul Kernaghan.
The RUC was a predominantly Protestant and pro-British police force, which faced numerous allegations of bias and harassment against the Catholic community in the north of Ireland. It also enjoyed extensive powers under “emergency” legislation: these included being able to search houses without a judicial warrant and to detain people for up to seven days without charge. To this day, those with a pro-British political orientation in the north of Ireland tend to identify more with the State of Israel than with Palestinians.
It is impossible to see how ex-RUC officers could be expected to behave impartially in Palestine. But COPPS was never intended as an impartial mission. Rather, it is a deliberate attempt to export the methods of policing used in the north of Ireland to Palestine.
Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop, once said: “We don’t need anyone to polish our chains. We want to break the chains altogether.”
This weekend, José Manuel Barroso will polish the Palestinians’ chains.
●First published by The Electronic Intifada