Friday, June 22, 2018

Why Europe must halt support for Palestinian Authority's police

Each summer the European Union’s governments decide to help preserve an unjust situation.

The decision – which involves renewing the annual mandate for a policing operation in the occupied West Bank – is presented as largely procedural. No real scrutiny takes place on how the EU trains the Palestinian Authority to oppress fellow Palestinians.

Almost certainly, the same ritualistic rubber-stamping will occur again this year. That is despite how the argument for refusing to extend the mandate when it expires at the end of June has just become much stronger.

Last week, the PA’s forces used tear gas and sound grenades against West Bank residents determined to display solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza. That violent suppression of a protest occurred in Ramallah, the city where the EU’s policing operation is headquartered.

Disgracefully, EU representatives are claiming that the thuggery has nothing to do with them.

I inquired if the EU policing team in Ramallah was investigating whether it had provided training to any of the forces who resorted to brutality last week. The EU team has “neither an executive mandate nor a monitoring role in relation to its Palestinian partner authorities,” a spokesperson for the team, replied.

That poor excuse for apathy raises questions about what agenda the EU is really pushing.

Established 13 years ago, the policing operation is one of the EU’s longest-running foreign policy initiatives. In its publications, the EU team in Ramallah expresses a delight in seeing its PA proteges graduate and take up their beats.

But when those forces assault peaceful demonstrators, the EU team does not even bother to check if the cops involved had previously been its students.

Playing Cupid

The latest newsletter from the EU’s operation in Ramallah offers a clue on its priorities. It says that the EU’s team had been “successful” in re-establishing dialogue between the PA’s forces and the Israeli police.

The “exceptionally fruitful” efforts by the EU team had resulted in joint workshops involving the PA and Israel’s national police on “practical topics of mutual interest,” according to the newsletter.

Pause for a moment and reflect on those words.

A European Union body is congratulating itself for acting as a kind of dating agency. The EU plays Cupid so that the Israeli police force – which is based in occupied East Jerusalem – can get cozy with officers from the Palestinian Authority.

What the EU is really fostering is collaboration between an occupying power and an occupied people. In their own countries, Europeans look back on collaboration with their occupiers, especially by police, with revulsion and shame.

Last week’s brutality was also reminiscent of how the PA’s forces tried to break up West Bank protests against Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli attack on Gaza, in early 2009. The EU’s then foreign policy chief Javier Solana praised the PA’s forces for their handling of demonstrations.

Profanity

Solana’s stance chimed with the strategic thinking which led to the EU policing mission being launched. That thinking can be traced back to documents drawn up when Britain held the Union’s rotating presidency in 1998.

Those papers inferred that the PA’s forces should be trained and equipped so that they would crush “terrorism.”

Israel has repeatedly applied that term to all forms of resistance by Palestinians. Following its recent massacres in Gaza, for example, Israel has sought to smear the unarmed demonstrators and even medics that it has killed and wounded as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

The protests held in Ramallah over the past couple of weeks challenge a situation that the EU has helped to entrench. Under that situation, the Palestinian Authority has added a new layer of repression to that which West Bank residents already had to face.

The economic warfare and movement restrictions to which the PA has subjected Gaza – a focus of the Ramallah protests – proves that its tactics and Israel’s are complementary.

As well as training police recruits, the EU has funded the construction of new prisons in Nablus and Jenin, both cities in the West Bank. The EU’s team in Ramallah has been providing advice to the PA on how these prisons should be run.

The ostensible reason for building these new facilities is to reduce overcrowding in the PA’s existing jails.

That claim should be treated with great skepticism.

The PA has often locked up its political opponents, including those wanted by Israel. Palestinians are routinely arrested and tortured by Israel after first being detained by the PA.

The new jails will more than likely be used for such incarceration.

Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, has described “security coordination” with the Israeli state as “sacred.” Ordinary people who are genuinely concerned about human rights would regard as profane the very idea of making a government within an occupied territory serve the interests of the occupier.

The European Union helps perpetuate that profanity.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 June 2018.

Friday, June 1, 2018

France promotes rifles used in Gaza massacres

The maker of rifles used during Israel’s recent massacres in Gaza will soon exhibit its products at an arms fair sponsored by the French government.

Amnesty International’s investigations have identified the Tavor as likely to have been one of the main guns fired by Israeli snipers attacking Palestinian demonstrators over the past two months.

As the manufacturer of that rifle, Israel Weapon Industries ought to be blacklisted by every country which professes concern for human rights.

France is one such country. Emmanuel Macron, its president, officially condemned the killing of more than 100 Palestinian demonstrators since 30 March.

His condemnation was hollow. It came as preparations were underway for the Eurosatory weapons fair in Paris.

Israel Weapon Industries is among the firms scheduled to have a display at this fair, which will open in less than two weeks’ time.

It is just one of dozens of firms from Israel’s war industry – including the top drone supplier Elbit Systems– that will be present at Eurosatory. Israel’s defense ministry is listed as an exhibitor, too.

The fair is organized by the French government, working in tandem with the national weapons lobby.

Israel Weapon Industries has been availing of similar fairs to exhibit the latest Tavor model. The official program for Eurosatory indicates that these guns will be on display.

Tool for killing

The firm may not have publicized its role in enabling the Gaza massacres. Yet its marketing material stresses that the Tavor is the “primary assault rifle” for all infantry units and “special forces” in the Israeli military.

According to the firm’s website, the Tavor was developed “in close cooperation” with Israel’s army, which has “rigorously tested” the weapon. That is a coded way of saying that the Tavor is a vital tool for killing and maiming Palestinians.

Some of the company’s promotional activities are crass. On 13 May, the US division of Israel Weapon Industries tweeted a reminder that it was Mother’s Day, before beseeching its followers to “go shooting.”

The following day, Israeli snipers shot dead around 60 demonstrators in Gaza. Later that week, the firm bragged of how its fans were “excited” about the new Tavor model.

The Amnesty finding about the probable use of Tavors in Gaza was published towards the end of April. The conclusion did not seem to dampen the spirits of Israel Weapon Industries.

Buffoonery amid the bloodshed

Soon, its representatives were delighting in the fun they had at the annual get-together of the National Rifle Association in Dallas. They were even running competitions, offering entrants a chance to win a pistol dubbed Jericho, the name of a Palestinian city under Israeli occupation.

This clowning around with the NRA took place amid an unprecedented surge in protest against the US gun lobby, led by survivors of February’s school massacre in Parkland, Florida. That revulsion would be renewed in May after another massacre at a high school, this time in Santa Fe, Texas.

The arguments for an arms embargo on Israel – as human rights groups, including Amnesty demand – have been compelling for decades. When Israel Weapon Industries resorts to buffoonery after enabling bloodshed, that case becomes immensely stronger.

The European Union has not only refused to impose an arms embargo, it is helping Israel’s arms companies to boost their sales.

The EU will send a number of senior officials to the aforementioned Paris fair.

Mihnea Motoc is among those due to speak during the conferences that accompany the exhibition. Previously a minister in Romania, he now advises Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, on stimulating the war industry.

I asked Motoc if he had any ethical concerns about endorsing an exhibition likely to feature weapons used against unarmed demonstrators. “We are not in a position to answer your questions,” his assistant replied.

Israel Weapon Industries is benefiting from the pain of Palestinians. Its “battle-tested” firearms have been bought by armies in India, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria, Thailand and Mexico.

Over the past five years, it has invested considerable resources towards selling weapons designed for the Israeli military to North American police, as well as running training sessions on their use.

That eagerness to export the tools and tactics of the Israeli occupation is extremely disturbing. By including the maker of Israel’s sniper rifles in an arms fair, the French authorities are helping to turn massacres into marketing opportunities.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2018.