When was the last time that the European Union decided to abet a war crime?
I have just learned that the EU's executive approved a grant to Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, on 5 July this year.
Under the EU's agreement with the firm, Ahava will coordinate the SuperFlex project on skincare research. Over €6 million ($8 million) of the scheme's budget comes from EU funds.
The aim of SuperFlex is to develop new cosmetic products for the elderly. This indicates that Brussels officials are more interested in finding a cure for wrinkles than in protecting international law.
Israel's settlements in the West Bank are regarded as war crimes by the United Nations. A 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice stipulated that public authorities around the world have an obligation not to assist Israel's illegal activities. The EU's deal with Ahava breaks the spirit and probably the letter of that ruling.
Ignorance is no defence
It is all the more disgusting that the agreement with Ahava was signed exactly two weeks before the EU published new guidelines stating that companies or institutions active in Israeli settlements were not eligible for the Union's grants. These guidelines will come into effect at the beginning of 2014. Why is it deemed OK to aid war crimes before then?
Replying to a recent query from several elected representatives, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's commissioner for scientific research, said that the EU's grants to Ahava were authorized within "the applicable legal framework" but "this situation is now changing" because of the new guidelines.
Geoghegan-Quinn's "legal framework" presumably refers to the rules covering cooperation between the EU and Israel. Even within that "legal framework," it's highly doubtful that giving money to Ahava can be considered acceptable. All of the Union's cooperation with Israel is supposed to be based on respect for human rights.
More importantly, whatever "framework" she operates within, Geoghegan-Quinn does not have carte blanche to trample over international law.
Ignorance is no defence, either. Geoghegan-Quinn and her advisers have received plenty of correspondence over the past few years alerting them to how Ahava manufactures its goods in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. Last year, she admitted to being "aware of the issue" when it was raised by a British member of the European Parliament and signalled that steps were being taken to rectify the problem.
Gobbling up Palestine
Ahava is one of four Israeli "partners" in SuperFlex. Another is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Its campus is located in East Jerusalem. While the EU has refused to recognize Israel's occupation and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem, the Union has displayed remarkable flexibility towards the Hebrew University.
A memo prepared by the EU's Tel Aviv embassy has pointed out that the EU will be able to continue awarding grants to the Hebrew University once its new guidelines come into effect.
Mount Scopus, where the university has its campus, was placed under Israeli control in 1948, while the remainder of East Jerusalem was seized by Israel in 1967. And so the EU doesn't consider the Hebrew University to be on occupied land, even though it has encroached into Issawiyeh, a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank.
European diplomats in Tel Aviv were once again trumpeting their admiration for the Hebrew University this evening. The EU was a sponsor of an "open night" on Space exploration held on several Israeli campuses.
As its contribution, the Hebrew University hosted exhibitions on what technology will be used for Space travel in 2050.
Providing a glimpse of the future does not atone for the wrongs inflicted in the past or in the present. It does not negate how the EU is helping Israel to gobble up every inch of Palestine.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 September 2013.
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