A transporter of food grown in Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank has benefited from the European Union's scientific research grants.
Cargo Air Lines, an Israeli firm, and its subsidiary Liège Air Cargo Holding Services (LACHS) have taken part in a €3 million ($4 million) surveillance technology project, mainly funded by the EU.
Yossi Shoukroun, the head of LACHS, told me that the freight company handles fruit and vegetables "coming from both Israel and Palestine," along with herbs and flowers. Asked if such products originate from Israeli settlements, Shoukroun replied that the company does not have "any ability to find out where the product really grows."
This is tantamount to an admission that a proportion of the goods in question are from Israeli settlements. Israel's main food exporters all trade in produce from settlements in the West Bank. Such produce is routinely labelled "Made in Israel," even though it has not been grown within Israel's pre-1967 borders.
Although the European Commission, the EU's executive, officially regards Israel's settlements in the West Bank as illegal, it has no qualms about providing financial support to a transporter of goods grown on those illegal colonies.
A spokesperson for Commission said its officials were "not aware of the possibility" that Cargo Air Lines and LACHS transported items which "might have been produced on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank."
According to the spokesperson, no official investigation has been conducted into why the firms have benefitted from the EU's project -- known as iDetecT 4ALL -- "nor are there legal grounds" on which a probe could be launched. Israeli participants may only be excluded from the EU's research projects if their contribution to those projects is performed in the West Bank, the spokesperson added.
As it happens, there is prima facie evidence indicating that work relating to the iDetecT 4ALL project, which ran from 2008 to 2011, was carried out on Israeli settlements.
Refusal to probe
The aim of the project was to examine how surveillance equipment can be used to raise the alarm when "intruders" approach sites considered to be of economic importance. Motorola Israel, another participant in the project, has installed a "virtual fence" -- using sensors and thermal cameras -- around Israeli settlements, on the pretext that they needed to be protected from "intruders."
Yet when this matter was brought to the attention of the European Commission in 2011, it also refused to investigate. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's science commissioner, said then that she was satisfied that Motorola Israel was based within the State of Israel.
So that makes everything OK, apparently.
Last year, the Israeli press alleged that the EU caused an "earthquake" by devising guidelines stipulated that firms and institutions active in Israeli settlements were not eligible to receive EU subsidies. If implemented (and there is no guarantee that it will be), that policy would involve the Union taking a more assertive line towards Israel.
And yet the EU's executive continues to overlook how it is supporting Israel's theft of Palestinian land in other ways.
Israel is the most active non-European partner in the EU's scientific research programme, which has been allocated €80 billion ($111 billion) between now and the end of the decade.
The way Cargo Air Lines and LACHS are soaking up research grants makes a mockery of the EU's oft-repeated denunciations of Israeli settlements.
LACHS is based in Liège Airport, which is partly owned by the Belgian state of Wallonia.
A new report by François Dubuisson, professor of law at the French-speaking college Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), emphasizes that the EU and its governments have an obligation to avoid providing any aid or assistance to Israel's illegal settlements by, for example, trading with them. A similar point was made by the 2004 International Court of Justice rulingon Israel's wall in the West Bank.
Neither the Belgian nor the EU authorities have any desire to examine LACHS' involvement in the trade in illicit settlement goods. There are no restrictions in place to stop goods from Israeli settlements being sold in Belgian stores.
On a recent trip to a local supermarket, I noticed that Israel was listed as the country of origin for ten out of 15 fresh herbs on display. There was nothing to inform the customer if these herbs were from within Israel's internationally recognized borders or from illegal settlements in the West Bank.
That is not to say that placing more precise labels on these goods will rectify the situation. As these goods are grown in illegally occupied land, it follows that their export should be banned completely.
So long as the EU rejects calls to do so, it will remain an enabler of Israeli apartheid.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 March 2014.
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