Friday, April 24, 2015

With Israel's help, EU seeks new ways of being cruel to refugees

European Union leaders have responded in a callous manner to the mass drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Rather than investing in a system that would save lives and guarantee protection to people fleeing oppression and poverty, the EU's governments have put themselves on a war footing. Their proposals to attack boats used to transport asylum-seekers look eerily similar to what far-right parties and tabloid pundits have been advocating.

Such plans have not emerged out of nowhere. For some time, the EU has been discussing migration as if it is a military threat. One recurring theme is the possibility that drones could be deployed in border surveillance operations.

Israel's arms industry -- a top exporter of drones -- has participated in some of the key discussions.

In 2013, an EU "steering group" on "remotely piloted aircraft systems" -- a synonym for drones -- issued recommendations for how these warplanes can be increasingly flown in civilian airspace over a 15-year period. Frontex, the Union's border management agency, was identified as a likely user of drones.

The group's members included Unmanned Vehicle Systems - International, a trade association for drone-makers. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones repeatedly used to attack Gaza, are both represented on UVS - International.

"Great interest"

Last year UVS-International noted that Frontex has "manifested great interest" in drones. The interest has been so great that Frontex has explored deploying the Hermes-900 drone while tracking refugees.

Developed by Elbit, the Hermes-900 received what war analysts called its "combat debut" in Gaza last summer. Almost certainly, this cutting-edge weapon killed and seriously maimed civilians.

Another member of the EU's steering group was the European Association for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).

Don't be fooled by the "civil aviation" part of its name. EUROCAE has an "active" committee dedicated to drones, which contributed to the EU steering group's work.

Israel Aerospace Industries -- "the largest government owned defense and aerospace company" in Israel, according to its website -- is part of EUROCAE's drone committee. Michael Allouche from Israel Aerospace Industries brags of being that committee's "airworthiness leader."

Are we supposed to find that reassuring?

Exception for Israel

As things stand, it is generally forbidden for drones to enter European civil airspace. Yet an exception has been made for Israel Aerospace Industries.

In April 2013, one of its drones, the Heron, flew over both a military base and civilian airspace in Spain during an EU-funded maritime surveillance exercise. That might have been something of a novelty for the Heron's operators, who are more accustomed to dropping bombs on Gaza.

Barack Obama expressed regret yesterday for how US drones killed two hostages of al-Qaeda in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year.

Some press reports inferred it is unusal for innocent people to die as a result of drones. That is bunkum.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has documented how as many as 962 civilians may have been killed by America's drones in Pakistan between 2004 and 2015.

The Obama administration gave its fulsome support to Israel's war crimes last summer. Defence for Children International - Palestine has just published the results of its research into those crimes. It found that 164 children were directly targeted and unlawfully killed in drone strikes.

Is there anything more obscene than the deliberate slaughter of children? I can think of one thing: the way arms companies exploit such slaughter for marketing purposes. Israel Aerospace Industries gloats of how its products were "proven in battle" last summer.

Most of Gaza's inhabitants are refugees, uprooted by the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel's foundation. Knowing full well that Israel has tested its drones on Palestinian refugees, the European Union is considering testing these drones on refugees from other parts of the world.

The arms industry and its lackeys constantly talk of innovation. What they really mean by this innovation is finding new ways of being cruel.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 April 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Could massive EU-US trade deal be extended to Israel?

There are many reasons to oppose the planned Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

It is a designed to make capitalism the only permissible system in both the US and the European Union. It is being negotiated in a secretive and anti-democratic fashion. The groundwork for it has been laid by an unholy alliance of banks and the manufacturers of cigarettes, cars and chemicals.

And it may be extended to Israel.

Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade commissioner, stated earlier this year that "other countries close to us could link into the agreement" after the contents of TTIP are finalized.

Israel enjoys an extremely close trading relationship with the EU. A deal approved by the European Parliament in 2012 paves the way for Israel to be integrated into the Union's single market for goods and services.

The idea that Israel would be eligible to join TTIP is being mulled over by the cognoscenti in both Brussels and Washington.

Boon for polluters

The Centre for European Policy Studies, an EU-funded "think tank", issued a paper last year which claimed that Israel was "keen to benefit from effective market access to TTIP." The paper suggested that the goal of the partnership to achieve a harmonized approach to setting regulations between the EU and the US would be of particular relevance to Israel's chemical exporters.

It is important to spell out what such "regulatory convergence" -- to use the frequently impenetrable jargon of trade negotiators -- would mean in practice. As things stand, the EU has more leeway than the US to take precautionary action against substances deemed hazardous towards human health or the environment. A core demand of the chemical industry is that the scope to take precautionary measures should be restricted.

If policy-makers capitulate to these demands, then TTIP will be a boon for polluters.

The elite appears to be taking a "not if but when" approach towards Israel's involvement in TTIP.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- a deceptively-named outfit partly financed by the Pentagon -- recommends that close attention be paid to the order in which outside states are invited to join the "partnership." As Turkey has a customs union with the EU, it is considered logical by the denizens of think tank land that it should be integrated into TTIP.

Yet if Turkey is invited to join TTIP before Israel, then it may obstruct Israel's involvement, according to a Carnegie analysis.

Carnegie's urbane "experts" neglect to remind us that Israel launched an unprovoked attack against Turkey in 2010 when it murdered nine Turkish activists trying to break the siege of Gaza.

Chilling effect

The campaign group War on Want has voiced concerns over efforts by some members of the US Congress to make TTIP conditional on outlawing boycotts, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel.

Whether or not those efforts succeed, it strikes me that TTIP could have a chilling effect on political activism.

The most contentious proposal on the a table in the TTIP talks relates to a dispute settlement mechanism. In effect, that would be a court system to which only corporations and their legal teams would have access. They would be able to sue public authorities over and demand financial compensation for laws or decisions perceived as barriers to trade.

A European government that bans the importation of goods from Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank could conceivably find itself being sued if Israel joins TTIP. Even if Israel does not join, public authorities could find themselves sued if they bar firms that abet Israeli apartheid -- such as Hewlett-Packard or G4S -- from applying for contracts.

I am not exaggerating. Clauses on dispute settlement in other free trade agreements have been invoked to challenge progressive measures by big business.

Veolia, the French behemoth known for building a tram network to serve Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, is contesting increases to Egypt's minimum wage. The tobacco maker Philip Morris is suing against anti-smoking initiatives in Uruguay and Australia. The fossil fuel industry is seeking to overturn Quebec's ban on the ecologically destructive practice of fracking.

TTIP is not a done deal. It has encountered stiff opposition in Europe. Ultimately, it could be defeated through large-scale public mobilization.

The elite's apparent willingness to extend TTIP to the apartheid of Israel state makes that mobilization all the more necessary.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 April 2015.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top Israeli recipient of EU grants is based in occupied East Jerusalem

A college in occupied East Jerusalem is the top Israeli recipient of European Union science grants.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem took part in 237 projects under an EU multi-annual scientific research program, which ran from 2007 to 2013.

According to an internal EU document that I have seen, the university was the leading Israeli participant in the program.

EU officials have displayed a determination to continue aiding the university. After the Union published "guidelines" in 2013 stating that Israeli firms and institutions based in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank should not be given subsidies, its representatives promptly made clear that Hebrew University would not be affected.

A "frequently asked questions" paper issued by the EU's embassy in Tel Aviv contended that Hebrew University was not on occupied land, even though it has a campus in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The diplomats' argument rested on how Mount Scopus, where that campus can be found, was captured by Zionist forces in 1948, rather than 1967.


That reasoning is threadbare. Hebrew University has been encroaching into territory that Israel has been stealing since the start of its 1967 occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In 1968, Israel ordered the confiscation of 3,345 dunums of Palestinian land in the environs of Mount Scopus (a dunum equals 1,000 square meters). Hebrew University has expanded into that land.

The EU's position ignores how a large part of Issawiyeh, a Palestinian village neighboring Mount Scopus, has been expropriated in order to host dormitories and other facilities for students at the Hebrew University.

By trying to make a distinction between the violence leading to Israel's establishment in 1948 and the 1967 occupation, the EU is pandering to those liberal Zionists who wish to obfuscate the full extent of Israel's crimes.

As Ilan Pappe documents in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, academics from Hebrew University helped prepare the ground for the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the forced uprooting of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Ben-Zion Luria, an historian at the university, recommended that the Jewish National Fund compile an inventory of Palestinian villages. Doing so would "greatly help the redemption of the land," Luria wrote.

Pappe has demonstrated how this proposal gave "added impetus and zeal to the expulsion plans" implemented in 1948.

Supporting genocide

Hebrew University has kept on lending its support to Israel's acts of genocide.

When Israel attacked Gaza in the summer of 2014, the university undertook a fundraising drive so that soldiers taking part in the offensive could be offered scholarships.

Some of the EU-funded schemes involving Hebrew University are high profile. The Human Brain Project, for example, has been allocated €54 million ($57.5 million) in EU funding between 2013 and next year. (This is part of a larger initiative likely to receive €1 billion from the Brussels bureaucracy and EU governments).

This attempt to understand how the brain functions has drawn criticism from a group of neuroscientists for allegedly being too narrow in focus. Surely, however, the involvement of an Israeli institution which supports attacks in which the children of Gaza have literally had their brains blown out is a far more serious matter.

The EU's aforementioned guidelines were compiled as preparations for Horizon 2020, as the Union's new science program is called. Israel is taking part in an equal basis in this program to the EU's own member countries.


By only excluding entities that are actually based in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the EU is glossing over institutions that abet the entire settlement enterprise.
Hebrew University is one such institution. Its staff have been known to sit on committees assessing planned appointments at Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank. Despite its cordial ties to that school for settlers, Hebrew University refuses to recognize degrees awarded by Al-Quds University, a Palestinian college in Jerusalem.

Top-level EU figures have displayed a fawning attitude towards Hebrew University. Receiving an honorary degree last year, the European Parliament's President Martin Schulz rhapsodized about that "exceptional moment in my life." Schulz used the conferring ceremony to oppose calls made by Palestinians for a boycott of Israel.

In so doing, the speaker of the EU's only directly-elected body proved he was more concerned with assuaging the oppressor than in upholding the rights of the oppressed. His stance was typical of how the Union supports Israeli apartheid, while claiming the opposite.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 14 April 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Europe keeps on paying Israel's bills

One sordid example of Israel's impunity is that the EU keeps on picking up the tabs for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Since Operation Cast Lead - Israel's assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 - the EU has contributed around €540 million to the reconstruction effort. That sum comprised more than one-third of the total €1.3 billion that the Union has spent in Gaza during the past decade.

Israel attacked Gaza once again in the summer of 2014, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians. The schools and hospitals bombed by Israel had been funded by the EU. Yet despite how there is a moral imperative to hold Israel accountable for the destruction, the Union is instead contributing to the repair bill.

In one of her final engagements as the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton pledged in October 2014 that the EU would donate €450 million to rebuild Gaza - once again.

Foreign aid is big business. Consultants and policy wonks get paid handsomely by major donors to advise on how money ostensibly earmarked for alleviating poverty should be used.

A consortium of aid "experts" - led by the Rome-based firm Development Researchers Network - has been hired by the European Commission to evaluate its aid to Palestine. The consortium's report, published in July 2014, concluded that the EU "has not been willing or able" to address the "constraints" placed on its aid activities by the Israel.

It's not difficult to work out how the EU could start addressing those "constraints". Legal proceedings could be undertaken against Israel for bombing infrastructure financed by the European taxpayer. And economic sanctions could be introduced against Israel as a signal that its denial of Palestinian rights will no longer be tolerated. The consortium, however, did not recommend any bold action - just a few timid "reforms".

Under international law, an occupying power is obliged to meet the basic needs of the people under occupation. The EU's status as the largest donor to the West Bank and Gaza means that it is relieving Israel of its obligations.

Some of this aid is of direct help to the occupation. In 2012, the EU announced a €13 million "gift" of X-ray and computer equipment to Kerem Abu Shalem, the crossing for goods between Gaza and present-day Israel. That crossing is controlled by Israel, which has placed severe restrictions on imports to and exports from Gaza. By bestowing that gift, the EU became a junior partner for a medieval siege.

Such cooperation is inherently problematic. And it looks set to be expanded. The aid promised to Gaza in October 2014 will go through a UN "reconstruction mechanism". Israel has been given a veto on who can and cannot receive cement and other building material.

Meanwhile, the EU runs a €9 million-per-year "support mission" for the Palestinian Authority's police in the West Bank. A core objective of that "mission" is to boost cooperation between the Israeli and PA "security forces". Enforcement of the occupation is thereby being outsourced to the Palestinians themselves.

Bolstering the private sector in Palestine has been identified as a key priority for the EU's aid activities in 2015. Is it a coincidence that this priority chimes with that of Tony Blair? The European Union is, after all, one of the top donors to Blair's office in Jerusalem and part of the Middle East "quartet" that Blair represents.

In March 2014, Blair's office in Jerusalem published a blueprint for the corporate capture of Palestine. Titled The Initiative for a Palestinian Economy, it advocated that major firms be lured to the West Bank and Gaza by developing "special economic zones" and offering "financial incentives". "Special economic zones" are a fancy term for sweat-shops. "Financial incentives" mean exempting major companies from most, if not all, taxes.
Blair's blueprint was drawn up in consultation with about 100 Israeli and Palestinian business "leaders". Munib Masri, a billionaire from Nablus, is among those entrepreneurs enjoying cordial relations with Blair.

While ordinary Palestinians and their supporters worldwide are boycotting Israel, Masri has formed alliances with Israelis who benefit directly from the occupation. They include Rami Levy, who runs supermarkets in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, and Yossi Vardi, a technology guru who has relied largely on software engineers trained by the Israeli military.

There is something quite sinister going on here. Blair and the European Union are being guided by a wealthy Palestinian elite happy to cuddle up to the oppressor.

The EU has long been eager to promote cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. EU-sponsored discussions about joint energy projects overlook Israel's record of exploiting the Palestinians' natural resources in a manner that violates international law.

I'm not arguing that the EU should stop all aid to the Palestinians. Funding cuts for healthcare and education would cause a marked increase in suffering among a people who have already suffered too much.

Rather, I'm calling for a modicum of honesty. The EU's representatives should quit portraying their aid efforts as noble and generous. They should admit that European taxpayers are paying bills that Israel is legally obliged to pay. And they should sue Israel for destroying EU-funded infrastructure.

Much of the EU's aid is clearly indefensible, however. Far from bringing the Palestinians closer to freedom, the Union is requiring the oppressor and the oppressed to pretend they are the best of buddies. Even worse, such aid is turning Palestine into a laboratory for a perverse experiment that marries capitalism and militarism.

By pandering to an elite that is already doing nicely from the status quo, the experiment serves to entrench injustice.

•First published by Palestine News, Winter 2015 issue.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

EU invites profiteers of Saudi, Israeli war crimes to draft blueprint for future weapons

Preoccupied with a general election campaign, the British media have largely ignored a very real scandal: UK weapons are almost certainly being used to kill civilians in Yemen.

During 2014, the UK's largest arms company BAE Systems delivered eleven Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

Such warplanes have been deployed in recent Saudi attacks on Yemen, according to a small number of press reports. Most of those reports fail to mention BAE.

The high probability that BAE Systems is profiting from war crimes hasn't damaged its influence.

On Monday, 29 civilians died when the Saudis bombed the al-Mazraq refugee camp. That same day, a new group of arms industry leaders held its first meeting in Brussels.

Formally tasked with helping the European Union develop a program for weapons innovation, the group includes Ian King, BAE's chief executive.

$5 million salary

King commands an annual salary of £3.5 million ($5.2 million). He recently bragged of how BAE Systems was providing "good support" for the "national objectives" of Saudi Arabia, its number one client.

The new group of arms industry leaders is the latest in a series of initiatives taken by the EU to bolster weapons producers.

After George W. Bush declared his "war on terror," the EU assembled a similar group to draft a plan for a funding scheme on "security research." Eight representatives of arms companies -- among them BAE Systems -- were among that group's members.

Israel was a "central beneficiary" of the funding scheme set up as a result, according to an analysis undertaken at the European Parliament's request. Israeli firms and institutions took part in 26 percent of the projects financed under the scheme, which was allocated €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) between 2007 and 2013.


Despite how the scheme was nominally restricted to civilian research, a number of its projects focused on drones, a deadly weapon invented by Israel. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones used repeatedly to bomb Gaza, have both received EU science grants.

The purpose of the new group is to drop the pretense that the Union is only involved in "civilian" research. Another step is being taken towards the greater militarization of Europe.

The Israeli arms industry is not represented on the new group. Yet Israel enjoys an equal status to the EU's own member countries in the Union's research actitivites. More than likely, then, Israel's weapons-makers will be able to soak up whatever subsidies end up being offered.

It is also worth noting that some of the firms on the new group have strong links to Israel.

BAE Systems, for example, owns a firm called Rokar, which is based in Jerusalem. Rokar provides electronic equipment to the Israeli army.

Furthermore, BAE has manufactured "head-up displays" -- a key component of F-16 jets that the US exports to Israel.

Tom Enders and Mauro Moretti, the bosses of Airbus and Finmeccanica, belong to the EU's new group, too. In 2011, Airbus signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to develop an "early warning system" for warplanes.

Italy's Finmeccanica, meanwhile, makes jet trainer aircraft that the Israeli military is buying as part of a $1 billion deal. Two of those aircraft were delivered to the Israeli air force around the time its bombardment of Gaza began last summer.

Some entrepreneurs do rather nicely from Israel's crimes against humanity. Some of those entrepreneurs sit on the EU's new group.

The profiteers of war and occupation have been invited to dictate an agenda that Europe's politicians will surely follow.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 April 2015.

The dodgy clairvoyants of the Israel lobby

One curious thing about the Israel lobby is that so many of its staff seem to be clairvoyants. Each foresees the same thing: Iran is less than one year away from having a nuclear bomb.

The certainty of these soothsayers is awe-inspiring. Time may pass and evidence may be produced to the contrary. Yet they keep warning us of the imminent apocalyspe.

The Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP) is led by such visionaries. Robert Satloff, director of that august body, has carefully decoded every nuance in Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech to the US Congress.

According to Satloff, the "key sentence" in the address contained a warning that any deal leaving Iran's nuclear programme "intact" would enable it build a bomb within twelve months. Satloff indicated that he held "conversations with two long-time Israeli defense officials" who confirmed that their nation's intelligence services share Netanyahu's fears.

Satloff is quite audacious. Although he concedes that the Israeli "security and intelligence establishment has not been viewed as a cheerleader" for Netanyahu's "overall Iran policy", he is convinced that they agree on this point. Why? Because unnamed "defense officials" told him.

Referring to conversations with anonymous insiders is a tried and tested way of sounding authoritative. Often, a reader has no way of testing if non-attributed "information" is reliable. In this case, however, there are good reasons to believe that Satloff has either been hoodwinked or that he is trying to hoodwink everyone else.

Not only has Mossad declined to be Netanyahu's "cheerleader", it has contradicted him outright. A 2012 cable drawn up by the Israeli intelligence agency and published by Al Jazeera in the past few weeks stated that Iran is not capable of adapting nuclear fuel for use in weapons because it does not have a nuclear reprocessing plant.

WINEP is treated with respect by the US establishment. Dennis Ross, its "distinguished fellow" (an official title, I kid you not), served as an adviser to Barack Obama. Martin Indyk, a WINEP founder who served in Bill Clinton's administration, once said that the think tank wished to convey an image "that we are friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way."

The predictions of its clairvoyants on have not proven to be credible. In 2002, it claimed that Iran's development of a nuclear bomb could "come much sooner" than the CIA had suggested. (George Tenet, then the CIA's chief, said that year that Iran could be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb by "late this decade").

Towards the end of 2002, the institute argued that the US "should pursue regime change in Iraq" as it "cannot afford to ignore Saddam's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] threat". By making that case, it contributed to the febrile atmosphere that enabled George W. Bush start an illegal war.

WINEP is part of a vibrant "Iran watch" industry. Many of this industry's players whipped up fear about Saddam Hussein's non-existent chemical and biological weapons before the invasion of Iraq. Without displaying any signs of embarrassment about their past blunders, they are now posing as experts on the "threat" from neighbouring Iran.

The Wisconscin Project on Nuclear Arms Control is one such player. In November 2002, its director Gary Milhollin wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal, stating that "every Western intelligence service believes" Saddam Hussein possessed a "mass destruction arsenal".

Flash forward to June 2012, when Daniel Schwammenthal, who heads the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee, knocked out a piece for the same newspaper. Citing the Wisconscin Project, Schwammenthal asserted that Iran had acquired enough uranium for "at least four nuclear weapons".

The "Iran watch" industry can send out mixed messages.

Earlier this month, Tehran unveiled its cruise missile, the Soumar. According to a US neoconservative group called the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, the Soumar is "capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons" and "appears to be the ideal terror weapon".

The Times of Israel, a website set up by the right-wing hawk David Horowitz, may not have got the same memo. It reported that the Soumar is "no way near capable of delivering a nuclear device".

The website's "analysis" was shaped by a briefing given by the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies. Based in Herzliya, a city in the Tel Aviv district, that institute has representatives from Israel's largest arms-makers on its managing board.

They have a vested interest in scaremongering: doing so helps them sell weapons. Unlike some think tanks which cloak themselves in a veneer of "objectivity", the Fisher Institute is brazenly partisan. In May, it will hold a seminar to examine how the arms industry can help Israel win wars.

So it comes as no surprise that the institute depicts Iran as an existential menace to Israel, even if it appeared more relaxed about the Soumar than others in the Zionist lobby.

In December last, the institute teamed up with WINEP to hold a conference on the "threat of Iranian missiles". WINEP's Michael Eisenstadt called on Israel and NATO to increase their work on missile interceptors, using such "shields" during training exercises. Doing so would send a signal to Tehran that its use of weapons would "yield few benefits, while risking a punishing response," he told the conference.

The Zionist lobby has been so busy speculating about the possible results of Iran's nuclear programme that it has forgotten aout the actual results of Israel's activities. It has forgotten that Israel thas admitted introducing nuclear weapons to the Middle East and that it refuses to accept rules on avoiding proliferation that apply in most other countries, including Iran.

No doubt, the memory loss is deliberate. Iran is not on the verge of developing nuclear weapons but the thought that it might acquire them one day is intolerable for the Zionist lobby.

They might get their wires crossed occassionally but the lobbyists all follow the same script: no other country in the Middle East is allowed to rival Israel.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 16 March 2015.