By Stuart Littlewood – London
Members of the European Parliament recently took a critical view of proposals to upgrade the EU-Israel Association Agreement and put down amendments designed to toughen up the conditions. "It’s time for the Israeli Government to stop considering itself above the law and start respecting it,” warned Luisa Morgantini, the Parliament’s vice-president.
As a result the vote was postponed – “a political stunt”, said the frustrated Israel lobby. In the meantime all 27 EU ministers voted unanimously to approve the upgrade. However it is not a done deal just yet. The EU Parliament still has to vote on this.
Most citizens, myself included, are baffled by the way the EU operates. One thing is certain: it has little to do with democracy. I seem to remember that when they voted in 2002 to suspend the EU-Israel Agreement on account of Israel’s continual violation of human rights, they were ignored by the Commission and Council of Ministers… that’s western democracy for you.
Meet Israel’s European Friends
Why would anyone in Europe think it a good idea to reward Israel’s disregard for international law and common decency? One of the MEPs in my region in England, a Conservative Friend of Israel, explained his position:
"I have been closely following recent developments in the Middle East… I believe there is significant benefit in closer economic and commercial ties between the EU and the only functioning and embedded democracy in the Middle East. I have great sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians… but, in my view, the State of Israel has been placed in an impossible position by the continuation of terrorist attacks mounted from Gaza. The motive behind the Israeli restrictions was a refusal to tolerate unending and increasing attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups… I wish to see a two-state solution with an essentially Jewish state of Israel at peace with an essentially Palestinian neighbour, which is free from thuggery and terrorism, and where democracy and social and economic well-being can flourish."
Another, also Conservative, wrote in similar vein:
"I am familiar with the situation in Israel and the occupied territories as well as the suffering of many innocent Palestinian caught up in the maelstrom of the terrorist actions of Hamas and the Israeli counter attacks… The Conservatives are opposed to any new settlement building in the occupied territories yet I support an enhanced agreement with Israel, because Israel, as a democratic government is very similar to Britain. They hold free and fair elections, have a free press, healthy and lively public debate, an independent judiciary and uphold the rule of law. Because of these values Israel finds itself at the front line fighting the existential threat of Islamist terrorism."
Note the way the situation is redefined to make Israel smell good… Hamas the terrorist, Israel only responding… Israel imposing “restrictions” when truthfully it’s a full-blown blockade all the way down to shelling Gazan fishing boats… wishing to see a Palestinian neighbour “free from thuggery” – that’s funny coming from people who admire and support an apartheid state, the plain-language description of Israel by the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, and many, many others.
Yet another Conservative MEP the other side of the country sent out the same distorted framing of the situation, which we can assume is ‘standard issue’ in the Conservative Party. He too was "very familiar with the situation in Israel and the occupied territories", adding that the security fence had “considerably reduced the ability of suicide bombers to cross over and kill innocent Israeli civilians who are still subject to Hamas rockets launched from Gaza”.
It angers me that these MEPs claim to know everything but actually know only the nonsense they are spoonfed. Israel is no liberal western-style democracy, it is an ethnocracy with a racist agenda. I am deeply offended to be told by such ignorant people that we in Britain share its values. And when I recently asked a newspaperman in Jerusalem if the Israeli press was free he laughed in my face. Most of the time Israel bars journalists, and even medics, from entering Gaza to witness and report.
Upholding the rule of law? Maybe for Jews. Some 9,000 Palestinians including women and children, abducted from their homes, are banged up in Israeli prisons, many without charge or trial. There are several reports, even by Israeli organisations such B’Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Centre for the Defence of the Individual, drawing attention to Israel’s torture and medical neglect of prisoners and detainees.
When the Palestinians exercised their democratic right in free and fair elections in 2006, Israel and Western leaders rejected their choice and resolved to destroy the embryonic democracy and bring Palestinian civil society to its knees in an orgy of vicious collective punishment. As for the Hamas government now confined to Gaza, does it not have a perfect right under international law to take up arms (the same right the Israeli government pretends is exclusively theirs) to defend its people against the brutal oppression of an illegal invader and occupier?
As for terrorists, anyone who has been to the Holy Land knows who they are.
How come the EU finds it so difficult to uphold justice in the Middle East? Meet the European Friends of Israel (EFI). And what does the EFI do? Its purpose includes:
• expanding and reinforcing European support of Israel.
• providing decision-makers and those who influence public opinion with propaganda lies about the Middle East.
…and, evidently, there are enough gullible fools to swell EFI’s ranks.
At the core of EFI’s work, says the website, is a belief that Israel deserves better recognition of the cultural and democratic bonds that it shares with the EU and greater EU support. EFI’s objective is to “improve and help foster an environment in which Israel’s commercial interests are enhanced. Our aim is to increase the number of Europeans who share this belief and encourage them to take individual political action."
In signing up to support such a lawless foreign power how can our politicians possibly conform to the Principles of Public Life, in particular the principle of Integrity, which lays down that holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties?
And have they bothered to read and understand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which they are pledged to observe and promote?
EFI, as you might expect, is economical with the truth. It says that Israel didn’t really want to build the Wall and resisted doing so for more than 35 years, but “was forced to act…. It is important to stress as repeatedly mentioned by Israeli Officials that the fence is not political, and is not a border.”
On the contrary, the Wall has been instrumental in Israel’s seizure of more than 38% of the West Bank, including prime agricultural land and strategic water resources. These areas are now off-limits to Palestinians. 80% of the West Bank’s precious water is diverted to illegal settlers while Palestinians are strictly rationed or go without. If simply a security fence why wasn’t it built within Israel’s recognised border?
Is an Israeli life more precious than a Palestinian life?
Another EFI gem was this statement after 27 months of siege:
"Faced with unremitting rocket attacks from Gaza (4,000 rocket and mortar attacks on its civilians since the Jewish state dismantled every settlement and removed every settler from Gaza in 2005) the government of Israel has shown great restraint as it takes action to defend its citizens, the right and the prime obligation of any nation."
We hear the non-stop mantra about home-made rockets "raining down" on Sderot (although only 1 in 500 causes a fatality) but nothing of the countless thousands of Israeli bombs, missiles, grenades and tank shells that are blasted into Gaza’s tight-packed humanity. And nothing about how Israel still occupies Gaza’s airspace and coastal waters and all the Strip’s entries and exits.
EFI urges the freeing of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and "wants to keep awakening the conscience of the world, to display to Gilad’s family that Europe has not abandoned their son". But it shows no such concern for the 6,500 children arrested by the IDF in the last 8 years, usually after bursting into their homes between midnight and 4am, and the use of handcuffs, blindfolds and leg shackles on these youngsters. They are held for up to 90 days, incommunicado and without access to a lawyer.
Nor do they urge the freeing of the 30-odd Palestinian MPs and legislators kidnapped and still under ‘administrative detention’.
So where is the balance expected of our EU legislators and decision-makers? Sad though it is, the Shalit story needs to be seen in context. To Palestinians this is just another trained killer in Israel’s occupation force. How many women and children had his tank blown to smithereens? How many homes had it reduced to rubble? How much infrastructure, probably paid for by European taxpayers, had it wrecked?
Why aren’t the same powerful voices speaking up for the sons of Palestinians snatched from their homes and locked up in Israeli jails? In the Holy Land struggle 8 Palestinians die for every Israeli. When it comes to children the kill-rate is 11 to 1. Is an Israeli life deemed more precious that a Palestinian life?
I am greatly encouraged by the news that a group of human rights lawyers has now filed charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court against Israel and its leaders – Olmert, Barak, Vilnai, Dichter and Ashkenazi. Their bloodstained hands have no doubt been eagerly clasped by their many ‘friends’ in Brussels.
-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.