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Europe's alliance with Israel: aiding the occupation

June 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

  • Book Author(s): David Cronin
  • Published Date: 2010-11-05 00:00:00
  • Publisher: Pluto Press
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0 7453 3065 5

Western journalists often shy away from writing on Palestine. They believe that so much has already been written about the century-old conflict that it is hard to find a new twist to excite and grip their readers. David Cronin has managed to do just that in his fascinating book. He makes a watertight case to prove that Europe is, in many ways, complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

In private, commentators and politicians may admit this; but no European author has, before now, summoned the courage to make the case in public. When the American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their book The Israeli lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, it seemed that the taboo was broken; it could be only a matter of time before someone in Europe undertook a similar task, and Cronin is that someone. His book is of this genre and must, therefore, be seen as a ground-breaking publication.

The work embodies a wealth of carefully researched and documented information. The author made extensive use of official contacts and reports emanating from Brussels, the seat of the European Union. In a lucid and attractive manner he has subjected EU statements and policies to rigorous interrogation, and has exposed the often yawning gap between what is said and what is (actually hardly ever) done. The book is scathing in its criticism of European officialdom, which Cronin describes as “lily-livered” [133].

In order to explain the thinking processes in Brussels, the author recalls a statement by Javier Solana made at a conference in October 2009, shortly before he stepped down as the EU’s foreign policy chief: “There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union.” Solana added, “Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It’s a member of all the [EU’s] programmes; it participates in all the programmes.” [2]

Cronin marshals an array of anecdotal evidence to verify Solana’s claim. Other European officials and leaders have made no less sycophantic remarks. He explains that the almost servile attitude of European countries towards the US explains, in part, their legendary blind support for Israel. A Czech diplomat told the author, “It is a case of a friend of our friend has to be our friend too.” [49] Such admissions are commonplace with the Czechs, notwithstanding the decisive military support given by Czechoslovakia to the Zionist militias during the 1948 war.

Spouting verbal criticism of Israel is one thing, but taking a principled stand against its aggression, independent of Washington, is quite another. The EU has been outstandingly incapable of doing this on the world stage.

There are several contractual reasons for this. For example, the EU Lisbon Treaty stresses that while EU countries have their own military capabilities, they are ultimately subservient to NATO which provides “collective defence”. Given America’s de facto role as commander in chief of NATO, and Israel’s relentless efforts to become integrated into the alliance, it is self-explanatory why the Europeans have been unable to challenge Israel. The American head of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, Ronald Asmus, supports the status quo because of what he calls, “Israeli exceptionalism”. [55]

Speaking of exceptionalism, Cronin highlights the policy of Britain’s Tony Blair in the Balkans and his military intervention there. The former Prime Minister justified the use of military force against Serbia because Britain “could not allow in the case of Kosovo ethnic cleansing and genocide to happen right at the doorstep of Europe and do nothing about it.” [45] But, for reasons best known to himself, Blair has allowed Israel to get away with flagrant crimes, including ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts, in occupied Palestine.

Another notable case in point is Jack Straw, who succeeded Robin Cook as Britain’s Foreign Secretary after the latter had initiated to great fanfare what he termed a new era of “ethical foreign policy” in 1997. The following year, Cook incurred the wrath of Zionist settlers after he decided to listen to aggrieved Palestinians affected by the illegal Israeli settlement in Jabal Abu Ghuneim. Once comfortably ensconced in office, Straw saw fit to oppose a UN recommendation to refer the issue of the Israeli Wall to the International Court of Justice, on the grounds that it would embroil the body in “a heavily political bilateral dispute”. [44]

Cronin is under no illusion about the nature and consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. He refers to the origins of the term “genocide”, which was coined by a Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who survived the Nazi holocaust. Lemkin said genocide was not simply the immediate destruction of a nation but also included a coordinated plan of action aimed at destroying the foundation of the life of a national group. Lemkin’s opinion was later incorporated in the definition of genocide by the UN in 1948 in its Genocide Convention. Cronin berates the Europeans for being quick to urge African states to respect the Convention and to punish any crime of genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war”. [29] And yet, when it comes to Israel, European politicians recoil and display an appalling reluctance to uphold the law. Cronin says that Israel may be all things – democratic, industrialised and modern   but it is, nevertheless, engaged in crimes “that fulfil the text book definition of genocide”. [33]

Chapter three gives the book its subtitle – “aiding the occupation”. Here, Cronin cites the case of the Rafah border control which was “subcontracted” to the Europeans when Israel abandoned and destroyed its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. “Each morning,” he notes, “the EU personnel had to report to the Israeli security forces at Karem Shalom [Karim Abu Salam]”, another border post located a few kilometres south of Rafah. [69]

When challenged on their policy on Palestine, Europeans leaders are quick to point out that they are the largest donors of aid to the Palestinians. This is true and, as the book confirms, the Palestinians have received proportionately more foreign aid than any other people in the world since the Second World War. But the Palestinian problem is not economic or humanitarian; it is a national issue and, as the former head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), David Shearer, pointed out, “pouring an immense amount of aid into a conflict without either the structure of a peace agreement or a solid analysis of its impact is comparable to speeding along a road at night without headlights”. [75]

What is often omitted from the official disclosures concerning aid is the fact that according to UN estimates, 45% of all foreign aid to the Palestinians finds its way back into the Israeli economy. Israel has used the levers of fiscal control, trade regimes and labour mobility to ensure this. The case of the Israeli firm Dor Alon is especially poignant. It has a network of petrol stations and convenience stores in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Yet, it was given €97 million by the European Commission to supply industrial diesel for energy generation in the Gaza Strip. The company, however, works in tandem with the Israeli government to deny supplies to the population under siege in that beleaguered territory. International law has thus been sacrificed to maintain the instruments of a failed peace process.

Another disturbing feature of the European-Israeli alliance which the book addresses adeptly is the transfer of scientific technology and military cooperation. Israel enjoys closer ties to the European Union than even those countries which are poised for membership. It is the main external participant in the Union’s “framework programme” for scientific research and Israeli arms companies are eligible for EU funding. Prominent among the main beneficiaries of these grants is Motorola Israel, which participates in an EU financed surveillance project, known as iDetect4All. Motorola has installed a radar system in 47 Israeli settlements in the West Bank over the past five years.

During the last Labour government’s first decade in office (1997-2007), British companies exported more than £110 million in military hardware to Israel. Cronin asserts that not only did the flow continue under Blair, but it actually intensified during critical periods, such as during the war against Lebanon in 2006 when Britain allowed US planes transhipping weapons to Israel to refuel on British soil.

Despite the overwhelming mass of evidence, European officials are nowhere near to admitting that they have been facilitating the development of Israeli technology for the abuse of human rights. The most one official was prepared to concede was that they are “complicit with Israel settlements”. [100] That in itself is a crime under humanitarian law.

Does the European Union have the means to put pressure on Israel? This book asserts that it does. It notes that two-thirds of all Israeli exports are to the European Union and if the political will existed the EU could use trade sanctions or the threat thereof to pressure the Israelis. Instead, EU officials pass the buck on to consumers; the British government, for example, says that Israeli goods should be labelled so the consumers can make informed choices about what they buy. Cronin says this form of tokenism should not be taken seriously as Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights should not be reduced to an issue of consumer choice. “Nobody should have to make a choice about whether or not to support an illegal activity when shopping for groceries.” [135]

Europe’s alliance with Israel is an indictment of policies which are not simply flawed but duplicitous. All over the continent ministers criticise Israeli settlements from one side of their mouths and woo Israeli companies from the other. Cronin sums up his case in one sentence: “Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is cruel, vindictive and illegal.”

Clearly, we are where we are today because of the support Israel receives from the international community. The Europeans are in a unique position to put an end to this epic of human suffering, if only they could muster the moral courage, in spite of American pressure. It can be done by limiting Israel’s access to European markets. In the absence of such measures, Cronin believes that the only way forward is to intensify the international campaign.

This book is compelling, illuminative and painful. It is an indispensible pioneering work essential for students, tax-payers, policy- and decision-makers and, most of all, those who aspire to rid our world of the last vestiges of colonial domination and states built on supposed racial superiority.