The Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Naqab desert has been destroyed dozens of times.(ActiveStills)
A little-noticed decision made by the European Investment Bank on 17 September to rubber-stamp a €150 million ($205 million) loan for the Megalim power plant amounts to a gesture of support for Israel’s ethnic cleansing in the Naqab (Negev) desert.
The plant is being built in Ashalim, an Israeli community, located beside the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj. On 10 September, a number of orders to destroy property were distributed in Bir Hadaj by the Israeli authorities. Yet the Luxembourg-based bank — an EU institution — appeared to pay no attention to that brazen attempt to uproot the indigenous people of the Naqab.
As Megalim will generate solar and thermal energy, it is being promoted as an “environmentally friendly” initiative by the firms behind it. They include Alstom, a French corporation which has also invested in the controversial tramway linking up Israel’s settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
Tear gas attack
Unlike many other Bedouin villages in the Naqab, Bir Hadaj has been officially recognized by the State of Israel. That status hasn’t stopped the authorities from destroying — and threatening to destroy — Bedouin property.
Four houses were demolished in Bir Hadaj at Israel’s behest last year, according to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, which monitors violations of the Bedouins’ human rights.
Israeli police also entered Bir Hadaj en masse in November 2012, firing tear gas at schoolchildren. That was one of several occasions in the last few months of 2012, when the police stormed the village as demolition and eviction papers were circulated.
The EIB lends at low interest rates. And the energy project it is financing cannot be viewed in isolation from Israel’s ongoing efforts to uproot Palestinians in the Negev.
Ashalim is located close to the Golda Meir Park, which was set up by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the remains of Bir Asluj, a Bedouin village seized by Zionist forces in 1948. The JNF has been tasked by Israel with expropriating Palestinian land and has been intimately involved in the destruction of Bedouin property.
Significantly, the EIB’s decision follows the recent publication of EU guidelines on ending financial support for Israeli firms and institutions based in East Jerusalem and the wider occupied West Bank.
While the plant is being built within present-day Israel, some bodies that are actively involved in the colonization of the West Bank are taking part in it. An “impact assessment” of the plant states that its owners will cooperate with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in order to conserve archeological sites in the surrounding area. As the IAA has its headquarters in East Jerusalem, such cooperation runs counter to the spirit, if not the letter, of the EU’s new guidelines.
Despite repeated requests by email and telephone today, the EIB failed to provide me with an explanation for why it endorsed the loan for the energy project.
The EIB has a track record of helping Israeli firms that participate directly in the dispossession of the Palestinians. In 2011, for example, it lent €120 million ($164) to Mekorot, an Israeli state-owned company which has been stealing water from Palestinian wells and springs so that it can be used in Jewish-only settlements.
In theory, the EIB should reduce its loans to Israel once the EU’s new guidelines — which have sparked a furore among the Israeli establishment — are implemented at the beginning of 2014. Yet it appears that there will be massive scope for flexibility.
Among the beneficiaries of the EIB’s loans are Hapoalim, an Israeli bank with branches in the occupied West Bank. A “frequently asked questions” paper prepared by the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv says that notwithstanding the new guidelines, banks active in Israeli settlements may continue to apply for EU loans provided the end recipients of those loans are based inside Israel.
With all that eagerness to please Israel, it’s hard to see why some Israeli politicians portray the EU as their enemy.