Israeli torture traders exhibit in Paris

An Israeli company selling instruments of torture and repression has been given refuge at a Paris arms fair, six years after it was expelled from a similar event in London.

Electroshock shields were one of the items offered by TAR Ideal Concepts at the Milipol exhibition in the French capital earlier this month, a source who attended this bazaar informed me. Those shields are explicitly designed to inflict pain on people who come into contact with them.

TAR’s participation went unnoticed by the mainstream media. That was in contrast to the 2005 UK Defense System and Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition. On that occasion, the Israeli firm was instructed to pack up its stand because its brochures solicited orders for stun guns, batons and leg cuffs. TAR founder Tomer Avnon complained at the time that it was hypocritical to single out his firm. “Don’t forget we were among booths offering everything from sniper rifles to silencers, cluster bombs and all sorts of nasty stuff,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Legal loopholes

Avnon has been able to avail of loopholes in European Union rules that came into effect in 2006, curbing the trade in goods intended for use during torture or the death penalty. Although the law is an important advance for human rights as it is the first of its kind in the world, it does not stop companies from outside the Union coming here to advertise tools of repression.

Reporters with IsraëlValley, a website promoting business ties between France and Israel, were evidently aroused by some of the other stalls at Milipol. According to the website, the weapons-maker Rafael was one of the Israeli companies to “shine” at the fair. Rafael displayed a new protection system for armored vehicles called Me’il Rou’ah (a Hebrew word for raincoat) and brought along a model of the Merkava IV tank to demonstrate how the system works.

It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the extra “protection” is intended to make the military, not civilians, safer. Equally, it might be unnecessary to explain that Palestinians are less enamored by the Merkava than Zionist entrepreneurs. When I was in Gaza in 2009, I got a lift from a man who spent much of the journey pointing through his broken windscreen. “There, Merkava,” he said more than once, indicating a building that Israeli forces had destroyed with these fearsome tanks.

The Milipol exhibition was sponsored by both the French government and by Europol, the EU’s police office in The Hague. Both are legally obliged to respect EU policies on human rights. Yet both appear happy to abandon ethics for euros. Data cited by the newspaper Les Echos suggests that the global “security” market was worth €420 billion in 2010, an increase of 5.5 percent over the previous year. The subtext was that we should rejoice about how this trade is blossoming at a difficult time for the global economy and not ask awkward questions about all the misery and death that it helps to cause.