EU shrugs at Israeli execution of injured Palestinian

Two men raise champagne glasses in front of Israeli flags

Dimiter Tzantchev, left, raises a glass with Israeli President Isaac Herzog after presenting his credentials as the new EU ambassador in Tel Aviv, 6 December. Tzantchev said he looked forward to “taking our relationship to new heights.” (via Facebook)

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Donald Trump infamously declared in 2016.

It was a tasteless boast to demonstrate the loyalty of his base. He went on to win a shock election victory later that year.

If you replace Trump with Israel and the voters with the European Union’s decision makers, it is an accurate description of reality.

On 4 December, harrowing video emerged of two Israeli paramilitary police officers shooting to death an injured Palestinian lying on the ground near Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem.

Muhammad Salima, 25, had been recorded stabbing and injuring a Jewish Israeli civilian moments before his fatal shooting. But he was already incapacitated and presented no immediate threat when the officers fired at him to apparently “confirm the kill” as shown in the video recorded by eyewitnesses.

He should at that point have been detained and provided with medical care.

Instead, in the words of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Salima was “summarily executed.”

As is typical in such cases, the killers were immediately hailed as heroes by Israel’s top leaders who have long endorsed a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians.

“That is how our forces are expected to act and that is how they acted,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

The UN Human Rights Office, however, immediately declared that it was “shocked by the apparent extrajudicial execution” of Salima.

“Extrajudicial killings such as this are the consequence of the regular resort to lethal force by well-armed and well-protected Israeli security personnel against Palestinians, and the almost total lack of accountability for killings and injuries of Palestinians by Israeli forces,” the UN added.

Even the European Union – typically loath to utter even the mildest criticism of Israel – could not remain silent.

Its mission in occupied East Jerusalem stated that “measures that might appear to amount to extrajudicial killings” are “unacceptable.”

“This incident must be swiftly investigated and full accountability ensured,” the EU mission added.

What happened next was certainly swift: Less than a week after the killing, Israel’s state prosecutor completely exonerated the two officers. It closed the case, declaring that the officers had “legal justification” for the killing.

As if that wasn’t enough, Israel’s highest police officials announced that the two officers who killed Salima would be receiving an award.

There is nothing surprising about this.

B’Tselem has long described such Israeli self-investigations as a fig leaf.

While ensuring impunity, they are designed to give the appearance of a functioning judicial process in order to try to throw off the International Criminal Court.

The ICC only intervenes in situations where domestic judicial authorities are unwilling or unable to bring impartial justice.

How the EU hides

On 9 December, I wrote to the EU to ask if the conclusion of the investigation amounted to the “full accountability” it had called for.

I finally got a reply from Peter Stano, the EU’s chief foreign policy spokesperson, on 14 December.

It was as bland as could be: “We are following the developments and are also in contact with Israeli authorities.”

I was puzzled. Since the matter is closed as far as Israel is concerned, what “developments” does the EU claim to be following? An additional inquiry has elicited no reply from Brussels.

The EU habitually hides behind any sort of ongoing process, however threadbare – like the never-ending “peace process” – in order to avoid having to hold Israel accountable.

There’s always something else to wait for, always an excuse not to say or do something today.

But that excuse doesn’t hold in Salima’s killing, since the case is closed.

So the message from Brussels is clear: The European Union is happy to watch Israel summarily execute Palestinians and then whitewash the crime.

Of course this doesn’t stop EU officials from incessantly touting their allegedly “unwavering support for human rights.”

Israel gets more rewards from Brussels

The reality however, is that the European Union spends much of its energy supporting gross violators of human rights, especially Israel – a fact that generates revulsion across the continent.

On Wednesday, dozens of members of the European Parliament wrote to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell calling for a freeze on Israel’s inclusion in Horizon Europe.

This “scientific” funding program – the successor to Horizon 2020 in which Israel also participated – will give Tel Aviv’s war industry continued access to vast EU subsidies.

“The vision of Horizon Europe is to create ‘a sustainable, fair and prosperous future for people and planet based on European values,’” the MEPs state.

“Nonetheless, Israel’s inhumane acts targeting Palestinians have been characterized by international and European experts as amounting to internationally wrongful acts of apartheid and persecution,” the lawmakers add.

They say that third countries have an obligation to bring such acts to an end.

There is a growing outcry across Europe against the EU’s complicity in Israel’s crimes.

Earlier this month, nearly 400 lawmakers from the European Parliament and national legislatures wrote to Borrell calling on the EU “to take immediate and concrete steps to prevent the displacement and forcible transfer of Palestinian families, especially in East Jerusalem.”

The lawmakers acknowledge this is happening in the context of Israeli-imposed “apartheid.”

“We do not feel a need … “

The European Parliament members who wrote to Borrell protesting Israel’s inclusion in Horizon Europe also cite Israel’s designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist” organizations in October.

In a joint letter last month, more than 100 trade unions, political parties and human rights groups accused the EU of not doing enough to defend the Palestinian groups – several of which are funded by the EU or its member states.

They demanded that the EU “clearly reject the Israeli allegations and question their legitimacy,” among other measures to hold Israel accountable.

So far, however, the European Union has failed to condemn Israel’s baseless and politically motivated attack on the Palestinian groups.

This is despite how the Irish government has publicly acknowledged that Israel provided no credible evidence.

Earlier this month, nine UN special rapporteurs – independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – wrote to Borrell calling on the EU to demand that Israel present evidence “within a short and defined timeframe” or else withdraw the allegations and rescind the “terrorism” designations.

Last week, I asked the EU whether it had finally concluded its leisurely examination of the Israeli allegations.

Once again, the EU opted to hide behind an open-ended process.

“We do not feel a need to provide a running commentary on all the stages of our ongoing contacts with partners,” EU foreign affairs spokesperson Stano wrote Tuesday. “When we will have something to share publicly, we will do so.”

In the meantime – however long that might be – Israel continues to reap political, financial and military rewards from the European Union and its members.

Israel, similar to Donald Trump, knows it can commit whatever atrocities it pleases against Palestinians, without ever losing the loyalty of the political class in Brussels.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.