EU helps Israeli colonel pose as Florence Nightingale

A propaganda event aimed at showing the Israeli military in a positive light is being supported by the European Union this week.

The Society for Medical Innovation and Technology (SMIT) conference in Tel Aviv features Gil Hirschhorn, surgeon-general with the Israeli air force, as a keynote speaker. Running from yesterday until Friday, it is sponsored by the EU’s multi-billion euro scientific research programme.

Why is the EU helping Hirschhorn to masquerade as a Florence Nightingale-type figure when he is a colonel in an army that abuses human rights as a matter of routine? His resumé notes that he was medical officer with the military’s Galilee division from 2004 until the end of Israel’s war against Lebanon in 2006. After that, he was put in charge of trauma issues for the military.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of how the army in which he serves has caused widespread trauma for the Palestinian and Lebanese people. There is a strong likelihood he and other speakers are bragging about the state-of-the-art equipment that can be found in Israel’s hospitals. Yet Israel has caused major damage to health facilities on which the civilian populations it has bombed in recent years depend. While Hirschhorn was attending to the military’s medical needs in August 2006, his comrades attacked the Dar al-Hikma hospital in Baalbek, Lebanon, partly destroying it.

Horrific injuries, immoral thinking

As a surgeon, Hirschhorn should be particularly horrified by the injuries received by victims of cluster bombs used by Israel in that war. An article published by the Inter Press Service news agency on Monday reminds us of something that has faded from our memory: how Israel dropped more cluster bombs in Lebanon than any other country had since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Cluster bombs can literally slice the limbs off those who happen upon them. Because these bombs remain lethal for years, they are continuing to kill and maim. There have been more than 400 cluster bomb casualties in Lebanon — 115 of them children or teenagers — since the war stopped in 2006.

When I was researching my book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, several Brussels officials told me they believed the EU was right to allocate research grants to Israel because that country was developing innovative treatments for cancer and other diseases. The inference was that the Union should have no qualms about including in its scientific research activities a state that has prevented seriously ill patients in Gaza from travelling to Egypt to receive specialist care.

The SMIT conference is another example of this immoral thinking, which holds that Israel, a high-tech human rights abuser, should be mollycoddled on the basis that it might come up with a cure for cancer.

“Aware” of Ahava’s illegal acts

Last month, I wrote about how Ahava, the firm manufacturing cosmetics in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem, is one of the beneficiaries of the EU’s multi-annual research programme.

Keith Taylor, a British member of the European Parliament (MEP), has just received a response to a formal query he made on this subject. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU’s research commissioner, told him that she was “aware” there was an issue here. The Union’s civil servants are “scrutinizing options” in order to be “evaluate and potentially address” this situation when future grant applications are being assessed, she said.

The acknowledgement of the problem can be considered a small victory for those Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners who have complained to the EU bureaucracy about Ahava. But the choice of words used in the reply shows that Geoghegan-Quinn and her aides don’t regard this dossier as an urgent one. Keeping them under pressure is vital.