New EU report on settlements can’t be taken seriously

Based in occupied East Jerusalem, Israel’s police force is treated as a partner by the European Union. 

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Diplomats are not generally renowned for making fashion statements.

Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s envoy to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, is an exception. He is known to tour Palestine sporting a navy T-shirt and white trousers.

The sartorial revolution von Burgsdorff has undertaken represents the triumph of style over substance.

Despite projecting a casual image that differs from the stuffy suits normally associated with big bureaucracies, his activities and those of his colleagues remain as deceptive as ever. That becomes clear once a new paper published by his office is analyzed.

The paper provides much detail about Israel’s settlement activities in the recent past. It laments in particular how the colonization of East Jerusalem intensified during 2021.

One section commends the EU for its “vocal” opposition to the planned expansion of an Israeli settlement in Jerusalem’s Atarot neighborhood. Diplomatic pressure has delayed the expansion, the paper contends.

Just how “vocal” has the EU been? The paper cites three criticisms of Israel’s settlement activities issued by a spokesperson on foreign policy last year – hardly a signal that officials have been protesting at every available opportunity.

Accommodating crimes

The most important things about such papers are usually the facts that they leave out. In this case, the paper totally ignores how the EU’s opposition to Israel’s crimes – whether vocal or inaudible – is negated by its accommodation of those same crimes.

Israel’s police force is inseparable from the settlement activities that the EU claims to oppose.

Not only is it headquartered in East Jerusalem, the police force conducts home demolitions and other acts of dispossession against Palestinians. Its brutality was made plain in May, when the force attacked pallbearers at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist killed by the Israeli military.

Despite criticizing such activities, the EU regards Israel’s police force as a partner.

The force and Israel’s ministry for public security are taking part in more than 10 EU-funded scientific research projects. And nobody working in or for the Brussels bureaucracy seems to give a damn.

That is the inescapable conclusion from a freedom of information request which I made recently.

I asked to see all briefing documents on cooperation with Israel’s police prepared for Mariya Gabriel, the EU’s commissioner for scientific research, since she took up her post in December 2019.

The European Commission – the EU’s executive – identified just two such documents. Both were replies drawn up in response to parliamentary questions.

The first reply gave a brief explanation of the role that Israel’s public security ministry is playing in an EU-funded project named Roxanne. That role is “to gather feedback on the case work of child sexual abuse,” Gabriel – or the officials who drafted her reply – stated.

Gabriel did not comment on the obscenity of according such a task to a ministry overseeing a police force and a prison service which detain and torture Palestinian children – often subjecting them to sexual violence.

Both replies pointed to how “ethics screening” is conducted on EU-funded projects.

I have seen the reports of the screening on Roxanne and some other projects involving Israel’s police. The screening is merely a box-ticking exercise.

While some concerns were raised about surveillance and privacy issues, the screening did not address the appalling human rights record of Israel’s police.


New information also shows how Israel’s police are not held accountable when they kill Palestinians.

In 2017, Yakoub Abu al-Qiyan, a Palestinian Bedouin, was shot by police during a raid on Umm al-Hiran, a village in the Naqab (Negev) region of Israel. Abu al-Qiyan bled to death, with police preventing medics from giving him assistance.

Israel’s Channel 12 this week presented evidence that an investigation into the killing was closed under pressure from senior police and the state attorney.

The new revelation has so far not elicited any response from Dimiter Tzantchev, the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.

The day after the Channel 12 broadcast, he was busy visiting the Israel Diamond Exchange, where he praised its “eagerness to innovate and to improve your profession” – whatever that means.

The visit speaks volumes about the EU’s priorities.

Israel’s export of polished diamonds was worth $1.3 billion during the first three months of this year alone.

There are serious questions to be asked about the importance of the diamond trade to Israel’s economy – an economy which cannot be viewed in isolation from the subjugation of Palestinians.

More than likely, Tzantchev was too dazzled to ask such questions.