As an exercise in masochism, I have spent much of the past few years monitoring the arms trade. Every time that I have asked a lobbyist from that industry about the death and destruction caused by its products, he or she has always trotted out a banal excuse, refused to answer or tried to change the subject.
This happened to me again this morning. After learning that Elbit, a leading Israeli weapons maker, has been invited to take part in a Rotterdam exhibition next Thursday (20 November), I called the event’s organizers, the Netherlands Defence Manufacturers Association (NIDV). My question was simple: How can you justify inviting a company that profited from the killing of children in Gaza during the summer?
Mat Herben, a spokesperson for NIDV, told me that the purpose of the fair is to exhibit “weapons systems” that may be sold to Dutch customers. “The link with Gaza is a bit far-fetched in my opinion,” he added.
Unique selling point
Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries are the two main suppliers of drones to the Israeli military. The Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights in Britain have documented a number of cases in which drones killed non-combatants in Gaza.
On 4 August, an Israeli drone killed two children — five-year-old Amal Amjad Uwaida and thirteen-year-old Muhammad Ahmed Uwaida — who were on the roof of their home in the Rafah area. On 24 August, Issam Mustafa Joudeh lost his wife and four of his children — aged between six and fourteen — when an Israeli drone hit their house in the Jabaliya neighborhood.
It also appears that drones were widely employed for so-called roof-knocking: dropping an initial missile on a building as a precursor to a bigger and deadlier assault.
All weapons “welcome”
According to Herben, an “Israeli company is as welcome as a Czech or a Chinese company” to the NIDV fair. “All countries with which the Netherlands has diplomatic ties” may participate, he added.
But he tried to downplay the importance of the invitation to Elbit, saying that “I don’t think they have anything to sell here” because the Netherlands has “decided to buy American equipment, UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles, a synonym for drones].”
Herben’s inference that American weapons are somehow morally preferable to Israeli ones is dubious.
To the best of my knowledge, the Palestine solidarity movement has never argued that US arms should be viewed as an ethical alternative to those made by Israel. On the contrary, it has highlighted the deep cooperation between America and Israel’s weapons industries.
As it transpired, Herben was economic with the truth — to put it charitably.
Sonja Zimmermann from the Netherlands Palestine Committee told me that the Dutch defense ministry last year “entered into a contract with Elbit for the maintenance of its F16s [warplanes] and Apache helicopters.” As a result, Elbit is regularly undertaking work in Woensdrecht, a military airport near the Dutch border with Belgium.
Elbit “should be banned from the Netherlands for its complicity in Israel’s war crimes,” Zimmermann added.
Following my conversation with Herben, I learned that he is a former member of parliament and was a prominent ally of Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration and anti-Islam politician who was assassinated in 2002.
Herben has been known to praise Israel’s military prowess.
In a 2013 opinion piece, he suggested that a plan to replace Dutch warplanes with more modern “Joint Strike Fighters” — as part of a cooperation project with Britain, the US, Italy, Canada and Australia — should be inspired by Israel. “Western superiority is based entirely on air superiority above the land and the sea — like the superior Israeli Air Force is the shield of David in a sea of enemies,” he wrote.
Earlier today, Elbit published its results for the three months between July and September (the period when Gaza was under attack). They indicate that Elbit has no problem attracting business.
At the end of September, Elbit had a backlog of orders worth $6.2 billion. The corresponding figure for the same date in 2013 was $5.7 billion.
If journalists did a quick calculation, they could deduce that the value of Elbit’ orders has risen by $500 million over the past twelve months.
For some reason, though, reporters mainly focused on the news that Elbit saw a small drop in its profits (attributed to fluctuations in currency exchange rates). The more important issue — that Elbit is benefiting from crimes against humanity — was not noted in a story by the Israeli financial daily Globes.
The real story here is that the Israel is carrying out cruel experiments against the Palestinians. Not for the first time, that story has been missed.
Thanks to Sonja Zimmermann for help with translation.
Update (19 November): A Dutch newspaper, de Telegraaf, has reported that Elbit will not exhibit weapons at tomorrow’s arms fair in Rotterdam. The firm will, however, have a stand with brochures promoting its products. The paper quoted the NIDV’s Mat Herben, saying that there had been considerable pressure exerted on Elbit by Palestine solidarity campaigners.
- arms trade
- Elbit Systems
- Netherlands Defence Manufacturers Association
- Israel Aerospace Industries
- Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
- The Netherlands
- Amal Amjad Uwaid
- Muhammad Ahmed Uwaid
- Sonja Zimmermann
- Netherlands Palestine Committee
- Apache helicopters
- war crimes
- Mat Herben
- Pim Fortuyn
- Joint Strike Fighter