The European Union has broken its commitment to cease funding firms based in Israel’s illegal settlements.
Five years ago, the EU issued a policy paper stating that Israeli companies were not eligible to draw down subsidies if they had been set up in the occupied West Bank.
One such company, the cosmetics maker Ahava, has nonetheless managed to participate in Horizon 2020, the Union’s latest program for scientific research. It is benefitting from a $4.5 million EU-funded scheme on using nanotechnology to develop new skin care products.
Ahava is headquartered in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. Like all Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, Mitzpe Shalem has been constructed in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
There can be no doubt that Ahava is based there.
Pretending to be a staff member with a pro-Israel lobby group, I contacted its offices in Mitzpe Shalem, saying that I was interested in bringing some European lawmakers to tour the site.
The woman who took my call confirmed that Ahava runs a visitors center in Mitzpe Shalem, with a factory “behind the store.” When I asked if that was the company’s main factory, she replied: “It is the only factory of Ahava.”
If it was so easy for me to confirm where Ahava operates, surely those clever EU officials have made similar enquiries. Or have they?
I asked the European Commission, which administers Horizon 2020, why it was still funding Ahava. The Commission replied that Ahava “passed initial checks on the place of establishment through its legal address.”
That address is a post office box near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
The Commission’s response makes a mockery of its own policies.
The 2013 paper – widely referred to as “the guidelines” – on funding Israeli activities was prepared precisely because Palestine solidarity activists had complained about Ahava’s participation in the EU’s research activities.
The guidelines drew an angry response from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The Israeli prime minister denounced them as “foreign dictates about our borders.”
Unwilling to confront Netanyahu with anything more than platitudes, the EU has not got tough with Israel since the guidelines were published.
The excuse I received from the European Commission this week is identical to those its officials trotted out when quizzed about their support for Ahava before the 2013 paper was published.
The “legal address” provided by Ahava happens to be the same one it has used for many years when soliciting EU grants.
Internal documents released under freedom of information rules show that the European Commission has previously been alerted that firms and institutions active in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were providing post office boxes within Israel as their official addresses. Yet nothing has been done to stop this practice.
The Commission also told me this week that Ahava cannot carry out research funded under Horizon 2020 in the West Bank. If it transpires “after further verification” that Ahava is disobeying the 2013 guidelines, the Commission stated that it “may take appropriate action.”
Those are weasel words. Where else do EU officials expect Ahava to be working besides Mitzpe Shalem, where its sole factory is located?
Ahava is not simply a producer of bath salts and moisturizing creams. The company itself is a product of war crimes.
Until recently, the authorities representing two Israeli settlements were among its main shareholders. And it has used natural resources stolen from Palestinians in the West Bank as ingredients for its goods.
The recent sale of Ahava to a Chinese company does not alter the EU’s culpability in accommodating unlawful behavior. Nor do press stories speculating that Ahava would leave the West Bank.
The deal between Ahava and China’s Fosun took effect in February 2016. Ahava joined the Horizon 2020 project on nanotechnology several months earlier – a fact that went unnoticed by the mainstream media.
The European Union, therefore, approved Ahava’s participation in the scheme at a time when two Israeli settlements owned a significant slice of the firm. The construction of those settlements constitutes a war crime, while extracting natural resources from a territory under occupation amounts to pillage.
The nanotechnology project is scheduled to finish next month. The story will not stop there.
The EU has been happy to allow its science program become a cash cow for numerous Israeli firms and public authorities that are directly involved in subjugating the Palestinian people.
Warnings that action “may” be taken at some point are inadequate and meaningless. Europe’s determination to keep on subsidizing Israel proves that it has sided with the oppressor.