The European Union is not “merely hypocritical” in its relationship with Israel, it is “complicit in crimes against the Palestinian people.” This is one of the main conclusions of David Cronin’s compellingly-argued book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation.
In fact, the European Union is steadily upgrading its relations with Israel while overwhelming, and growing, public majorities across Europe’s largest nations view Israel “mostly negatively.” According to a recent BBC GlobeScan poll, Israel is on a par with North Korea as the third worst perceived country in the world (“Views of Europe slide sharply in global poll, while views of China improve,” GlobeScan, 10 May).
With the entrenchment of its occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinians, its fanatic-right government’s hubristic and bellicose policies, and the impressive growth of the non-violent Palestinian-led, global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, Israel is gradually losing hearts and minds across the world and becoming the world pariah, as South Africa once was, during apartheid.
Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop, is particularly eloquent in accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid (“Tutu condemns Israeli ‘apartheid’,” BBC News, 29 April 2002). The Russell Tribunal on Palestine — at its 2011 Cape Town session — determined that Israel is practicing apartheid against the entire Palestinian people, according to the definition of apartheid adopted by the UN in 1973 (“Findings of the South African session,” Russell Tribunal on Palestine, 5-7 November 2011 [PDF]).
Worse than South Africa
South African Christian leaders who played a decisive role in fighting apartheid have condemned Israel’s apartheid as “even worse than South African apartheid” (“An Easter message from South Africa to Palestine,” Oikumene, 31 March 2010). And the publisher of Haaretz, an influential Israeli daily, has recently described a fanatic Israeli ideology of “territorial seizure and apartheid” (“The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy,” 25 November 2011).
Increasingly, international jurists, human rights organizations and activists, as well as international public opinion are recognizing Israel’s unique regime of oppression against the Palestinians as encompassing the crime of apartheid, in addition to occupation, ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism.
With its continued siege of Gaza; its untamed construction of illegal colonies and an apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, especially in and around Jerusalem; its “strategy of Judaization” in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev); its adoption of new racist laws and its denial of the UN-stipulated right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba, Israel has embarked on a more belligerent and violent phase in its attempt to extinguish the question of Palestine through literally “disappearing” the Palestinians, as Edward Said would say.
The most criminal and pressing aspect of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is without doubt its Western and Egyptian-backed hermetic siege of the occupied Gaza Strip, which even British Prime Minister David Cameron has described as a “prison camp” (“David Cameron: Israeli blockade has turned Gaza Strip into a ‘prison camp’,” The Guardian, 27 July 2010). The systematic Israeli targeting of Gaza’s water and sanitation facilities has compounded an already “severe and protracted denial of human dignity,” according to Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, causing “a steep decline in standards of living for the [Palestinians] of Gaza, characterized by erosion of livelihoods, destruction and degradation of basic structure, and a marked downturn in the delivery and quality of vital services in health, water and sanitation” (“Humanitarian organizations deeply concerned about the ongoing water and sanitation crisis in Gaza,” Association of International Development Agencies, 3 September 2009).
A 2009 report by Amnesty International affirmed that, “90–95 percent of the water supply [in Gaza] is contaminated and unfit for human consumption” (“Troubled waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water,” October 2009 [PDF]).
The report cites an earlier study by the UN Environmental Programme which correlates the widespread contamination of Gaza’s water resources to the rise in nitrate levels in the groundwater “far above the WHO [World Health Organization] accepted guideline,” inducing a potentially lethal blood disorder in young children and newborns called methemoglobinaemia, or the “blue babies” phenomenon.
Some of the detected symptoms of this disease in Gaza infants include “blueness around the mouth, hands and feet,” “episodes of diarrhea and vomiting,” and “loss of consciousness.” “Convulsions and death can occur” at higher levels of nitrate contamination, the report concludes (“Environmental assessment of the Gaza Strip following the escalation of hostilities in December 2008-January 2009,” September 2009 [PDF].)
At the conclusion of Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which led to more than 1,400 deaths, mostly civilians, EU leaders dashed to occupied Jerusalem to celebrate with Israel’s then prime minister Ehud Olmert, promising to support Israel in fighting “terror” (“World leaders push for lasting truce in Gaza,” The New York Times, 18 January 2009).
So, when the European Union, which is still actively colluding to maintain the Gaza siege, launches a relatively expensive public relations campaign all over Gaza — and the West Bank — with its main slogan, “Your Priorities are ours,” without a hint of sarcasm, it seems to be sending the Palestinians under occupation two blunt messages: first, we could not care less about your loss of human lives, freedoms and dignity, and second, “We set the priorities, you adopt them as yours, or else we cut funding” (“The priorities of the European Union are not ours,” MWC News, 18 July 2011).
Atoning for the Holocaust?
This leads most sober Palestinians to conclude that the Holocaust-guilt-ridden European establishment wishes to wash its hands of its genocide against European Jews, among others, by imposing on the Palestinian people an unjust “peaceful” settlement of this essentially colonial conflict that would leave Israel with almost full control over the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and over the Palestinians’ economy, most fertile lands, water aquifers, borders and their very destiny.
Most crucially, such a funder-driven, unjust political settlement would perpetuate Israel’s denial of the basic rights of the great majority of the Palestinian people, those in exile as well as in Israel. Foremost among those rights is the inalienable right to participate in exercising self determination. It has been declared by the UN as a prerequisite for any nation under colonial rule to enjoy the full set of rights, political, cultural, economic and other fundamental rights.
Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular were effectively forced to pay the price for a genocidal crime that they had no role in, and are now being bribed to accept injustice as fate, so that this dark chapter in Western history can finally reach closure.
But Europe’s collusion with Israel is too intricate to reduce to sheer Holocaust guilt. Economic interest, US influence, Islamophobia, the prevalence of a security mentality and the corresponding growth of the military-security industry, are all very relevant factors, too, in understanding this relationship.
Ever coveting artificially low-priced energy resources and open access to a large, under-developed, structurally dependent market, various Western powers, after all, were the ones who played the most important role in establishing and nourishing Israel as a colonial outpost in the region. Today, the EU’s governments and institutions continue to support Israel economically, diplomatically, academically and politically to maintain its domination and their interests.
A translated version of this article will be published as a preface to the forthcoming French-language edition of David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation.
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian human rights activist. He is a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI).