German aid to Israel’s war machine is an invitation to abuse human rights

Security industry products are tested on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Najeh Hashlamoun APA images

Israel is constantly increasing its military expenditure. Recently published data indicate that Israel’s spending on “defense” rose by almost 7 percent in 2011, compared to the previous year. The business opportunities provided by a brutal occupation have helped three Israeli companies secure a place on the list of the world’s top arms dealers (“Business as usual for top arms producers despite slowdown in arms sales, says SIPRI,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 27 February 2012).

All three of these firms — Elbit, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael — happen to be recipients of scientific research grants from the European Union European Union. This reflects how the EU has been eager to nurture both its relationship with Israel and the international market in “security goods.”

The innovation potential for “security” technology is greatest in places where human rights standards are being deliberately weakened. This is where arms companies find the perfect testing grounds: by marketing their products as “battle-tested,” they can win lucrative contracts throughout the world. These problems are graphically illustrated by the example of EU-Israeli security cooperation.

Rapid boom

The atrocities of 11 September 2001 led to a rapid boom in global demand for security technology. The aim of this technology is to recognize every potential risk, even where there is no imminent danger, and isolate all sources of risk. In this way, police powers are being extended far into the realm of prevention — if new forms of technology are available which make new measures possible, state regulation is normally guided by the principle that what is technically possible must be legitimate.

Israel offers many examples of how innovations in surveillance technology are facilitating human rights abuses. Sensors and thermal cameras for detecting “intruders” have been installed by Motorola Israel in a “virtual fence” to protect Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It is significant that Motorola Israel is benefitting from an EU-funded project called iDetect4All. That project is designed to assess if equipment similar (or perhaps even identical to) that installed in Israeli settlements can be used to defend infrastructure deemed to be of high economic value from an attack. Although the EU officially regards Israeli settlements as illegal, it appears to have no qualms about subsidizing firms that profit from defending those illegal settlements.

According to figures from the German ministry of economics, the market in products of civil security research was worth €20 billion ($26.3 billion) in 2008. The ministry expects this figure to increase even further to €31 billion ($39 billion) by 2015.

At the same time, billions of euros in tax revenue are being poured into the industry. In the EU’s current multi-annual program for scientific research, security research has been included for the first time as a priority theme, with an allocation of €1.4 billion ($1.75 billion) between 2007 and 2013.

The German ministry of education and research has drawn up a program called Research for Civil Security, which is regarded as the national appendage of the EU’s activities in security research. Since 2007, a total of €250 million ($314 million) has been spent on the German program. In January this year, Angela Merkel’s government decided to continue the program with an increased annual budget of 55 million euros.

False claims

German government claims that the research activities it and the EU finance relate “exclusively to civil security” are in glaring contradiction with the relevant planning documentation.

The European security research agenda was negotiated behind closed doors by a so-called Group of Personalities (GoP) in 2003. Of the group’s 25 members, eight were representatives of the arms industry (“NeoConOpticon: The EU Security-Industrial Complex,” Transnational Institute, June 2009 [PDF].)

The position paper produced by the committee advising the German ministry of education and research on security research states that “the technological know-how acquired through military research must also be available in the realm of civil security research and vice versa. Technologies are not inherently assignable to only one category or the other. A clear and permanent separation of military and civil security research is very difficult to apply rigorously.”

Tim Robinson, a senior vice-president of the French weapons company Thales, who helped prepare the groundwork for the EU’s security research activities put it this way, as quoted in the aforementioned Transnational Institute report: “‘Security’ is a more politically acceptable way of describing what was traditionally defense.”

The misleading designation results in civil budgets being misappropriated for the development of military capabilities. It would not be legally possible for the EU to fund hardcore military research from its budget, since the Treaty on European Union prohibits the financing of “expenditure arising from operations having military or defense implications.”

Israeli arms companies are also receiving millions of euros in subsidies under the guise of “civil security research.” Israel is a participant in 29 projects, not infrequently as the lead partner, in the EU’s security research program. Israel is the main non-EU beneficiary of European research grants.

Special status

Israel is involved, too, in Germany’s national Research for Civil Security program. Apart from Israel, Germany’s only other bilateral cooperation in the field of security research is with its NATO allies France and the US. How has Israel acquired this special status?

In 2011, for the second year in succession, the Israeli economy grew faster than that of any other industrialized nation, recording a growth rate of 4.8 percent. This upsurge is a consequence of a change of course by the Israeli government back in the year 2000.

At that time, when numerous dot-com companies were on the brink of bankruptcy after the speculative bubble had burst, the Israeli government decided to switch the focus of enterprise policy from information to surveillance technology. Only one year later, the 11 September attacks sent the demand for surveillance technology rocketing.

Over the last few years, Israel has managed to become the global market leader in security technology. There are now about 600 security-related businesses with a total of some 25,000 employees in Israel. Almost 80 percent of the high-tech products manufactured in Israel are exported, generating annual turnover of about €1.45 billion ($1.8 billion) (“Looking at Israel - Economy,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 December 2007).

This makes Israel one of the world’s largest arms exporters, outsold only by the US, Russia, Germany, the UK and France.

Experience in combating terrorism is presented as the trump card that gives Israeli companies an edge over their competitors. Israel-Export, an Israeli government-sponsored website, proclaims that “no other country has such a large pool of experienced former security, military and police personnel and no other country has been able to field-test its systems and solutions in real-time situations” (“Gateway to Israel’s homeland security industries”).

Incentive to abuse

The products of the security industry, in other words, are tested on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The “competitive advantages” of the industry are based on experiments related to occupation. There is therefore an economic incentive to abuse human rights in order to test the latest innovations.

Never in the past have violations of human rights caused Germany or the EU to pull out of multinational cooperation ventures in the field of security research. This can scarcely come as a surprise to anyone, since the Berlin government assesses the relevance of human rights to research cooperation as follows: “There is no risk of human-rights violation.” This view reflects blinkered — and indeed cynical — opportunism.

Security technology, by its very nature, is always in conflict with human rights. This applies to civil as well as military applications.

The apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank comprises a dense network of military checkpoints, separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians and, of course, the massive wall. The control of people’s movements means daily frustration, humiliation and demoralization for those affected. Palestinians spend a significant portion of their waking hours queuing to be allowed through checkpoints.

The technological instruments of this illegal segregation system are supplied in part by companies that receive research cooperation subsidies from Germany and the EU. One such company is the Israeli arms group Elbit, which is taking part in four projects in the European security research program and is an applicant for support from the German-Israeli cooperation program.

Between 2007 and 2011, Elbit obtained EU funds amounting to €2.3 million ($3 million). Elbit is developing the “Torch” command and control system specifically for Israel’s wall in the West Bank. The surveillance system is regarded as a key functional component of the wall (“European funding for Israeli actors that are complicit with violations of international law must not be allowed to continue,” Stop the Wall, May 2011 [PDF]).

In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague found that Israel’s construction of the wall was contrary to international law.

Because of the significant contribution made by Elbit to these breaches of international law, the company has been excluded from investing in state pension funds in Norway and Sweden.

Elbit’s participation in German and EU research program ought to be linked to the cessation of illegal activities. Yet when the Berlin government was asked about the risk of complicity in violations of human rights through its financial support, it replied that it held no stake in Elbit and saw no need to undertake its own assessment of the risk.

Israel is one of the leading producer countries for unmanned aircraft — also known as drones. In the €70 million ($91 million) EU-funded “Maaximus” project, ten German research establishments and businesses are cooperating with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a manufacturer of drones used in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. The aim of the Maaximus project is to design aircraft that are lighter and can be more quickly assembled than those now in use.

IAI’s “Heron” drones were used to kill at least 29 civilians during Cast Lead. The attacks were condemned by Human Rights Watch as serious violations of international humanitarian law (“Precisely Wrong: Gaza civilians killed by Israeli drone-launched missiles,” June 2009 [PDF]).

IAI, like another arms group, Israeli Military Industries, and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center, is among the Israeli applicants for German research grants.

Israel must no longer be sponsored through the European research budget and from German tax revenue. Ritual condemnations of human rights abuses by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other representatives are not enough. Funding Israel’s war and occupation industry is virtually an invitation to Israel to continue its crimes against humanity.

Annette Groth is a member of parliament for Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke). Her website is