Thursday, July 24, 2014

Merkel stands by Israel even when it kills Germans

Earlier this year Angela Merkel was awarded Israel's "presidential medal of distinction." The German chancellor merited this honor, some journalists dutifully reported, because of her "unwavering commitment to Israel's security."

That "unwavering commitment" might help explain why Merkel does not appear perturbed by what happened to Ibrahim al-Kilani. He had spent twenty years in Germany, qualifying there as a civil engineer, before returning to Gaza in 2001, where he had married and started raising a family. On Monday, Ibrahim, his wife Taghreed and their five children were wiped out in an Israeli attack.

Ilias, the youngest of the children, was only four. His sister Yasmin was six. The other siblings -- Yassir, Sawsan, and Rim -- were aged between eight and twelve. It should not be necessary to spell out that they were entirely innocent of any crime.

One day after this family was wiped out, Germany and all European Union governments issued a statement on the events in Gaza. As the Union's foreign ministers were meeting that day, they had every opportunity to demand an explanation from Israel as to why it had just killed a family of EU citizens.

Yet the EU's statement did not even mention the al-Kilanis. Rather, the foreign ministers stressed that they recognized "Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks."

Israel was politely asked to make sure its military action was "proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law."


It is hard to remain calm when reading those carefully chosen words -- of abject cowardice. Not for the first time, the EU was blaming Palestinians for the atrocities visited upon them by a brutal occupation. The truth was turned upside down.

Many of us have long suspected that the European Union doesn't really care when Palestinians are killed by Israel. Now we can say for certain it doesn't care even when Israel bombs EU citizens.

Ahmad al-Kilani, Ibrahim's cousin, made this point in an interview with a Turkish news agency: “No German or American nationality stops Israel from murdering us. Israel is like a monster that destroys everything it encounters. This is genocide.”

Eventually, the German foreign ministry announced yesterday that it was seeking "clarification" from Israel about why it killed the al-Kilani family.

That is a hollow gesture, when you recall that Merkel explicitly stated last week that "we stand by the side of Israel, when it comes to self-defense." She has not withdrawn that remark, despite the abundant evidence that the al-Kilani family and the people of Gaza more generally have not been bombed for reasons of "self-defense" but in grotesque acts of aggression.

The al-Kilani family had already suffered enormously from Israel's latest attack on Gaza. They had fled their home in Beit Lahia, an area in northern Gaza that Israel has shelled continuously.

Stand by Palestine

They had sought shelter in Shujaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City. On Sunday, they witnessed a horrific massacre in that neighborhood.

They tried to escape once more, finding an apartment in Rimal, supposedly a safer part of Gaza City. It has been reported that Taghreed al-Kilani was preparing an iftar, the meal that ends a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, when Israel shelled them.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the current Israeli offensive.

Insipid requests from the European Union for Israel to behave in a "proportionate" manner won't stop the slaughter. It, therefore, falls to ordinary people of conscience around the world to take action.

We know what we have to do: intensify our campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. If Angela Merkel and other Western leaders are so determined to side with Israel, the rest of us must stand by the Palestinians.

Thanks to Shahd Abusalama for help with research and translation.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2014.

Friday, July 11, 2014

EU regurgitates Israeli propaganda

The daily press briefing at the European Commission seldom fails to illustrate the cozy relationship between journalists and the powerful. So harmonious is this rapport that many of its attendees "graduate" from being spoonfed stories by official EU spokespersons to eventually becoming spokespersons themselves.

Michael Mann offers a case in point. He used to be on the staff of The Financial Times. Today, he commands a higher salary as a mouthpiece for Catherine Ashton, the Union's foreign policy chief. Part of his job involves regurgitating Israeli propaganda.

This week he issued a statement which claimed that Israel's latest bombardment of Gaza constituted "retaliatory fire." Everything was in response to rockets launched by Palestinians, he suggested.

There was no acknowledgement that Israel has been subjecting Palestinian civilians to collective punishment -- in clear violation of international law. There was no mention of the seven-year siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza. There was no recognition that Benjamin Netanyahu's government has used the murder of three Israeli teenagers as a pretext to kill much higher numbers of Palestinian children in recent days (more than twenty children have been killed in Gaza over the past few days; a death toll that is likely to rise).

Instead, there was an anodyne call for "restraint."


Like most of the Brussels elite, Mann lives in something of a bubble. For the past few months, the main topic of conversation within this cocoon has been which dodgy politician will become the European Commission's new president. The harm inflicted by the EU's austerity policies and by its "strategic" partners (as Catherine Ashton has categorized Israel) has been largely ignored.

Diplomats based in Israel live in a bubble, too. The EU's embassy in Israel is located in a skyscraper in the business district of Ramat Gan, a city beside Tel Aviv. The convivial coffee shops and restaurants which the embassy's staff frequent provide no clues of the immense human suffering in Gaza, around seventy kilometers away.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU's ambassador to Israel, ventured a little bit outside the bubble on Monday. He didn't go to Gaza, however, but to Ashkelon in southern Israel. There, he expressed solidarity with Israelis facing the "unacceptable threat" of rockets from Gaza.

The ambassador elaborated on this gesture of solidarity in a softball interview with the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz. "I wanted to underline that shooting rockets indiscriminately at civilians cannot be a legitimate or an acceptable response to any kind of grievance that you have," he said.

Listeners to the video of the interview posted on the Haaretz website were spared any explanation of what kind of grievances Palestinians may have.

Awkward fact

The awkward fact that they have long been treated as laboratory rats for the Israeli arms industry was omitted. That's hardly surprising, if you delve a bit deeper.

In June, Israel signed an agreement that enables its weapons manufacturers -- the very people profiting from the current attack on Gaza -- take part in the EU's scientific research programme. Known as Horizon 2020, that programme has been allocated a colossal €80 billion ($109 billion) between now and the end of the decade.

Faaborg-Andersen was so keen to stress his empathy with Zionists that he effectively gave an "up yours" salute to the main Palestinian plea for justice: the 2005 call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. He was at pains to stress that Israel is welcome to continue exporting goods from its settlements in the occupied West Bank, even though some EU governments have recently advised firms against doing business with the settlements.

"The EU is not banning anyone," he said. "We are against boycotts. We are against BDS. We are against the isolation of Israel."

Embracing Israel

Far from isolating Israel, some of the EU's leading representatives appear intent on embracing it tighter. Last month, Daniel Calleja, head of the European Commission's enterprise department, lead the Union's second "mission for growth" to Israel in as many years.

Among the Israeli firms which have been involved in this "mission" to increase business with Europe are Elbit, a supplier of the drones now being used to bomb Gaza and of surveillance equipment installed in the apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice almost exactly ten years ago.

Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, has been taking part, too.

There is, of course, an important caveat that should be added when the EU claims to oppose boycotts. It is only against boycotts of Israel.

Under US pressure, the Union decided to boycott the Palestinian government formed after the 2006 election. EU representatives, who constantly harp on about democracy, didn't like the result of that exercise in democracy because the wrong party -- Hamas -- won.

Those of us who try as best we can to live in the real world detect a heady stench of double standards from EU representatives. The representatives, however, seem oblivious to that stench. I guess that's what happens when you live in a bubble.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 July 2014.