EU punishes Palestinian cancer patients to please Israel

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a visit last week to Israel (viaTwitter)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 27, 2022

The European Union is making Palestinian cancer patients suffer as part of a campaign to appease the Israel lobby in Brussels.

It is doing so by withholding some $230 million in funding that was already committed to support Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.

The payment has been delayed since last year “as the European Union continues to condition the release of the money on specific changes to Palestinian school textbooks,” the Norwegian Refugee Council stated on Tuesday.

The aid suspension – reminiscent of the cuts imposed by US President Donald Trump after he took office in 2017 – “is crippling critical sectors and services, including healthcare in occupied East Jerusalem, with dire consequences for patients needing treatment at hospitals,” the charity added.

“These restrictions punish terminally ill patients who cannot get lifesaving medicine and force children to go hungry when parents cannot afford to buy food,” said Jan Egeland, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s secretary general.

“Palestinians are paying the cruelest price for political decisions made in Brussels.”

As a result, at least 500 newly diagnosed cancer patients have been unable to access life-saving treatments at occupied East Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria hospital. Others are experiencing severe delays in receiving critical treatment.

Lies about textbooks

Those political decisions appear largely to be the result of a campaign waged by Olivér Várhelyi, a senior official in the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.

Várhelyi has been promoting Israel lobby lies that Palestinian textbooks contain anti-Semitism and “glorify terrorism.”

The lies about Palestinian textbooks are part of a long-running disinformation campaign by Israel and its lobby groups.

The campaign aims to promote the ludicrous claim that Palestinians are hostile to Israel not because it has brutally violated their most fundamental rights for decades, but because they are being brainwashed to hate Israel and Jews in their classrooms.

The bogus claims are also a tool to constantly pressure the Palestinian Authority to collaborate even more with Israel.

Although the campaign took off in the United States more than two decades ago, it has more recently been taken up by the pro-Israel European far right.

Notably, Várhelyi was nominated to his post by Viktor Orbán, prime minister of his native Hungary.

Orbán has circulated anti-Semitic tropes in election campaigns and conferred hero status on a Nazi collaborator.

Yet, as The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin has noted, Várhelyi has yet to denounce those manifestations of genuine anti-Jewish bigotry.

Despite Várhelyi’s claims being false, he is succeeding in what is perhaps one of his unstated goals: Making the most vulnerable Palestinians suffer and maybe even die.

EU greenlight for more Israeli abuses

As Israel continues to attack and harm Palestinians, European Union elites are publicly signaling their full support.

Earlier this week, Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, went on a high-profile junket to Israel, where she met the presidentprime minister and foreign minister.

Metsola offered not a word of criticism for Israel’s brutal rule over millions of Palestinians, which Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups have characterized as apartheid – one of the most heinous crimes against humanity enumerated in the International Criminal Court’s founding Rome Statute.

Instead, Metsola addressed Israel’s parliament, praising it as a “house of democracy.”

Ignoring Israel’s escalating crimes against the Palestinian people, including its recent killing and subsequent cover up of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, Metsola urged that the “partnership between the EU and Israel should be further strengthened.”

Metsola’s only public acknowledgement of the existence of Palestinians was a cursory visit to Israeli-occupied Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The longstanding support Abbas enjoys from the EU is directly tied to his willingness to collaborate with Israel in suppressing Palestinian resistance. This is euphemistically known as “security coordination.”

Israel bans European Parliament members

While pandering to Israel and complicity with its crimes is the norm for European Union leaders, Metsola’s visit was even more than usually abject. She went ahead with it even after Israel denied entry to a delegation led by Manuel Pineda, one of her European Parliament colleagues.

The mission was partly in response to the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.

Pineda is the president of the parliament’s delegation for EU-Palestine relations, and thus plays an essential role in monitoring the use of European Union funding and the actions of the bloc’s officials on the ground.

Metsola did not show solidarity with her colleagues or demand that Israel respect the European Parliament by canceling her visit. Instead, she issued a tweet expressing “regret” at Pineda’s exclusion and claiming she would “raise the issue directly with authorities concerned.”

Israel will almost certainly perceive these soft words, followed by Metsola’s lavish and unconditional praise for the apartheid state, as acquiescence and even a green light to continue excluding anyone it considers insufficiently subservient.

It is unlikely coincidental that Pineda is currently the target of a character assassination campaign by the Israel lobby.

On Wednesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center published an “open letter” to Ursula von der Leyen, the unelected president of the European Commission, demanding that the popularly elected Pineda “must be expelled from the European Parliament” on the basis that he is a “spokesman for terrorists.”

The Israel lobby group’s laundry list of grievances against Pineda includes that he joined a 2011 flotilla to Gaza aiming to break Israel’s brutal blockade on the territory and that he associates with members of Palestinian and Lebanese political groupings and resistance groups that Israel and its European allies have arbitrarily designated as “terrorist.”

The anti-Palestinian group even repeats unsubstantiated smears that Pineda’s left-wing party Podemos – a member of Spain’s governing coalition – was “allegedly financed by Iran.”

These claims emerged in 2016, as part of what one Podemos voter termed a “dirty campaign” by Spain’s then right-wing government.

Yet they are exactly the kind of smears and innuendo Israel and its lobby regularly use against anyone who dares to criticize them or stand with Palestinians.

Leading Palestinian human rights organizations on Wednesday sent an open letter to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

They denounced her decision to visit Israel even after authorities there barred the delegation led by Pineda – with whom they were due to meet.

They also condemned her offer of stronger ties with Israel, while failing even to mention the killing of Abu Akleh as well as Israel’s accelerating expulsions of Palestinian villagers in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank.

The groups told Metsola that “you have failed to fulfill your responsibility under international law and make yourself complicit in the institutionalized domination and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Some of the groups that wrote to Metsola are among the six baselessly designated by Israel as “terrorist organizations” last year in an effort to stymie and discredit their work documenting its crimes.

The EU, which has funded several of those groups, has allowed Israel to get away with the smearing. Now the EU is allowing Israel to do the same to its elected representatives.

Brussels will do whatever it takes to serve and appease Israel and its lobby, even if that means deliberately and knowingly inflicting additional suffering on Palestinian cancer patients.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)