The Electronic Intifada / May 24, 2023
Itamar Ben-Gvir was not alone during his latest invasion of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The national security minister was flanked by Israeli police officers, including the chief of their force Kobi Shabtai.
Maybe it is wrong to derive any pleasure from the antics of the extreme right. But I confess that a wry smile appeared on my face when I saw how a Dutch ambassador lamented that such “provocative visits” were a setback for efforts to reach a two-state solution.
The dedication of European diplomats to a pipe dream is truly laughable.
For months, those diplomats have been trying to pretend that Ben-Gvir is some kind of an anomaly. Almost every Israeli representative other than him is welcome at receptions hosted by the EU embassy in Tel Aviv, the diplomats have indicated.
By convincing the police chief to join his invasion, Ben-Gvir is proving that he is now firmly ensconced in the establishment.
EU envoys prefer it when Zionism is presented in liberal wrapping paper. Ben-Gvir has removed the wrapping paper, revealing a murderous hatred for Palestinians and a desire to lord it over them completely.
Long before Ben-Gvir became their political master, Israel’s police were displaying the same hatred and the same desire. Their brutality a few days earlier – when they assaulted Palestinians during a “Death to the Arabs” rally by Jewish supremacists – followed a wearily familiar pattern.
While the EU may avoid dealing directly with Ben-Gvir, it has long been willing to cooperate with Israel’s police. A paper obtained via a freedom of information request suggests that the EU has been eager to do so.
Dating from June 2016, the paper was prepared for the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Training (which is known as CEPOL).
It recommends that CEPOL representatives should stress the “unexploited potential” in EU-Israel cooperation during a visit to Israel’s National Police Academy that month. “It has to be noted that Israel considers itself as a European country,” the paper states.
Reading between the lines, the paper leaves no doubt that CEPOL wished to team up with Israel’s occupation.
The CEPOL paper – see below – says the itinerary for the 2016 trip featured discussions with Israel’s Border Police. The Border Police are a key partner to – and in practice cannot be disentangled from – the Israeli army occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The timing of the visit was significant, though that significance was not spelled out in the CEPOL paper, or at least not in the censored version of it that has been released.
Less than a year earlier – in September 2015 – Israel relaxed its open-fire regulations.
Soldiers and police were given greater leeway to use live ammunition against Palestinians throwing stones or Molotov cocktails – in other words, children and young people born into a situation of extreme oppression.
So when CEPOL suggested that it wished to tap the “unexploited potential” in Israel-EU cooperation, it was really advocating closer relations with a police force that kills children with impunity.
Shoot-to-kill policy ?
The conduct of Israel’s police strongly indicates that they follow a shoot-to-kill policy.
Seventeen-year-old Zuhdi Muhannad al-Tawil is among the many victims of apparent extrajudicial executions in Jerusalem. After already wounding him – for allegedly stabbing an Israeli settler – police fired several shots at him as he lay incapacitated on the ground in May 2021.
CEPOL has been cooperating with Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s police forces since 2007.
EU bigwigs like to imply that working with “both sides” is evidence of a balanced approach. The bitter truth is that “balance” is impossible in the context of a brutal military occupation.
All talk of “both sides” is misleading, too. The EU and the US have insisted that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are really on the same side.
Under arrangements dating from the era of the Oslo accords in the 1990s, the Palestinian Authority is subservient to Israel. Its police are required to constantly coordinate with Israel – a requirement that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, has called “sacred” but which huge numbers of his compatriots regard as profane.
Like most, if not all, European Union bodies, CEPOL is secretive about its activities. Yet it does provide occasional clues by saying that it engages with Israel and the PA on “terrorism.”
Israel’s infamously lax open-fire rules also apparently apply to accusations of terrorism. Over the past few years, it has gone so far as to slap terrorist designations on human rights workers.
Shamefully, the Brussels bureaucracy has felt obligated to take such accusations seriously – even when there is not a shred of evidence backing them up.
Why? Because the EU considers Israel as a strategic ally.
“Terrorism” is Israel’s excuse for terrorizing Palestinians.
Despite timid statements of “concern” about some Israeli actions, the EU swallows Israel’s excuses time and again. The EU has made “terrorism” a central issue in its relationship with Israel – knowing full well how Israel can get away with any crime by playing the “terrorism” card.
The EU’s efforts to give Ben-Gvir the cold shoulder should be treated with skepticism. Canceling receptions out of fear he will make an appearance will be a meaningless gesture if the EU keeps on teaming up with a police force that has long practiced the racist violence that he preaches.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; his books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation