Netherlands rewards Israel for killing Gaza children

Palestinian rescuers pull a survivor from a destroyed residential building in Gaza City (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 18, 2021

The Netherlands is rewarding Israel for killing dozens of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip last May.

That’s the only reasonable conclusion after the North European monarchy announced a new “security cooperation” agreement with the apartheid state.

Hans Docter, the Dutch ambassador in Tel Aviv, signed the pact with Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz last week.

It provides a “framework for collaboration” between the two countries’ militaries, according to the Dutch defense ministry.

The tightening Dutch embrace of Israel appears to be a repeat of how the Netherlands for decades fostered close ties with South Africa’s white supremacist regime.

Gantz has twice perpetrated major massacres of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as army chief of staff in 2014, and as defense minister earlier this year, when he vowed that “no person, area or neighborhood in Gaza is immune.”

He kept that promise: Entire families were wiped out by Israel’s deliberate targeting of residential buildings.

More than 60 children were among nearly 260 Palestinians killed during Israel’s 11-day assault in May.

In the single deadliest attack, on residential buildings in Gaza City’s Al-Wihda street on 16 May, Israeli bombing killed at least 44 people, including 18 children.

Multiple generations of multiple families were obliterated.

A civil lawsuit against Gantz for the killing of the family of Palestinian-Dutch citizen Ismail Ziada in 2014 is still winding its way through Dutch courts.

Weapons tested on Palestinians

The defense ministry in The Hague claims that military “cooperation between the Netherlands and Israel is primarily aimed at knowledge exchange.”

That would be bad enough if it were true, but there is also a huge and valuable weapons trade.

In January, the Netherlands signed a $24 million contract with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for “vehicular tactical computers.”

The following month, the Dutch signed an $82 million contract for Israel’s Iron Fist “protection system” for armored vehicles.

This was originally developed by Israel Military Industries for Israel’s Eitan armored fighting vehicle and D9 armored bulldozer.

That means that like most other Israeli weapons it was almost certainly tested on Palestinians first.

‘Key market’

Indeed, the Eitan armored vehicle is undergoing an “upgrade” based on “lessons” Israel learned from Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza, which killed 2,200 Palestinians including more than 550 children.

The D9 armored bulldozer, made by Caterpillar, has long been notorious for how Israel uses it to destroy Palestinian homes and land and to perpetrate extrajudicial executions as part of the Israeli army’s so-called “pressure cooker procedure.”

The Dutch army will now benefit from innovations arising from the commission of such crimes.

Along with Luxembourg and Belgium, the Netherlands signed a $150 million contract in 2015 for Elbit to supply their soldiers with “smart vests.”

It’s no wonder senior Elbit executive Elad Aharonson calls the Netherlands a “key market.”

The Dutch government has not allowed its arms trade with an apartheid regime to interfere with its propaganda about how the land of tulips, clogs and windmills promotes international “peace” and “justice.”

Embracing South African apartheid

Contrary to its self-image as a modern and tolerant democracy, the Netherlands has always had a horrifying human rights record, including centuries of colonial atrocities in Indonesia lasting well into the 20th century.

Successive Dutch governments spent decades shielding South Africa’s apartheid regime from international pressure and calls from the Dutch public for sanctions.

Until the early 1980s, the Dutch state paid its white citizens to emigrate to South Africa, a policy initially adopted to alleviate economic pressure at home following World War II.

But subsidies for Dutch citizens to enjoy a segregated life of settler-colonial privilege at the expense of Black South Africans continued for decades even though objections to the morality of this policy had been raised at least since the 1950s.

This was only a part of the Netherlands’ conscious embrace of apartheid South Africa, which included academic and scientific exchanges and the 1953 signing of a “cultural accord” that was only finally abrogated in 1981.

More recently, there is strong evidence of Dutch complicity in CIA torture flights during the US-led “war on terror.”

But some public figures in the country are calling on their government to stop buying arms from Israel – weapons that are typically advertised as “fully battle-proven.”

The Dutch purchases support “an industry that has grown at the expense of the Palestinian population that has been living under Israeli occupation for decades,” two former government ministers and a former ambassador wrote in a joint op-ed in the newspaper de Volkskrant after the latest weapons deals were signed.

They note that Israel has been a big supplier of weapons to other regimes that have committed atrocities, including Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Myanmar and South Sudan.

Arms purchases “from ‘decent’ countries like the Netherlands” have made Israel one of world’s biggest arms exporters per capita, the former Dutch politicians add.

But there is of course nothing decent about the Netherlands and its European Union peers who continue to hector the world about “human rights” while aiding, abetting and profiting from Israel’s crimes.

Guaranteed impunity ?

The Dutch defense ministry also announced that alongside the cooperation pact, the Netherlands signed a “status of forces agreement” with Israel.

This “regulates the legal status of soldiers residing on the territory of the other party, such as during military missions,” the ministry said.

Dutch forces do take part in UN peacekeeping missions, for example in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and on the border with Lebanon. But these would presumably be covered by agreements or conventions between the UN and local parties.

Dutch police and military personnel also help train Palestinian Authority forces that grossly violate Palestinian human rights and collaborate with Israeli occupation forces to suppress legitimate Palestinian protest and resistance.

A likely motivation for the status of forces agreement is Israel’s need to bolster the impunity of its military personnel wherever they are.

The text of the Israeli-Dutch agreement does not appear to have been published, but precedents may be instructive: The 2012 status of forces agreement between the Netherlands and the United States, for instance, gives the US exclusive jurisdiction in virtually all cases of alleged crimes by American personnel stationed in Aruba, Sint Maarten and other Dutch colonies in the Caribbean.

Another clue comes from the 2015 Israel-Greece status of forces agreement which reportedly “offers legal defenses to both militaries while training in each other’s respective countries.”

At that time, it was noted that the only other country with which Israel already had such an agreement was the United States. This indicates that the Netherlands is going out of its way to warmly embrace – and reward – Israel’s military by signing a status of forces pact now.

Dutch lawmakers and the public concerned about their country’s deepening complicity with Israel’s regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism need to absorb the lessons of the past and raise their voices.

History shows that the Dutch state will never relinquish its deep attachment to racist and colonialist policies unless it is compelled to do so.

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