White saviors want Palestinians to “own” the occupation

Palestinian policemen guard the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah (Mohamad Torokman - Reuters)

David Cronin

The Electronic Intifada  /  November 22, 2021

Almost a decade has whizzed by since the writer Teju Cole poured scorn on the “white savior industrial complex.”

A white savior, according to Cole, “supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon and receives awards in the evening.”

Cole’s words proved prescient. Later in 2012 – the year he made that comment – the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

EU representatives may not be as suave as some of the phony American humanitarians criticized by Cole. They nonetheless behave collectively as a white savior.

The EU’s policing operation in the occupied West Bank offers a prime example of such behavior.

In 2019, that operation – known as EUPOL COPPS – published a short article titled “Palestinian inmates enjoy ‘Nelson Mandela rules’ ” on its website.

The article claimed that the EU’s team in the West Bank is promoting what it called the “best international standards of imprisonment.” Those standards, as you may have guessed, have been labeled the “Mandela rules.”

Abusing Mandela’s legacy

The EU’s white saviors were abusing Mandela’s legacy in the most obscene way. They were namechecking an African freedom fighter to try and provide cover for how they were propping up a racist system.

In response to a recent freedom of information request, the EU bureaucracy told me that the policing operation in the West Bank requires “yearly consent” from both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In other words, the EU team is only able to work in the West Bank because it has been given a thumbs up signal by Israel, a state which practices apartheid.

When Nelson Mandela declared in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he was not arguing that the EU should promote “best international standards” for detaining political prisoners. Rather, he was demanding the complete liberation of a people resisting their subjugation.

All of EUPOL COPPS’s activities are supposedly carried out “under Palestinian ownership.”

That message is at odds with the paternalistic approach of the EU’s team. The team even describes itself as a “mission” – a term with a distinct whiff of neo-imperial arrogance.

Despite its nominal commitment to “Palestinian ownership,” the “mission” does not treat its international and Palestinian staff as equal.

At the moment, EUPOL COPPS has 71 international and 35 locally recruited staff. Most, if not all, of the local recruits are Palestinians, to the best of my knowledge.

International “experts” working with EUPOL COPPS can command salaries of up to $9,000 per month, in addition to a daily allowance worth approximately $160. The “experts” benefit from very generous tax exemptions.

Discrimination

EUPOL COPPS refused to provide me with details of how much its Palestinian employees are paid. A spokesperson replied that “local staff remuneration details are not in the public domain and remain an internal, confidential matter.”

It is no secret, though, that Palestinians are paid less than internationals working in the West Bank – even if they are doing broadly similar work for the same organization.

Such discrimination inevitably breeds resentment.

Last month, Nataliya Apostolova, the Bulgarian diplomat heading EUPOL COPPS, held a meeting with Palestinian staff to inform them about a “structural reform” that is being implemented.

According to a transcript of the meeting, Apostolova suggested that the “reform” was required for budgetary reasons. Among its consequences are that travel allowances and an annual bonus paid to Palestinian staff will be scrapped.

The staff will have their employment contracts terminated at the end of June next year. A series of “internal competitions” will be organized to fill some posts.

Asked for a comment, a spokesperson for EUPOL COPPS suggested it is standard procedure for both international and locally recruited staff to be issued with new contracts each year. That is because EU governments renew the mandate of the “mission” annually.

“The mission will not comment further on internal processes,” the spokesperson said.

The contempt for basic transparency here is symptomatic of a bigger problem.

While waffling about “Palestinian ownership,” EUPOL COPPS is trying to evade scrutiny about its real agenda. That real agenda is one where Palestinians are expected to take “ownership” of Israel’s military occupation.

Pacification

Ever since it was launched in 2006, a central purpose of EUPOL COPPS has been to oversee “cooperation” between Israel’s forces and those working for the Palestinian Authority. Trained by EUPOL COPPS, Palestinian police and prison guards have been put in charge of pacifying their own people.

Through such “cooperation,” the PA acts as a substitute for the Israeli occupation.

To nobody’s surprise, the PA’s eagerness to imitate Israel has produced ghastly results. EUPOL COPPS can be relied on to either ignore or downplay the ghastliness.

In August this year, the PA’s forces arrested a number of political activists. The activists had to be taught a lesson for expressing opinions that the PA did not like.

Following those arrests, EUPOL COPPS arranged to have a “constructive and frank discussion” with the PA’s police. The police were reminded of their “key role in guaranteeing human rights for all Palestinians,” according to an EU tweet.

That language conveyed the impression that the arrests were an aberration. Anyone who has been paying attention, however, will know that the PA’s police have a long track record of seeking to stamp out dissent.

Pacification can be pricey.

More than 22 percent of the PA’s total budget goes to “security.”

Expenditure on the “security forces” came to $538 million in the first half of this year. That was $37 million higher than the amount spent in the same period during 2020.

In a new analysis piece, Alaa Tartir from the think tank Al-Shabaka argues that “these figures indicate the stark divide between the needs of the Palestinian people and the PA’s priorities.” Tartir writes that a “structural authoritarianism” has been “embedded in the Palestinian political system.”

As the largest donor to the PA, the European Union stands accused of enabling that authoritarianism.

The white saviors have woven a web of oppression, while pretending to aid the oppressed.

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