Europeans in the Middle East: Assistance or Interference? by Judy Lash Balint The Jerusalem Report
August 27, 2001
Jerusalem - After the Tel Aviv disco attack that claimed twenty-one young Israeli lives, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer who was in the area at the time, reportedly threatened to sever European Union (EU) relations with Yasser Arafat if the Palestinian leader did not clamp down on terror.
Fischer's words of rebuke ring a little hollow given the reality of EU activity in the Middle East.
In coordination with the Palestinians, but without Israeli approval, a group of European "security coordinators" turned up last May in Beit Jala, just outside Jerusalem. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana tried to brush off the presence of the small force, calling it a technical team to advise the Palestinians on how to implement the ceasefire. But EU-Israeli tensions were raised when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angrily complained about the observers to the visiting then EU president, Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson. The EU crew is widely seen to be the vanguard of a de facto international force-something Israel has long opposed.
The question of where the EU directs its Middle East funding is probably an even better indicator of European intentions in the region.
EU money not only directly supports the Palestine Authority (PA) through its three billion dollar financial aid package directed straight into PA coffers, but the Europeans are also the major backers of dozens of projects sponsored by Palestinian and Jewish organizations dedicated to "ending the occupation" or influencing public opinion against the policies of the Sharon government.
According to Jean Breteche European Commission representative to the West Bank and Gaza, the EU's mandate in the area is "to instill humanitarian principles, respect for human rights and the concept of a viable democracy." Breteche asserts that the Europeans are primarily committed to "health and education" projects.
Even a cursory reading of a 1999 European Commission report on projects fu nded by its People to People initiative makes it clear that the EU agenda is, in fact, far from humanitarian in nature.
Take the Middle East Center for Legal and Economic Research (MEILER), for example. MEILER received 300,000 Euro ($280,000) in 1999 from the EU to conduct phase two of a survey of Palestinian Refugee Real Estate Holdings in Israel. Working from Orient House, the PA's Jerusalem headquarters, MEILER assists Arabs living in refugee camps to research property in 531 Arab villages abandoned in 1948.
The exercise is not merely theoretical. Orient House employees acknowledge that the information is to be used by Arabs to claim compensation as well as land.
EU largesse is also directed at influencing public opinion in Europe regarding contentious land issues. A new recipient of EU funding is a joint project between two non-profit Palestinian organizations, the Applied Research Institute (ARIJ) and the Land Research Center (LRC).
This effort, in the words of ARIJ, "aims at inspecting and scrutinizing Israeli colonizing activities in their different forms" and to "disseminate the related information to policy makers in the European countries and to the general public."
Courtesy of the EU, these groups, who liberally scatter the word "colonies" throughout their materials, plan to use remote sensing satellite images and aerial photographs to monitor Israeli construction activity.
The International Committee on House Demolitions, (ICAHD) is another patently political recipient of EU support. The group's mission statement explains that ICAHD activities are designed to "resist all aspects of the Occupation," and to "initiate legal challenges to Israeli actions and policies in the Occupied Territories."
Organizations such as ICAHD wouldn't exist if it were not for the generosity of the EU. In 1999, the annual ICAHD budget was 385,000 euro. The European Commission granted the group 250,000 (approx. $222,000) or 65 percent of the total. On a recent lecture tour in the United States, ICAHD director Jeff Halper reporedly equated Israel's legal system with the Nazi Nuremberg Laws.
Legal efforts against Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem were also financed by EU money. The EU funded 100% of the 1999 budget of Ir Shalem, providing the group the backing to litigate against Israeli purchase of former Jewish homes in the Moslem Quarter and development of the Har Homa, Beit Orot and Ras el Amud neighborhoods.
In more blatant disregard for its governing humanitarian principles, the EU has directed some of its largest contributions to several programs that attempt to persuade the large voting bloc of immigrants from the former Soviet Union to reverse its traditional conservative voting pattern.
Peace Now received 400,000 Euro (approx. $340,000) to implement an outreach program to the immigrants. In addition, a separate grant of the same amount was allocated to an institute led by Knesset member Roman Bronfman. The Institute for Democracy and Leadership Training ran a "peace and democracy awareness campaign," with the explicit goal stated in the grant application, to bring "Russian immigrants in Israel into the peace camp."
Another 350,000 Euro was recently approved to fund the activities of Teena, a Jerusalem-based non-profit group. With its EU money, Teena will organize activities in Russian on various aspects of the Arab world. The principal objective of the effort is "to change public opinion within the community in favor of peace settlement based on territorial compromise and mutual concessions."
Through the language of its own communiqués, one may gauge the EU's disposition toward Israel. In a January 18, 2001 press release about a new grant, the EU Commission Representation tacked on a final paragraph den ouncing "excessive and disproportionate use of force by the State of Israel against Palestinian civilians," without so much as a mention of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli Jews.
After the Yom Kippur War EU member nations supplied arms to hostile Arab nations. Today, European nations fund school textbooks used by the Palestinian Authority that promote hatred of Jews and intolerance of Israel's right to exist.
Under the guise of promoting peace and democracy, the EU in fact abuses Israeli openness and undermines its democracy through its grants to groups that operate outside the national consensus.
Europeans, with their not-so-distant dismal colonial history and the collaboration of many of their governments during WWII, have no credentials to operate in the Mid-East tinderbox. Perhaps their pro-Palestinian bias is an outgrowth of mass Moslem immigration with which many European nations are now trying to cope. In Belgium, seat of the current EU rotating presidency, 10 percent of the population is now Moslem.
But whatever the reason, the escalation of EU involvement in the region through funding, personnel on the ground and subvention of NGO initiatives makes it clear that it's not assistance but interference Europe is delivering to the Middle East.