Letter: European inaction and complicity as Gaza burns

H.E. Mr. Erkki Tuomioja Minister of Foreign Affairs Ministry for Foreign Affairs Helsinki Finland

Dear Minister Tuomioja,

I am writing about the statement issued by the Government of Finland in its capacity as President of the European Union, concerning the current violence in Gaza. Since this issue concerns me very deeply as a Palestinian and a human being, I hope you will not mind if I make a number of points and suggestions.

Your November 4 statement says: "the European Union is profoundly concerned by increased violence in Gaza. The Presidency deplores the growing number of civilian casualties the Israeli military operation has caused. The right of all states to defend themselves does not justify disproportionate use of violence or actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law."

It adds that, "The Presidency calls on the Palestinian leadership to bring an end to terrorist activities, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory."

I would like to draw your attention to the following:

-Israeli leaders indicate that they make no distinction between civilians and combatant resistance fighters. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset on October 30 that in the past three months, the Israeli military has killed 300 "terrorists" in the Gaza Strip. According to B’Tselem’s investigation, Israeli occupation forces did indeed kill 294 Palestinians in Gaza between June 26 and October 27. However, over half of those killed — 155 people, including 61 children — did not participate in the fighting when they were killed. These figures do NOT include the 49 Palestinians killed by Israel since November 1.

-As stated, since November 1 until today, Israeli occupation forces have killed 49 Palestinians, injured more than 150, and caused massive destruction to a people under occupation which under international law, Israel is bound to protect. Among the victims of these latest Israeli atrocities are at least seven children, two women, and two Red Crescent paramedics rendering assistance to the injured. Can you tell me how many Israelis have been killed or injured by the "terrorist" activity that you allege authorizes the Israeli military action in Gaza?

-While no one can dispute the "right of all states to defend themselves," Israel is patently not engaged in self-defence, but in protecting an ever-expanding colonial infrastructure and occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found in July 2004, Israel has the option to defend itself by withdrawing all of its soldiers and settlers from the territories occupied in 1967, as required by international law. Your failure to call on Israel to do this is tantamount to an endorsement of Israel’s illegal settler-colonies and its use of force to maintain them.

-Your statement makes mention of "terrorist" activities by Palestinians while failing to uphold their right to resist foreign military occupation. This right is universally recognized. You are no doubt aware, for example, that the constitution of your sister Scandinavian nation and EU member state, Sweden, prescribes that should any part of that country come under occupation, it is the duty of all public servants "to act in the manner which best serves the defence effort and resistance activities," and "in no circumstances may any public body make any decision or take any action which imposes on any citizen of the Realm the duty to render assistance to the occupying power in contravention of international law." It is therefore unclear why the EU constantly reaffirms Israel’s supposed "right" to defend "itself" while making no mention of the Palestinian right to self-defence and resistance. Even worse, it appears to be EU policy that Palestinians are indeed under an obligation to assist their occupiers in suppressing resistance and helping to oppress them. If, heaven forbid, your country came under hostile military occupation what would you do?

-I wholeheartedly agree with that part of your statement which says, "Violence will only aggravate an already grave situation in the region." But violence will not be ended by empty condemnation of the victims and craven appeasement of the occupier. It will end when governments like yours take action to make Israel, as the occupying colonial power, accountable. If you do not want Palestinians to have to resort to any form of violence, then you should provide an alternative. Before the eyes of the world, Israeli occupation forces opened fire with live ammunition on a demonstration by courageous and exemplary unarmed Palestinian women in Beit Hanoun. EU member states have done nothing to assist Palestinians to peacefully resist, even as Israel mows them down with machine guns.

If your stated desire for peace is serious and sincere, here are six steps you can call for immediately:

(1) Noting the serious escalation of crimes and human rights abuses by the Israeli government, including indiscriminate murder of civilians and continued confiscation of land and construction of illegal settler-colonies, suspend with immediate effect the EU-Israel Association Agreement pursuant to Article 2 of that agreement.

(2) Implement a complete arms embargo preventing EU States from buying or selling weapons to Israel.

(3) Noting the new statements by Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman threatening to carry out the extrajudicial execution the Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, and calling for the "surgical removal" (in other words ethnic cleansing) of all Arab citizens from Israel (See Ha’aretz newspaper, November 4 and 5), severely reduce contacts, aid and trade with Israel until it renounces violence, state terrorism, colonialism and ethnic cleansing and commits itself to the full implementation of international law and UN Resolutions, the ICJ decision on the West Bank Wall, and to ending all forms of officially-sanctioned and legally-enshrined racial discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens.

(4) Noting that one third of the representatives and cabinet ministers elected by Palestinians under occupation have been kidnapped and held hostage by Israeli occupation forces since June, EU states should refuse to issue visas to any Israeli officials to travel in EU territory until all Palestinian elected representatives are released forthwith and allowed to conduct their duties unmolested by the occupation forces.

(5) Noting the repeated statements of the leaders of Palestinians under occupation, including prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, calling for a 10-year-truce modeled on that between the IRA and the United Kingdom government that began the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, immediately end the sanctions against the elected Palestinian Authority and conduct talks with all Palestinian parties.

(6) Lend moral, political and other forms of support to Palestinian civil resistance especially the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions for which hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations have called.

I trust that you will see these measures as the minimum reasonable steps that you are obligated to take given your country’s commitments under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and your attachment to principles of peace, justice, anti-racism and human rights. I am sure that you would want the European Union to do no less for you if you were in the same situation as the Palestinians.

I eagerly await your positive response.

Yours sincerely, Ali Abunimah*

*Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of "One Country – A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse" (Metropolitan Books, 2006)

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