EU-Israel Association Council: Upgrading relations in a background of an unprecedented civil repression

On 18 July 2022, the EU announced its goal to unconditionally upgrade the Union’s economic and political ties with Israel through the establishment of an Association Council. The Council is a central tool of the EU to promote diplomatic relations between the Union and other states and might represent an opportunity for both involved parties to strengthen ties in the financial, economic and technology spheres. The event is scheduled to take place this October, despite extensive Human Rights violations and against a background of occupation and systematic discrimination of Palestinians by the Israeli government. EuroMed Rights is deeply concerned by the EU’s inaction to address Israel’s encroaching annexation of Occupied Palestinian territory and its crack down on Palestinian civil society.

For decades the EU has fooled itself believing that accommodation is the best policy for Israel, even as the country’s government explicitly abandons any plan for ending its inhuman occupation of Palestinian territory. However the Union’s accommodating policies have only further encouraged the Israeli government’s Human Rights abuses, as recent developments make abundantly clear. On June 28th, the European Anti-Fraud Offices (OLAF) assessed there was no evidence of misuse of funds by the six Palestinian organizations wrongfully designed as “terrorist entities”. On July 19th 9 EU member states released a joint statement reaffirming their cooperation and support to the six. Nevertheless, just a few days later the Israeli Occupying forces forcibly raided and shut down the offices of said organisations, as part of an aggressive campaign of repression against Palestinian civil society. Promoting an upgrade in relations under this context gives the worrying impression that the EU ignores its Human Rights priorities or worse, that it uncritically supports Israeli actions.

The EU has failed to protect the organizations themselves and their staff, leaving Palestinians and European citizens alike vulnerable to the criminalization of Human Rights activism. Spanish citizen Juana Ruiz Rishmawi was arbitrarily detained for 10 months, and Salah Hammouri -a French-Palestinian lawyer- who is working with Addameer, is still arbitrarily detained. These organizations are key partners of the EU and its members in their implementation of their “value-based” policy. Many are directly funded by the EU and work closely with its institutions and officials – yet there is a distinct lack of support for them when they need it the most.

As civil society suffers an unprecedent crack down, it’s not precise to refer to the current context as “shrinking space” anymore. For prestigious organizations such as Al-Haq and Addameer, the facts on the ground are of no space at all.  Nevertheless, beyond this background of  systematic discrimination from the river to the sea, the Israeli government has continued to act contrary to International Law, pushing for more settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and for the mass displacement of Palestinians. More than 140 Palestinians have been killed in army raids in this year alone, and between 5 and 7 of August over 49 civilians – including women and children – were killed in a military offensive against Gaza, a region which continues to suffer under an illegal military blockade of 15 years. The lesson that Palestinian society is drawing from this is that the EU is awarding Israel for its repression.

Finally, the Association Council celebrates EU-Israel further developments on technology and cyber cooperation at the same time the EU Parliament is engaged in an Inquiry Committee on the use of Pegasus and other Israeli-developed spywares in Europe and the impact on the enjoyment of Fundamental Rights.

A rising number of Palestinian, Israeli and international organizations have denounced the occupation of Palestinian territory as legally amounting to acts of Apartheid. The protracted nature of the occupation, the system of racial domination and the gross Human Rights violations clearly amount to an international crime. Instead of normalizing Israel’s Apartheid policies in Palestine and its increasing criminalization of dissent, the EU and its Member States have an obligation and interest to hold it accountable and put an end to impunity. EuroMed Rights demands that the EU unequivocally condemn Israel’s attacks against Palestinian civil society, make any upgrade in economic relations conditional to the strict compliance of International Human Rights Law and commit to break the cycle of impunity by actively supporting accountability mechanisms, including the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation in Palestine.