Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pay what is being called an “unofficial visit” to the European Parliament next week.
The visit to Brussels will include a breakfast, which is also classified as unofficial. On top of this, Netanyahu can also expect an unofficial reception: A group of European Parliament members have prepared posters welcoming the prime minister upon his arrival in Europe (“Dear Bibi, Welcome to Europe”), but they also want to ensure that he doesn’t forget to pay a certain invoice before he leaves the continent.
The bill, according to the dozens of EP members who have signed a petition accompanying the posters (and are planning to take out a full-page ad in Haaretz), amounts to 1.2 million euros. That’s how much Israel ostensibly owes the European Union for humanitarian projects the EU built for the Palestinians and which Israel has since demolished.
The projects, all in Area C in the West Bank (that is, under full Israeli civilian and security control), were razed by the Israel Defense Forces by order of the government. Among them were dwellings for homeless Bedouin, structures used for schools and kindergartens, and various infrastructural projects such as water pipes, cisterns and electrical power systems.
The invoice that Netanyahu is being asked to pay is being presented to him “on behalf of millions of EU taxpayers,” as posters in the corridors of the EP declare. According to the posters, “Approximately 400 EU and Member State-funded humanitarian aid structures built for vulnerable Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank and deliberately demolished or confiscated by Israel outside of military hostilities and in violation of international humanitarian law since you became prime minister in 2009.”
A note at the bottom of the “invoice” states: “This invoice only covers the EU contribution to the humanitarian structures, not their full cost. It also does not cover the damage to the Palestinian families displaced by demolitions and the harm to the prospect of a peaceful future.”
The “reception” being prepared for Netanyahu at the EP is another stage in the ongoing discussion being conducted in Europe about the measures that should be taken in the face of the demolitions of EU-funded structures. Already a year ago, the EU’s Middle East committee recommended that member states demand compensation from Israel for the destruction of these projects, but apart from diplomatic tension between Israel and the EU, nothing has happened since. The EU classifies these structures as “humanitarian aid” for the Palestinians, but Israel sees them as illegal construction, which could create facts on the ground.
“It is inconceivable that the EU institutions and member states are imposing austerity on their citizens in an attempt to manage public funds correctly, but when it comes to the government of Israel, which demolishes projects funded by the EU budget, suddenly those governments don’t care,” says French-born EP member Pascal Durand, a member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, which is one of the sponsors of the posters.
Durand is affronted when asked about the allegation often voiced by the Israeli public and the country’s elected representatives that the EU is anti-Semitic and, it follows, pro-Palestinian.
“That is a myth and it is an insult,” he asserts. “Everyone who has signed these posters condemns every anti-Semitic declaration or act. We will always defend the right of the Israelis to live in peace within recognized borders. We are not ready to accept the fact that our pacifist stance is being exploited by vested interests and termed anti-Semitic.” He notes also that the EU’s relations with Israel are the most extensive and closest of any non-EU country, a reference to the fact that the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner.
Durand emphasizes that the sponsors of the poster and the signatories are not angry about Netanyahu’s visit to Brussels, “but at the demolition of the humanitarian projects and the continuing expansion of the settlements – two actions that are contrary to international law. We want Netanyahu to understand the European frustration at his actions, and then to rebuild what he has demolished, or pay for the destruction.”
This article by Netta Ahituv first appeared in Haaretz