(Brussels) – The European Union and its member states should condemn Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution during the EU-Israel Association Council meeting on October 3, 2022, Human Rights Watch said today. The EU and its member states should also press Israeli authorities to end the crackdown on Palestinian civil society.
“European officials should know they’ll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity and that has outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “Pretending it’s business as usual with Israel amid escalating repression sends the message that EU condemnation is worth little more than the paper it’s written on.”
The EU-Israel Association Council is a forum aimed at facilitating political dialogue and strengthening cooperation with Israel. The last Association Council meeting was held in 2012 and further gatherings were paused after Israeli authorities objected to the EU’s position regarding West Bank settlements.
The agreement that established the EU-Israel Association Council identifies respect for human rights as an essential element. The Association Council is set to reconvene amid a growing consensus within the international human rights movement that Israeli authorities’ severe repression of Palestinians constitutes apartheid.
The meeting also comes just weeks after Israeli authorities raided and ordered the closing of the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, some of which receive funding from the EU and its member states. Israeli authorities moved to shutter the Palestinian rights groups despite statements by the EU and a number of its member states dismissing their allegations against the organizations
For years, the EU and its member states have responded to Israeli authorities’ serious abuses by repeating empty platitudes about the long-moribund “peace process” and the need to revive prospects for, “a two-state solution.” This approach overlooks the reality of apartheid and persecution on the ground and leads the EU and its member states to fail to take the human rights measures that a situation of this gravity warrants, Human Rights Watch said.
In August, 49 Palestinians in Gaza, including 17 children, were killed during another round of hostilities between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. Israel’s 15-year-long closure of Gaza has deprived its more than 2 million residents of opportunities to better their lives and devastated the economy, with 80 percent of the population now reliant on humanitarian aid.
In the occupied West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli authorities have killed more than 80 Palestinians in 2022, a six-year-high. Those killed include the journalist Shireen Abu Aqla. As of September 1, Israeli authorities also held more than 700 Palestinians in administrative detention without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008.
Despite these developments, the EU apparently did not demand any action by the Israeli authorities to end abuses ahead of the Association Council. These could have included Israeli authorities reversing their decision to outlaw prominent Palestinian civil society groups, easing the Gaza closure, or releasing Salah Hamouri, a French-Palestinian human rights defender, from months-long administrative detention.
In a media interview in August 2022, Alon Liel, the former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said: “As long as the Europeans don’t take concrete measures on the diplomatic, security and economic level, Israel doesn’t give a damn. It feels very confident that this anti-human rights behavior will have no cost politically in the international arena.”
When the UN Human Rights Council established an inquiry in May 2021 to investigate abuses and identify the root causes of the conflict, all EU member states either abstained or voted against it, in stark contrast with their consistent voting record in support of accountability mechanisms in other contexts.
“The decades-long European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of reciting empty platitudes, European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel’s apartheid and persecution and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course.”