After its diplomats slam Israel’s illegal settlements, can EU continue funding them?

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Only days after the European Union’s top diplomats in Jerusalem and Ramallah  publicly condemned Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and called for state-level boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against it, the EU itself drew attention for funding one of the most notorious settlement enterprises.

On Tuesday, The Independent published a letter from an impressive list of 21 British scientists and public figures, including filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. They wrote:

It is extraordinary, but true, that one of our great national museums is co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law. That museum is the Natural History Museum, which is collaborating in research with an Israeli commercial firm located in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.

The firm is Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, whose business is manufacturing cosmetics out of mud, which it excavates from the banks of the Dead Sea. Ahava/DSL is located at Mitzpe Shalem, a settlement 10km beyond the Green Line. The collaboration with the Museum is through an EU-funded project called Nanoretox, in which Kings College London, Imperial College and a number of foreign institutions are also involved. The museum is the coordinating partner for this project.

Ahava/DSL is based on occupied territory. It extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement. Israel’s settlement project has been held by the International Court of Justice to break international law. Organisations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation. We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position.

We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in Nanoretox and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.

Following The Independent’s own story on the letter, coverage grew quickly. Articles have appeared in media ranging from Reuters and Press TV to HaaretzThe Jewish Chronicle, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to say nothing of concerned grumbling from the The Jerusalem Post.

While the initial letter targeted the Natural History Museum, the scientific press quickly focused on Nanoretox’s EU fundingNature reported Thursday:

“I believe that the EU should not be allowed to fund companies that breach international law and so I have asked the commission to revise its research-funding regulations so that participating laboratories must declare the location of their research in order that, where that location is illegal, EU funding can be withheld,” says Keith Taylor, a British Green Party member of the European Parliament, who raised the questions about Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories in June 2011.

A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment on whether it would consider such changes in its next Framework Programme, called Horizon 2020. But in response to another question from Taylor, the Commission said on 13 September 2011 that it was “scrutinizing options to be able to evaluate and potentially address such a situation” under Horizon 2020.

Bateson says that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories should not be eligible for Horizon 2020 funding as long as it continues to operate in the West Bank. “The initial mistake was at Brussels. They shouldn’t have allowed this to go ahead,” he says.

ScienceInsider wrote on the same day:

Ahava/DSL is involved in two other projects funded by Framework Programme 7, the main source of E.U. research funding. Last summer, research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn responded to aquery from the European Parliament about the company’s involvement in projects by saying that the company “is formally established within the borders of the internationally recognised State of Israel,” so that it meets the commission’s participation criteria. E.U. rules don’t stipulate that the research has to be carried out where the company is formally established, she added.

Jonathan Rosenhead, an emeritus professor of operational research at the London School of Economics who helped organize the letter, says he spoke with commission officials last year who were “clearly unaware” that the company had its operations in a settlement. “My guess and hope is that they tighten up their procedures” for the next major funding program, called Horizon 2020, which will start in 2014. A commission official says “the commission is currently scrutinizing options” to evaluate participants in Horizon 2020.

All of which raises an interesting question. With representatives of the EU’s own member states “call[ing] on the European commission to consider legislation ‘to prevent/discourage financial transactions in support of settlement activity’ … based on their illegality under international law,”  can the same body possibly attempt to justify direct funding for the pillaging of Palestinian resources by those same illegal settlements – even until 2014?

Meanwhile the Stolen Beauty campaign, part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continues to win impressive victories against Ahava. And considering the EU’s shady history of collaboration with Israeli apartheid, it is all but certain that only pressure from civil society can force it into any positive role – even in the face of unequivocal war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

About Joe Catron

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine, where he works with Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and prisoners' movements. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, blogs at and tweets at @jncatron.

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10 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 22, 2012, 1:10 pm

    What it will lead to, we cannot know, but praise god who — of her beneficence — has kept us alive to witness this day!

    • Sherri Munnerlyn
      January 22, 2012, 1:47 pm


      I second that , praise God! More and more, we see the eyes of the world open to the injustices and it is such a beautiful sight to behold! We have not seen an end to the Occupation, but the end is in sight. And Hope springs eternal!

  2. Kathleen
    January 22, 2012, 1:58 pm

    Go watch the new twisted and extremely biased and filled with lies “Save Jerusalem campaign’ that is polluting US airwaves. Call the number they advertise and complain that Israel has been and continues to be unwilling to abide by UN resolutions and international agreements. 1-800. 297-3727

  3. Mndwss
    January 22, 2012, 2:30 pm

    Israel steals mud from the Stolen Beauty (Palestine) and call it love (Ahava). And then sell the love to the world.

    If this is love then love should be forbidden, just like rape is.

    Something is rotten in the State of Israel.

    Something is even more rotten about the countries that enable the State of thieves to steal and then throw holy love mud back at them…

  4. RoHa
    January 22, 2012, 7:00 pm

    “After its diplomats slam Israel’s illegal settlements, can EU continue funding them?”

    Of course they can. That slimy bunch of double-dealers who run the EU will find a way if they really want to.

    • Hostage
      January 23, 2012, 10:33 am

      Of course they can. That slimy bunch of double-dealers who run the EU will find a way if they really want to.

      They’ve been doing it since at least 2002 – 2003 when the EU adopted the ICC Common Action Plan and then ignored the ICJ Advisory Opinion that should have triggered a slew of criminal investigations and arrest warrants:
      *Council Common Position 2003/444/CFSP of 16 June 2003 on the International Criminal Court
      *The Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA, of 13 June 2002, on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States; and
      *Decision 2003/335/JHA, of 8 May 2003, concerning the investigation and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

  5. Justice Please
    January 22, 2012, 7:41 pm

    While Europeans are generally a little more balanced than their American counterparts when it comes to Israel and Palestine, there are still wide circles of people, even in liberal-minded circles, who wouldn’t touch the issue. For them, Israel is too sensitive to talk about, even while they have no problem bashing the Vatican or even evil Bush.

    So with this population, it’s no wonder EU politicians make the same peace-destroying mistakes as their American colleagues.

  6. IrishMark
    January 23, 2012, 8:43 am

    You’ll find that most EU citizens are generally aware of the basic situation and support the Palestinians but there is a disconnect between the citizenry and their governments.
    Unfortunately, most know very little about settlement expansion, house demolitions, settler only roads, Gaza, juvenile detention, checkpoints, settler violence and the myriad trials and tribulations of daily life. Our media feeds us with ‘balance’ which is usually from journalists based in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
    I wrote to one of our government ministers, requesting that he publish the EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem (which was leaked). [Incidentally, the document on the BBC web site contained document properties that identified a well-known 'Breaking the Silence' activist. Sloppy, BBC. The original is watermarked 'SECRET']
    Every year, I write asking that the EU-Israel trade agreements be suspended until such time as Israel abides by International Laws and norms. I get polite responses saying that ‘it’s a complex issue’ or some such excuse.
    If people were more informed in the EU, the relationship would have changed dramatically. Slowly, it is happening.
    The Gaza flotillas got very good coverage here in Ireland.

    • Chaos4700
      January 23, 2012, 9:20 am

      I hate to say this but I think the rest of the world is depending on the EU to inject more sanity into this mess. I’m beginning to feel like the US is a lost cause. We literally only have one Presidential candidate — Ron Paul — who is promising not to go to war with the Muslim world generally. And that’s it. And I hate to say it but his election remains something of a long shot.

      Your governments are going to get better a LOT faster than our government will.

  7. Sherri Munnerlyn
    January 23, 2012, 10:08 am

    As I sit and observe all the Christian politicians embracing new wars, I believe more and more, the biggest problem in America is Christians abandoning the teachings of Jesus, who said love your enemy. I do not see good coming out of this. We have lost sight of what set us apart, I am referring to Christians . And as for my nation, the US, I think about words in the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Do these words mean anything anymore? When human rights belong only to Americans, and not even equally to all Americans, and nation comes before God, we have made a mockery out of these words. Can we fix it? Of course, we can, but whether we will is an entirely different matter.

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