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“Palestine remains the cause for justice of our times”: in conversation with Manu Pineda

Israel’s extrajudicial execution of nine human rights defenders attempting to break the illegal siege of Gaza in 2010 sealed Manu Pineda’s involvement in the movement for Palestinian liberation.

Pineda, an MEP for Spain’s Izquierda Unida elected in the last European elections, was moved to join the efforts to break Israel’s blockade. But in 2011, at Israel’s behest, the Greek government impounded the 14-boat flotilla he was sailing in.

Eventually making it to Gaza through Egypt, Pineda witnessed two large-scale Israeli military assaults on the tiny strip during the subsequent three years he was there.

During Israel’s 2014 offensive, which saw 2,251 Palestinians killed, the majority of whom were civilians, Pineda used his privilege as a western citizen to provide protective presence for hospitals and ambulances.

“Our year-round mission was to act as human shields for farmers and fishers. Around 130 activists from diverse countries passed through our team to provide this protection,” he explains.

Recently elected chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Palestine (DPAL), Pineda will keep a close eye on EU policy towards the Palestinians and accountability for Israel’s violations of international law. Violations that the EU enables.

Europe is a key weapons supplier to Israel and a significant buyer of Israeli weapons, “battle tested” on Palestinians.

The EU subsidises Israel’s weapons industry through its ostensibly civilian research programme, Horizon 2020. This militarisation of research has led to protests from academics and researchers.

“We support the demands of the academic community that EU funds should not fund the destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods. We are worried that the close military ties between the EU and Israel are on the increase. The EU should invest in peace rather than death and destruction, as it does in the occupied Palestinian territory,” Pineda protests.

It is not just the growing military ties that worry Pineda but the hypocrisy inherent in the EU’s principled positions in regards to the conflict. “On paper, the EU opposes Israel’s land grabs and illegal settlements, their statements of condemnation every time Israel approves new settlements are flawless. But its actions stop there.”

EU member states maintain a burgeoning trade with businesses in Israel’s settlements giving them legitimacy and viability. A 2012 report showed that the EU imports €230 million worth of goods from illegal Israeli settlements every year such as agricultural produce found in European supermarkets, grown on land, and with water, stolen from Palestinians.

“The EU should take decisive steps to prevent Israel from trafficking goods produced on land stolen from Palestinians. To be even bolder, the EU should not maintain normal commercial relations with a state that so flagrantly and systematically violates human rights. We should demand Israel dismantle the illegal settlements, in accordance with UN resolutions, not finance them!”

Day-to-day life for Palestinians remains bleak. As the occupying power, Israel is obliged to provide for Palestinians’ basic necessities but it continues to neglect this obligation. It has recently announced cuts to the electricity supply to West Bank villages, a policy that already applies to Gaza.

Keenly aware of the Europe’s doublespeak, Palestinians are protesting an EU-funded project that will allow Israel to export electricity generated from its gas discoveries to the EU. The EuroAsia Interconnector project will lay a cable from Israel to Cyprus and Crete and on to the European mainland, at a time when Palestinian homes go dark.

“We are rewarding Israel’s behaviour through the EU-Israel Association Agreement. This is completely wrong because the EU is helping to perpetuate Israel’s impunity and lack of accountability.” Pineda comments. “I am a firm believer that the EU must suspend the Association Agreement.”

Since 2005, boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) have been a widespread tactic of international solidarity with Palestinians, inspired by a similar movement that helped bring down South Africa’s apartheid regime. But there are efforts to criminalise the movement in Europe.

“If the Israeli government is so focused on fighting BDS it is because this movement is succeeding. This tactic helped defeat apartheid in South Africa and the Israeli government knows how effective it is. This is why it is spending so much effort and money lobbying EU countries and institutions.

“BDS is a response to decades of indifference; the inability and unwillingness of the international community to hold Israel accountable and prevent violations against Palestinians. The movement is diverse and has become global, a means for ordinary people to fight apartheid through practical and nonviolent tools. The Israeli government knows that,” Pineda concludes.

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