17th Oct 2019


EU offers terse response to Gaza youth shot by Israelis

  • Mohammed Abu Dagga was shot in the leg in April 2018 (Photo: Oxfam 2018)

People shot by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip want the European Union to cut research funding to Israeli defence and security industries.

But their demands have been met with short shrift by the European Commission, highlighting the sense of abandonment of a population ring-fenced in an open air like prison.

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  • Fishermen in Gaza face an aggressive Israeli naval blockade (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The drive from the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing in the Gaza Strip towards the shoreline passes by the usual dilapidated and faded pastel-coloured apartment blocks.

The small children playing in the dusty roads and the donkey pulled vegetable carts are nothing remarkable either.

But young people on crutches, hobbling along broken side walks, are a new sight after Israeli snipers shot out the legs of around 6,500 Gazan Palestinians in the past year alone.

Some have reportedly been hit by "butterfly bullets", normally used for hunting large game. The bullets explode upon impact.

The shootings continued, in what the UN has described as possible war crimes, during a three-day EUobserver visit to the Gaza Strip last month.

During that short time, a 15-year old boy was shot dead by the Israelis as part of a much larger demonstration against Israel's 52-year occupation, known as the Great March of Return.

Medics, journalists, and even children were targeted. Some 200 demonstrators have died so far.

"In the year plus that I have been here, you can see in the Gaza streets many more people who are on crutches than just a year ago," said Matthias Schmale, who leads the UN office for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip.

Every Friday afternoon since March last year, thousands of Palestinians, including families of all ages, gather near the fence that separates them from the rest of the world.

Anyone approaching the fence too close is an Israeli target.

The Israelis say the shootings are a security response to the explosive laced balloons and kites sent over the wall by Hamas militants.

But the sense of desperation among ordinary Gazans is palpable.

A twelve-year blockade largely imposed by Israel and an oppressive Hamas regime ruling over the some two million Gazans has only compounded the misery.

At sea, Gazan fisherman are regularly harassed and sometimes fired upon by an Israeli Navy that illegally patrols the most fertile fishing grounds.

On land, farmers have been hit with bullets.

Inside Gaza, Hamas has set up numerous checkpoints and been accused by Human Rights Watch of arbitrary detention and torture.

The Hamas infighting with the Palestinian Authority has only compounded the sense of hopelessness.

With an international community turning its back on this protracted conflict, tens of thousands of Gaza youth amass at a fence that locks them inside an open-air type of prison.

30,000 causalities

It is as an act of desperation fraught with dangers.

"Through these mass demonstrations, we ended up with almost now nearly 30,000 causalities," said Abdelaser Soboh with the World Health Organisation in the Gaza Strip.

He said half were treated in hospitals, of which some 6,500 had been shot by live ammunition. Most were hit in the legs.

The bullets leave fist-size gaps in the bone, requiring limb reconstruction for an estimated 1,200 people.

Gaza has only three surgeons specialising in limb reconstruction.

"To treat these patients, you would need six to seven surgeries over two to three years," said Soboh, estimating medical costs would hover up to $40,000 [€36,000] per case.

A shortage of drugs and medical supplies imposed by Israeli restrictions means the most desperate will lose limbs, while others will try to get the necessary paper work to leave the Gaza Strip for a hospital in East Jerusalem.

But that in itself is a gamble.

Some 55 percent of the requests of the wounded demonstrators that needed extra medical treatment outside Gaza were either denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities.

"Already, we have 124 amputations," said Soboh, noting that some of the amputations could have been avoided.

The WHO is setting up a limb reconstruction unit at the overstretched Nassar Hospital in the Gaza Strip in the hope of preventing further grief.

EU research funding

The European Union is at a loss on how to respond.

A letter drafted by wounded young people in Gaza says their dreams and futures have been robbed.

Signed by 250 medical professionals across Europe and the United States, the letter is addressed to the EU's foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner in charge of research and innovation.

"Our friends and supporters in Europe have told us that weapons used by the Israeli Occupation Army against us, are being purchased by Europe," notes the letter.

It says the same companies also benefit from EU research funding under the Horizon 2020 programme.

It asks the EU to suspend the grants and do more to uphold its basic values of defending human rights and international law.

"The least that can be done is to avoid any collusion by stopping financial support to these companies," it says.

However, a response drafted on the behalf Mogherini makes no mention of the EU research funding, offering only short platitudes on how it wants "to restore a political horizon for the people of Gaza and Palestine."

But a European Commission spokesperson told this website that research carried out under Horizon 2020 must have an exclusive focus on civilian applications.

The commission says it has mechanisms in place to prevent EU funds from being used for activities that could be contrary to international law.

"These include rigorous ethical evaluation of the project proposals, an assessment of the possible dual-use of the proposed research as well as its compliance with applicable EU, national and international legislation, including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as EU on site visit and audits to monitor the project's performance and deliverables," said the spokesperson.

Israel is supposed to be bound by such rules. The EU also says it can also only provide grants and activities to Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel's pre-1967 borders.

But the EU has in the past given millions in research funds to Israeli defence companies, including Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) among others.

Armed Heron drones manufactured by IAI were involved in some of the deadly drone attacks on Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead, according to Human Rights Watch.

IAI is now part of a broader EU funded drone research project that runs up until 2020 and received over €200,000 for its effort. It also recently secured over €1m in EU funds to help develop "totally new shapes in the sky" as part of the Airframe ITD project.

Elbit manufactured drones known as the Hermes have also been used in the Gaza, says Human Rights Watch.

Last November, the European Union Maritime Safety Agency awarded the firm €59m to lease and operate its Hermes maritime patrol and its ground control station.

The station will help monitor "large swathes of sea" and coastlines to identify "suspicious activities".

Elad Aharonson, a general manager at Elbit Systems, described the award by the European Union "as yet another vote of confidence in the Hermes 900."

This trip was organised by Oxfam, who had no editorial input into EUobserver's coverage

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