When the Police Have an Illegal Headquarters

BRUSSELS — Talks aimed at reaching an intelligence-sharing agreement between the European Union and Israel have skirted around the location of Israel’s national police headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem.

In 2005, the EU decided that Europol, its law enforcement office, should negotiate a formal cooperation agreement with Israel. Although Europol stated last year that a draft accord had been completed, it has now acknowledged that the question of Israeli police basing their headquarters on Palestinian land has not been properly addressed. 

"The negotiations so far have not touched upon the issue of the location of the main office of the Israeli police in East Jerusalem," a Europol spokesman told IPS. 

The issue is highly sensitive because the EU has never recognized Israel’s 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, and has opposed Israel’s policy of evicting Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the neighborhood where Israel’s police and public security ministry are headquartered. A report by EU diplomats from March last year complained about a marked acceleration in the pace with which Israeli settlements are being built in East Jerusalem as part of a deliberate policy to sever it from the remainder of the West Bank. "Israel is, by practical means, actively pursuing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem," the report said. 

Israel is one of several countries — including Russia, the U.S. and Canada — to have entered into talks on sharing information with Europol. As part of an eventual agreement, Europol would expect to have representatives stationed in Israel’s police headquarters. Such a move would involve a reversal of a decades-old EU policy as it would mean a de facto recognition of Israel’s takeover of East Jerusalem. 

An alliance of Palestinian trade unions and campaign groups urging a global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel argues that an EU-Israel police cooperation agreement would violate international law. 

Michael Deas, European coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, says his group has recently received legal advice that any state that acted to legitimize Israel’s control of Palestinian territories would be directly contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention, a 1949 law written in response to Nazi atrocities during the Second World War. 

Deas says that an EU-Israel police accord would follow a series of moves to involve Israel intimately in some of the Union’s key political and economic policies in recent years. Israeli arms companies that supplied some of the deadliest weapons used in the war against Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and makers of surveillance technology for illegal settlements and military checkpoints in the West Bank are among the beneficiaries of the Union’s multi-billion euro "framework program" for scientific research, he notes. 

"If the European Union signs an agreement to share intelligence with the Israeli police force, it would only further entrench its active complicity in Israel’s occupation and apartheid system," he says. 

Under the 1995 convention that covers Europol’s activities, the office is not permitted either to process information that has been obtained in a manner that violates human rights. 

While Israel’s High Court ruled in 1999 that some interrogation methods used against detainees should be prohibited as they clearly consisted of torture and ill-treatment, allegations of widespread torture persist. A December 2009 report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) found that complaints of torture are frequently glossed over by the authorities. Out of more than 600 complaints submitted by torture victims since 2001, not one had led to a criminal investigation, according to the report. 

Amnesty International’s latest annual report indicates, too, that torture of Palestinian detainees by Israel’s General Security Service is rife. Practices allegedly used include beatings, placing detainees in "stress" positions designed to cause them pain and discomfort, and forced sleep deprivation. Despite the 1999 court ruling, Israel still allows torture in cases where it is deemed "necessary," Amnesty noted. 

A further snag is that the EU’s own data protection officials regard Israel’s privacy laws as inadequate. In a 2009 paper, the officials said that linking Europol’s databases with those run by the Israeli police would breach the Europol convention. Israel was found not to respect data protection standards to which Europol is legally bound such as a requirement that collection of data should not be "excessive" and that it should not be stored indefinitely. 

Jelle van Buuren from Eurowatch, a civil liberties organization, says that Europol wishes to have strong links with Israel and other countries it deems as strategic partners so that it can curry favor with the Union’s governments. "Getting formal cooperation agreements with other countries would strengthen Europol’s position vis-à-vis (EU) member states. Europol wants to be a European intelligence hub."

(Inter Press Service)