The Portuguese Ministry of Justice announced that it has withdrawn from a joint EU-funded project with the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, the Israeli National Police and Israel’s Bar Ilan university. The LAW TRAIN project, aimed at unifying police interrogation methodologies, has generated controversy in Portugal because of vocal opposition to Israel’s participation in the EU’s Horizon 2020 research framework and the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli entities taking part.
The Portuguese government came under heavy pressure from civil society groups campaigning for an end to the cooperation with Israel. Political parties supporting the government* denounced in parliament the routine torture by the Israeli police and the role of the Ministry of Public Security in the illegal detention of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.
Jamal Juma’ coordinator of Stop the Wall, a member organisation of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), praised the principled decision of Portugal’s center-left socialist government:
"This decision by Portugal gives hope to our people and sends a strong message to Israel that there is no business as usual for as long as it continues military aggression against Gaza and repression in the West Bank. This EU project gives tacit recognition to Israel’s control and military repression of the Palestinian people and turns a blind eye to Israel’s notorious abuse of Palestinians that includes routine torture as an ‘interrogation technique’.”
The five million euro project aims to develop technology to unify methodology for police questioning by ‘improving interrogation skills’ and bridging so-called ‘gaps of culture, legislation, interrogation style’. The police forces involved will contribute with their 'experience in interrogation and fighting crime to develop the system’. The Israeli Ministry of Public Security and Israel’s police are accused by the UN and human rights organisations of carrying out illegal detention practices, routine torture during interrogation and deployment of excessive violence against Palestinian protesters.
The Federal Public Service of Justice of Belgium and the Ministry of Interior of Spain/Guardia Civil, private businesses, universities and research institutions remain involved in the project as part of the EU Horizon 2020 research framework. Activist groups in Spain and Belgium have vowed to step up campaigning to end the project after this latest victory.
“We thank Portuguese civil society organizations and political parties that have worked together with us to build effective solidarity based on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) call and ensure there will be no risk of proliferation of illegal Israeli practices and inhumane treatment through this project into their own Portuguese justice system,” said Juma’.
An unprecedented Portuguese coalition of solidarity groups, human rights organisations, and anti-racism campaigners as well as the association representing the officers of the country’s 1974 revolution came together following a report by Stop the Wall that exposed the cooperation and its consequences on the human rights and freedom of Palestinians. The Portuguese Communist Party and the Green Party grilled the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Justice Minister on the issue.
The Movimento pelos Direitos do Povo Palestino e Pela Paz no Medio Oriente (MPP), initiator of the of civil society coalition against the project, has declared:
“We congratulate the decision of the Ministry of Justice to put an end to the participation of the Portuguese Police in the LAW TRAIN project. The withdrawal of the Portuguese government from the project is a victory of all the forces that in Palestine, in Portugal and in Europe called for an end to this project of cooperation with Israel's repressive apparatus.”
This news comes as 34 years old Palestinian Bilal Kayed continues his open-ended hunger strike since June 2015. There are currently over 7000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, many of them detained without charge. The UN Committee against Torture in May once again exhorted Israel to prohibit torture and denounced ongoing practices of torture and ill-treatment in the interrogation process. Human rights organizations highlight the brutal treatment particularly against Palestinian minors.
Riya Hassan, European coordinator for the BNC, concluded:
“This latest victory is another sign that European governments are waking up to the problematic of having Israel as a partner in projects that risk undermining basic freedoms, democracy and human rights. There is still a long way to go in order to end Europe’s complicity with Israeli apartheid. LAW TRAIN itself continues with the remaining participants and is only one of many military and security projects funded by the EU Commission with taxpayers money.”
Note to editors:
As part of the campaign in the rest of Europe MEPs from Portugal, Spain and Belgium wrote to the European Commission denouncing the project. Civil society groups are planning protest actions. Last year 73 MEPs issued a letter in a cross-party initiative calling on the EU to end funding of Israeli military companies involved in serious breaches of international law.
Since the beginning of the new Horizon 2020 funding cycle in 2015, the Stop the Wall Campaign, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) and the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) have jointly targeted Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020, in particular the cooperation of Israel’s military and security sector. In the previous cycle, lasting from 2007 to 2013, the EU has financed over 1500 research and development projects with Israeli participation. Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) alone has been involved in over 16 projects, attracting total EU public funding of €148.55 million.
Torture is routine in Israel’s jails. A recent report shows that 97% of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention had no access to legal advice before and during questioning. During interrogation, 28.7% were subjected to verbal abuse or intimidation, solitary confinement or sexual assault, 27.5% were exposed to physical violence including choking, punching, hitting the child's head against the wall.
* CORRECTED: In an earlier version we erroneously referred to 'opposition parties'. In fact, the Communist Party of Portugal and the Green Party are giving external support to the government of the Socialist Party even without having entered into a coalition government.