Due to the oppression of the Palestinians, the Netherlands has allowed virtually no arms exports to Israel for twenty years. Then it is not very consistent to buy Israeli defense equipment on a large scale for the Dutch armed forces – especially when it is advertised as’fully battle-proven‘. High time that Defense stopped supporting an industry that has grown at the expense of the Palestinian population that has lived under Israeli occupation for decades.
In recent months, the Dutch army has signed a series of contracts with Elbit, one of Israel’s largest arms manufacturers. In mid-December, this involved a 3-year contract worth 45 million euros for military radios under the Improved Operational Soldier System (VOSS), in which Elbit plays a key role. On the same day, an order of 12 million euros was also placed for 4,300 night vision goggles for combat helmets of the Dutch army and navy.
In January an order of 20 million euros was added for computers on board army vehicles. The quartet was completed this month with a contract for Elbit’s Iron Fist systems for army’s combat vehicles: EUR 68 million.
Elbit said in a press release that it sees the Netherlands as a market par excellence. That is not for nothing, because the Netherlands has regularly placed large orders with the Israeli arms industry over the past twenty years. Two years ago, the police had one cyber intelligencesystem from Elbit. In addition to military hardware, the ‘security industry’ has emerged strongly in recent years, also with a background of Palestinian repression. In 2011, Elbit opened a branch at Woensdrecht airbase for the maintenance of F-16 fighter aircraft.
At the beginning of this century, the purchase of Spike anti-tank weapons from manufacturer Rafael still raised objections from D66, GroenLinks and the SP, who found it inappropriate to fill the Israeli military economy with an order of millions.
For a small country like Israel, arms exports are essential; despite a skyrocketing defense budget, the industry of Israeli orders alone cannot exist. In recent decades, everything has been done to acquire international orders. Infamous are supplies to the South African apartheid regime and to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide to sales to the military dictatorship of Myanmar and war-torn South Sudan. Last year, Azerbaijan’s power in the war with Armenia for Nagorno-Karabakh turned out to be largely determined by Israeli drones and other weapons.
Such orders, like those from ‘decent’ countries like the Netherlands, have made Israel one of them
the world’s largest exporters. Given the size of the population, there is probably no country that earns per inhabitant from the arms trade.
It is remarkable that such purchases seldom cause a stir in the public debate. Apparently, it does not feel uncomfortable to equip our military with equipment that will only enter the international market after it has been first tested on the population in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. For example, Elbit praises the on-board computers ordered last month in a sales brochure as ‘fully battle-proven’. Millions of Palestinians live in the testing ground of Elbit and other Israeli arms companies. Painfully captured in the Israeli documentary in 2013 The Lab. The material that is touted as ‘fully battle-proven’ is just as easily sold to dictatorships and war hitters.
With the elections approaching, it would be good for parties to speak out about the role of the Netherlands in supporting a weapons company whose business model is based on the occupation and repression of an entire population. Where the Netherlands may have only a limited role in helping end the conflict, it can very easily send a strong signal by no longer buying military equipment developed at the expense of Palestinians who yearn for peace and freedom.
Jan Pronk is a former Minister of Development Cooperation and former Minister of Health, Spatial Planning and the Environment.
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst is a former Minister of Economic Affairs and former Minister of Agriculture.
Koos van Dam is a former ambassador to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia.
The authors are members of the Advisory Board of the Human Rights Forum.
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