The ruling by the Netherlands Court of Appeals that the supply of spare parts for Israel Air Force F-35 aircraft from the Netherlands should stop within seven days, because of fears of severe infringement of human rights, represents a further stage in the erosion of Israel’s image in Europe. Instead of a partner in the fight against terrorism, and a country demonstrating solidarity with the Israeli side after the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, the Netherlands after this ruling has become a country focused on the Israeli response, and one that excludes Israel from the Western camp.
As in other countries, the ruling reflects the tension since October 7 between the stance of certain governments and political parties in Europe, and public opinion and the media on the continent. While many European governments have positioned themselves by Israel’s side, whether through material, diplomatic, or even legal assistance, European media have largely focused on the Palestinian side and on the welter of condemnations by international bodies such as the UN, the World Health Organization, and UNRWA. These have rushed to judge Israel guilty of war crimes in the Gaza Strip, and the media - and public opinion in their wake - have become more and more biased towards them as time goes by.
In the Netherlands, for example, it was a rebellion in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against the pro-Israel policy of the government that sowed the seeds of Monday’s court ruling. It began back in October, in an anonymous leak from "professional sources" to Netherlands newspaper NRC that Israel had "urgently requested" parts for its F-35 combat aircraft because of the war in the Gaza Strip. The sources complained even then that complying with the request might make the Netherlands complicit in alleged war crimes.
Following the leak, several human rights organizations, among them Oxfam, PAX, and legal organization The Rights Forum, petitioned the district court in The Hague to halt the export of the parts. The government stated in its response that it had "considered all the necessary considerations" when it decided to allow the parts to be exported, justifying the Netherlands’ commitment to the US (and the plane’s manufacturer Lockheed Martin) as part of the collaboration between the two countries. It also pointed out that the requested parts could be obtained from other US bases in Europe. The court dismissed the petition.
The human rights organizations did not give up. Two weeks ago, they filed an appeal in a higher court in The Hague, the Court of Appeals. This time, they accompanied their petition with a letter signed by dozens of current and former Netherlands diplomats claiming that the government had adopted a pro-Israel policy among other things because of the desire of the prime minister, Mark Rutte, to be appointed secretary general of NATO. This time, the court accepted the petition, and ruled that all parts exports should be halted within seven days.
"Infringements of the law"
The ruling could reinvigorate the legal campaign against Israel being conducted in Europe, in particular the finding that "there is a clear danger that severe infringements of human rights are being committed in the Gaza Strip by F-35 planes in use by the Israel Air Force."
"Israel does not take into account the consequences of its bombing for the civilian population," the court found, and said that this had caused "a disproportionate number of people killed" on the Palestinian side, including thousands of children. The court also found that, in accordance with international treaties to which the Netherlands was a signatory, it was obliged to forbid the export of arms if there was a substantial fear of breaches of international law. It therefore ruled that the export of F-35 parts to Israel must not take place. It also ruled that the current government’s decision not to intervene in a parts export agreement signed in 2016 "represents a breach of the Netherlands’ obligations under international treaties."
The main battlefield
The Netherlands is not exceptional in the treaties it has signed. Most Western European countries have signed the same treaties. In the UK, a campaign has been waged for weeks by the Campaign Against Arms Trade against the supply of spare parts for Israel’s F-35s.
The organization published a map of the bases from which the parts come, and the victory in the Netherlands could lead them to turn to the courts. Belgium and Spain, two countries that have conducted pro-Palestinian policies in the past few months, have already announced a halt to the supply of any munitions to Israel. Even in Italy, whose prime minister had so far been considered pro-Israel, Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani stated in January that the country had voluntarily stopped all supplies of arms and ammunition to Israel since October 7.
It now seems that, rather than the streets - pro-Palestinian demonstrations have largely died out - the courts have become the main battlefield for those trying to stop Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The Netherlands government can still appeal to the country’s Supreme Court on the question of exports of spare parts for Israeli combat aircraft, but for now it will have to stop the shipments. The Israeli campaign for public opinion in Europe has sustained another defeat. This might be contrary to the stance of most European governments, but it also contributes to eroding that stance.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 13, 2024.
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