Photo: Pour la Palestine, Facebook

Following a wide campaign by a faculty action group, student organizers and a variety of community organizations, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium (KULeuven) announced that it will not continue future participation in the LAW-TRAIN project, a joint cooperation program with the Israeli police to study interrogation techniques, funded by the EU under the Horizon 2020 program.

Newly elected KULeuven rector Luc Sels released a statement on Wednesday, 6 December stating that no follow-up projects will be pursued in the future, because “The Israeli Ministry of Public Security’s participation does indeed pose an ethical problem in view of the role played by this strong arm of the Israeli government in enforcing an unlawful occupation of the Palestinian territories and the associated repression of the Palestinian population.” While the statement commits to continue the current project until the end of April 2018, it also calls for the creation of a human rights charter to govern the assessment of future proposed projects to avoid such situations.

This is the latest achievement of the international campaign against LAW-TRAIN. The project seeks to develop software to simulate interrogations in a hypothetical international drug trafficking case. The involvement of the Israeli police, headquartered in occupied Jerusalem and including the Border Police that regularly enforce occupation against Palestinians, engage in mass arrests and killings of Palestinians, and are an integral part of the occupation security forces, has sparked resistance to the program in several countries, among activists, scholars and lawyers who note that the program produces a European license for Israeli torture and abuse.

The Israeli police are also known for the use of torture during interrogation as well as the arrest, interrogation and violation of the human rights of Palestinian children. The Israeli police and Tel Aviv University are partners in the project with the Belgian federal police and prosecutor’s office as well as KULeuven and the Spanish Guardia Civil.

Earlier, Portugal was also a partner in the project, but pulled out citing budgetary issues after an extensive and successful campaign by Portuguese and Palestinian organizations highlighting the project’s clear links to human rights violations and the torture and imprisonment of Palestinians. Over 40 Belgian organizations – including Samidoun – joined the campaign to stop LAW-TRAIN, working hand in hand with a campaign on the university’s campus to bring an end to the project and future such collaborations.

Thousands of Belgians signed a petition to stop LAW-TRAIN, while on the university’s campus, dozens of academics participated in protests and appeals, including an intervention in the annual opening academic procession by gowned professors who presented the rector with a cake and the petition signatures.  The Leuven academics’ working group on Palestine led campaigns within the University on scholarly and human rights grounds, and the LAW-TRAIN issue was made a significant one on campus, including leading up to the election of Sels as the university’s new rector earlier in 2017.

Students on campus joined with faculty to hold campus protests, including a street theater action highlighting the realities of interrogation and the human rights abuses of the Israeli police.  LAW-TRAIN was a major focus of Israeli Apartheid Week 2017 on Belgian campuses, which highlighted the situation of Palestinian prisoners and featured a number of talks and presentations by French-Palestinian lawyer and former political prisoner Salah Hamouri, currently jailed once more without charge or trial by the Israeli occupation.

Protests in Leuven, Charleroi and elsewhere highlighted LAW-TRAIN as human rights experts urged not only the university but also the Belgian Ministry of Justice to immediately pull out of the program. A delegation of Belgian lawyers and human rights scholars traveled to Palestine to investigate torture by the Israeli police and published an open letter upon their return, urging Belgium to withdraw from the project.  In addition, hundreds of Belgian academics and cultural workers joined an open letter organized by BACBI, the Belgian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, calling on the government to “withdraw the Belgian Ministry of Justice from this highly contentious project. Such a withdrawal would signal to the Israeli politicians that Europe, and especially Belgium, will no longer tolerate the misdemeanors of their order and security forces against the Palestinian population.”

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network congratulates the Leuven faculty and students and all organizations that have worked on this campaign in achieving this important step from KULeuven. We redouble our call upon the Belgian ministry of justice, federal prosecutor’s office, and police, as well as the Spanish Guardia Civil, to immediately withdraw from this project and to the European Union to end its funding of such programs in collaboration with the Israeli occupation and its security forces. Such programs are an attempt to legitimize the very forces that daily carry out repression, torture and colonization and maintain apartheid and occupation against the Palestinian people. Participation in or funding of LAW-TRAIN or similar programs means direct complicity in the torture and imprisonment of Palestinians. It is long past time to hold the Israeli state accountable and subject it to boycott, divestment and sanctions for its flagrant, decades-long violations of fundamental Palestinian rights, rather than provide it with funding and support that allows it to continue its deadly and devastating attacks on the Palestinian people and their rights with impunity.