The European Union is legitimising Israel’s illegal settlements

An open letter from academics across more than 20 European countries and Israel

March 23, 2021
The Israeli settlement of Ariel

We, the undersigned academics and researchers in countries participating in European research programmes, note with grave concern the ongoing failure of the European Union to ensure that its taxpayer-funded research programmes are not used to legitimise or otherwise sustain the establishment and the activities of Israeli academic institutions in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).

As the EU Commission recently reiterated: “Article 19 of the Horizon 2020 Framework Regulation provides that all the research and innovation activities carried out under Horizon 2020 must comply with ethical principles and relevant national, Union and international legislation…” The necessary provisions have been made in EU legislation and its implementing rules to “ensure the respect of positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967”.

The criteria applied by the EU Commission to determine the eligibility of projects and participants for EU-funded support, the terms of its contracts with participants and its monitoring of the activities and the beneficiaries of the projects must comport with these requirements and their purposes.

For these same purposes, the Commission must also ensure that the management of activities conducted under EU-funded research projects both respects and comports with the EU’s non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the OPT, the EU’s consequent non-recognition of Israeli settlement entities as lawfully established and the EU’s consequent non-recognition of settlement-based activities as lawfully conducted. 

However, multiple cases demonstrate failures of the Commission to properly instruct against, monitor for and rectify project management transgressions against these EU positions. 

Ariel University, which is located in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, hosted a dissemination event for the Bounce project in June 2020 and is included as a “stakeholder in Israel” for the project. In addition, a professor from Ariel University is listed as a co-researcher on the project, as “a member of the Israel Bounce Team”, and as one of the “researchers involved in data collection” on a project deliverable, raising serious questions as to whether research activities were carried out in the OPT.

Ariel University was also listed as a stakeholder in the Horizon 2020 project Geo-Cradle. It was initially removed from the stakeholder list following a request to the Commission by the project coordinator, though its stakeholder profile has since been restored, and signs of its involvement remain on the project website to this day. 

In addition, in all cases Ariel University is falsely indicated on project material as located in Israel.

The far-right-supporting, now defunct Trump administration made its support for illegal Israeli settlement institutions official, including by ending long-standing restrictions on research funding. The EU must and can do better.

Authoritative Palestinian higher-education bodies, supported by prominent academics, are calling on international institutions not to recognise Ariel University and to abstain from giving effect to its pretensions of institutional legitimacy.

At a time when the EU is finalising Horizon 2020’s successor, the €100 billion [£86 billion] Horizon Europe programme, we urge the EU Commission, Parliament and Council to devise, fund and implement the effective monitoring of participating research projects and hold transgressors accountable.

Horizon Europe’s stated goal is to “provide new knowledge and innovative solutions to overcome our societal, ecological and economic challenges”. Research projects should not be used to legitimise or otherwise sustain illegal Israeli settlements. The EU cannot resile from its own obligations in this respect without further empowering Israel’s unlawful military occupation and its oppression of millions of Palestinians, and without further undermining the Palestinian people’s inalienable and universally recognised rights under international law.


Karin Arts, professor of international law and development, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
John Dugard, Leiden University, Netherlands
Maria J. Esteban, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), France
Richard Falk, Princeton University, US
Amiram Goldblum, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Robert Jennings, University of Milan, National Academy of Italy, Italy
François Loeser, Sorbonne University, France
Ruchama Marton, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Israel
Carlo Alberto Redi, department of biology and biotechnology, University of Pavia, Italy
Steven Rose, The Open University, UK
Dmitry Shumsky, professor of modern Jewish history, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Ailbhe Smyth (retired), University College Dublin, Ireland
Saana Svärd, University of Helsinki, Finland

And more than 500 others. For the full list of signatories, click here.

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