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Shir Hever says they will be used against refugees, asylum seekers approaching the Greek border, and on Greek citizens who are protesting government policy

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Greece invested nearly $6 billion in its military in the year 2000, and $8.6 billion in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis it was experiencing. As NATO member countries spent an average of 1.7 percent of their GDP on defense, Greece was at 3.1 percent, almost double. The country is among the world’s five biggest arms importers between 2005 and 2009, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Despite its financial crisis experiencing as we speak, Greece is refusing to lower its generous military spending. Why is the topic of our next discussion. For this, I’m being joined by Shir Hever. And as you know, Shir is an economic researcher at the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. Thank you so much for joining me today, Shir. SHIR HEVER, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So Shir, what’s really going on here? Greece is in a deep economic crisis, and a debt crisis. It’s unable to pay back its loans, and it needs to borrow more and more. Yet the military purchasing is continuing to grow in Greece. Why is this happening? HEVER: Well, we would expect Greece in light of the crisis to start the cuts, first place, in the defense budget because Greece actually doesn’t have enemies and has no need for a large army at all. So it’s very surprising, at first glance, that Greece is spending so much on security and on the military. But in fact, we have to remember what kind of role is Greece playing within the European politics, and what kind of influence is also wielded by Germany and other big players in Europe. They see Greece not only within its context in the economic crisis and the debt crisis, which is an overall European crisis and not specifically related to Greece, but also within the context of Greece being a country through which many asylum seekers and refugees are trying to gain entry into Europe because they’re escaping from civil war, genocide, and mass famine in the Middle East and in Africa. PERIES: I can reinforce that position by the research and work we did on the ground while we were just there a couple of weeks ago, where we were at a refugee camp. And it was clear that through the Mediterranean a number of apparently over 100,000 refugees have already landed in Greece in the past year. But their destination is not Greece. They want to move on to other European countries. And Germany was actually identified as one of the destinations among several Afghan refugees that we were speaking to. So it makes sense that Germany is cautious and wants Greece to play this role. But why is Greece playing that role? HEVER: Well, I think Greece is, it has also internal political reasons to try to keep asylum seekers from entering Greece. And I think it’s also one of the negotiating chips on the table where very fierce negotiations are still taking place now with Greece and the rest of the European Union, you can say still are very non-generous when it comes to giving Greece, or allowing Greece to use the tools that Greece needs in order to recover from the crisis. But it is surprisingly generous when it comes to helping Greece finance prisons. Detention facilities for the asylum seekers. Just to keep them in Greece rather than allow them to continue deeper into Europe. I think what is extremely worrying is this idea of the Greek government and senior members of Greece military and police that have decided to adopt the kind of policy or the strategies trying to prevent asylum seekers from entering, and to adopt these policies from Israel. And that’s why over the last year there’s been, there have been negotiations about purchasing drones, Israeli military drones, that would be used by Greece in order to spot approaching vessels of asylum seekers. And also police training, of the Greece police inside Israel, where they would be trained in basically treating civilians, and in this case we’re talking about civilians in great jeopardy, as if they were a security threat. This is how the Israeli training centers teach various forms of police organizations and military organizations to treat civilians as a security threat. We see what happened in Ferguson and in Baltimore when U.S. police officers have utilized this kind of training on African-Americans. And Greece is now spending a lot of money on this project with Israeli companies. PERIES: And it’s not–first of all, it’s violating all kinds of international refugee safe haven regulations when it comes to the way in which the migrants are being treated. We were actually witness to it. Police overarching their responsibilities, the security responsibilities, and not really treating them as, as you say, civilians. Now, the other component of this is that some of that equipment is also being used on the ground against protesters and people who are at Syntagma Square. These are people that Alexis Tsipras used to actually march with. And now that he is in parliament, the continuation of how the police is treating the protesters and the over-militarization of the policing that is going on in Athens, I think cannot be at this point curtailed or rolled back, because they are, the police is clearly one institution that is stretching their powers over and beyond what’s necessary, both in terms of the refugees and the refugee crisis, as well as policing in the country. Now, why is it that these purchases that we are seeing happening being prioritized, from your point of view? HEVER: Yeah. Well, you’re absolutely right, and I think this is exactly how the issue of the Palestinian struggle for freedom becomes a global issue. And people in Greece who have protested–actually there was a very large, and there still is a very large movement in Greece in solidarity with Palestinian freedom. They have expressed their solidarity with Palestinians who have been attacked by this very same kind of weapon which are now used to oppress demonstrations in Athens and in other places in Greece. And the connection cannot be denied anymore. But it’s a question about whether these technologies themselves, the ones that are used to brutally repress demonstrations, to cause bodily harm to protesters, are these things inherently evil or is it just the way that they are being used? That may be a very interesting philosophical question. What is, however, a very clear legal question is whether it is allowed to purchase a product that has been tested on human beings without their consent. And even if we were talking about things like life-saving medicine, this is of course not life-saving medicines, these are weapons. But even if it was life-saving medicine it’s simply illegal to buy a product that has been tested on human subjects without their consent. And the Israeli companies, especially Israeli Aerospace Industries, that’s IAI, this is the biggest Israeli military company. The one which has been selected by the Greek government to provide it with drones, has in fact tested these drones on unwilling Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Now these same drones are to be used against refugees, asylum seekers, approaching the Greek borders and on Greek civilians as well, on Greek citizens who are protesting government policy. And I think a very strong case can be made that the Greek government should not be allowed to purchase these products because they have been illegally tested. PERIES: And cannot afford to do so, given the current debt crisis that they are in. Shir Hever, I thank you so much for joining us today. HEVER: Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.