Avigdor Lieberman (left) on a previous visit to Brussels.(Council of the European Union)
For the second time in as many years, I tried to arrest Avigdor Lieberman today.
As soon as I saw the Israeli foreign minister enter a room where he was scheduled to give a press conference in Brussels, I stood up and shouted: “Mr Lieberman, this is a citizen’s arrest. You are charged with the crime of apartheid.”
Immediately, I was grabbed by security guards. They whisked me to a side exit and the scariest-looking of them grabbed me by the throat and looked me in the eye with an air of menace. “I am pissed off with you,” he yelled (in French). I tried to speak but was unable to. Once he released his grip, I found myself with my arms and legs forcibly outstretched as the security guards searched my pockets and patted me up and down. Then they tied my hands behind my back with plastic cuffs.
The security guards consulted among themselves for a moment about how they could avoid my detention being witnessed by journalists. “We should be discreet,” said the scary guy (who I recognised from my attempt to arrest Lieberman last year). The scary guy pulled me backwards into a nearby room and told me to sit on the floor.
I sat trembling for a few moments, until the head of security for the EU’s Council of Ministers arrived. He shook hands with the guards and looked behind my back to see my hands tied up.
“Mr Cronin, we meet again,” the head of security said.
“Why have you done this?”
“I feel very strongly about the occupation of Palestine, Sir.”
He told me there were other forums than press conferences at which I could express my views on human rights. I explained that this was one of the few opportunities I had to confront senior representatives of the Israeli state directly.
I asked the head of security to remove my handcuffs, pointing out that I was no threat to anyone and that I was outnumbered by his colleagues. A moment later, the scary guy came through the door with cutters and removed the cuffs. I was allowed to sit in a chair.
The head of security explained to me that my press card was being confiscated and that I was banned from the Council of Ministers’ building from now on. After 20 minutes (my estimate), I was told that I was free to go and was escorted by two guards to the building’s main exit.
While I had reservations about making a second attempt at arresting Lieberman, I felt that I had a moral duty to do so when I learned this week that the EU has formally offered to “upgrade” relations with Israel. By expanding the scope of its political and economic ties with Israel, the EU is becoming increasingly complicit in Israeli apartheid and the brutal treatment of the Palestinian people.
Since my earlier attempt to arrest Lieberman (in February 2011), Israeli apartheid has become more extreme.
Last year I complained that Lieberman and his party Yisrael Beitenu had sponsored about 20 laws and bills before the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), all of which were designed either to discriminate against Palestinians or to deny the right to freedom of expression. The list of discriminatory and anti-democratic initiatives has now grown to 30.
Among the most egregious violations of human rights being planned by Lieberman and his fellow ministers are the displacement of 70,000 Bedouins in the Negev (Naqab). Many of the Bedouins have been living in this region since before the state of Israel was founded.
The Prawer Plan – as the blueprint for the dispossession of Bedouins is called – is just one of a series of measures intended to put Palestinian land in the hands of Israel. Two days ago, the Israeli high court was informed of plans to demolish eight Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills because the area is “needed” for training exercises by the Israeli military.
If there is any doubt that Israel is a racist state, please take note of the recent remarks by Eli Yishai, the interior minister, about African asylum-seekers. By declaring that “Israel belongs to the white man”, Yishai has effectively encouraged pogroms against everyone with a different colour of skin to his own.
As a European citizen, I am deeply ashamed of how the governments and institutions which claim to act on my behalf are embracing the apartheid state of Israel. I refuse to be silent while the European Union abets apartheid, an internationally recognized crime against humanity. That is why I tried to arrest Avigdor Lieberman once again.