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by Greg Manahan
Tuesday's visit of Israel's controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the EU Council of Ministers was supposed to be about trade agreements. However, the former Moldovan night club bouncer demanded the 'blacklisting' of Lebanese resistance organization Hezbollah which was turned down by the Council.
Strangely enough though one would have expected a frosty or at least frank reception of the Israeli FM at the Council seeing that two weeks ago the EU openly criticized Israel for its plans to build more settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. Instead he was welcomed with a package of 60 trade agreements and upgraded diplomatic status including better access to the European Police Office, Europol, and the European Space Agency.
According to one diplomat quoted in the Guardian many minsters are opposed to these increased ties as they add to the impunity of Israel's breaches of humanitarian and international law, but they are too intimidated to act or speak out.
"I was struck by the fact that a whole range of relations was offered to Israel – at the request of Israel – as if nothing is happening on the ground," the diplomat said. "Most ministers are too afraid to speak out in case they are singled out as being too critical towards Israel, because, in the end, relations with Israel are on the one hand relations with the Jewish community at large and on the other hand with Washington – nobody wants to have fuss with Washington. So [ministers] are fine with making political statements but they refrain from taking concrete action."
Not everyone at the Council buildings in Brussels were as welcoming as the EU minister though. Irish journalist and activist David Cronin attempted a citizen’s arrest of Lieberman as he entered. Cronin recalls the moment he saw the Israeli FM entering the hallway, "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."
He was released a short time later after having his press credentials confiscated. When asked by a security official why he attempted the arrest Cronin replied, “I feel very strongly about the occupation of Palestine." This was his second attempt at arresting Leiberman.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Israel's Defense Minster refuses to budge on the planned destruction of eight Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills to make way for an army training area. This would involve the displacement of 1,500 people who the government have regarded as squatters even though the villages have been occupied by the Palestinian families since the 1830's. To put into context the villages are older than many of the States in the USA.
What also flies in the face of the EU package to Israel is a recent report by a group of British lawyers that reported on abuse by the Israeli military of Palestinian children. The investigation was organized and funded by the British Foreign Office. Its findings are not surprising to many in the human rights community but still make shocking reading. It accuses the Israeli military of verbally and physically abusing Palestinian children whilst in custody and of holding them in solitary confinement for long periods of time which under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child constitutes torture. Children are routinely blindfolded, handcuffed and forced face down on the floor when being transported to detention facilities. Many are forced to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read.
Children's rights barrister Greg Davies said, “when you look at the trauma that would be caused by arrest in the middle of the night or being dumped at the prison gates [after interrogation] with no one knowing you were there, then it would be very difficult as a child not to suffer psychological damage,”
In light of the publication of this report and the many abuses of international law it seems bizarre that the EU would not just turn a blind eye but reward Israel for this behavior. But then again it would seem that Israel's power over Washington extends eastwards across the Atlantic.
:: photo courtesy of Nina Jean via Creative Commons license ::
Greg Manahan is Director and owner of I Direct Productions a television and live production company in Dublin, Ireland. He is also an outspoken advocate of human rights, particularly in the Middle East.