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Scholars and Experts Are Urging the German Government to Rethink Its Unconditional Support of Israel

Screenshot from the open letter's website. It reads, “Open letter by German  Middle East experts on the Gaza crisis.”
Screenshot from the open letter's website. It reads, “Open letter by German
Middle East experts on the Gaza crisis.”
By Katrin Zinoun, Translated by Thomas McGuinn

In an open letter to the German government, numerous scholars are demanding a change to the country's foreign policy in the Middle East in light of Israel's assault on Gaza, which has left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

The current German government like others before is supportive of Israel and its offensive against the strip. The petition is signed, amongst others, by Middle East scholars and experts working in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as famous German personalities who are concerned with the subject. It reads:
For over a month we've had to sit and observe a destructive war which [...] will compromise any prospects of progress in the Gaza Strip and dash any hopes for long-term peace in the Middle East for months, possibly even years to come. We condemn the use of violence for the implementation of political aims. Violence aimed at civilians is unacceptable, both from Palestinian militant groups and from Israel.
According to its writers, the letter is meant to direct the focus of the debate in Germany back to the actual conflict. Due to several anti-Semitic outbursts from some protesters, the reporting on Gaza over the past few weeks has been overshadowed by a debate on anti-Semitism, and it no longer seemed feasible to promote discourse on current foreign policy in Israel. Kai Hafez, a communications expert, said in an interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk:
Well, it is quite typical for us to be leading a culture-oriented debate in Germany about Islam and Judaism at the times when we should actually be carrying out political analysis or even a critical review of the war.
In the letter, the German government is urged to make concrete steps towards changing their current foreign policy in the Middle East. This was – and still is – shaped by “Germany’s historical guilt” stemming from the Nazis’ systematic genocide of millions of Jews during World War II. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke before the Knesset, the legislature of Israel, in 2008 about “Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel's security”. And even to this day, the chancellor emphasises Israel's right to self-defence, while rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza are vehemently condemned.

The letter demands the recognition of the right to a life without fear, one which also applies to Palestinians:
The Israeli civilian population has the right to a life without fear. The same applies to all Palestinian men and women. Almost 2,000 victims – 80% of those being civilians according to the UN’s estimations, and then 30% of those being children according to information offered by UNICEF – cannot be swept under the mat by using the argument of the war on terror or the right to self-defence.
The writers of the letter are addressing some of their appeals to the German taxpayers because there are also projects funded by German tax money which are being destroyed in Gaza. The German government had already explained in 2012 that German-funded projects were being hampered or even destroyed in the Palestinian territories under Israeli control. The writers claim that, in the present conflict, almost the entire work of international development organizations, charities and NGOs working on the ground in the Gaza Strip has also been destroyed; in a material sense with the bombings, but the effects on the people are even worse. The entire civilian population is traumatised. The writers state that this situation cannot be changed through projects and that there’s a need for a wholesale policy reform, as demanded in the open letter.
The scholars urge the German government to:
  • do what it can to reach a permanent ceasefire, which would prevent the deaths of more civilians on both sides and offer long-term protection to the critically endangered, overwhelmingly young civilian population in Gaza;
  • work with Egypt and Israel to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip, in order to facilitate the normalisation of the transportation of goods and people, and then to safeguard Israeli security interests with international surveillance and support;
  • provide emergency aid and rebuilding measures in Gaza, but not without also demanding Israel’s responsibility for the redevelopment as the occupying power, in accordance with international law;
  • give emphatic support to the recognised Palestinian unity government which was sworn in officially in July, and to strengthen its governing power over the Gaza Strip, as well as its capacity to act in all of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem;
  • investigate the killing of civilians before and during the attacks on the Gaza Strip, to actively contribute to an international inquiry and to support Palestine in joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the same time to investigate the destruction of civil infrastructure (such as the bombing of Gaza’s only power station, sewage treatment plants, hospitals etc.) which has been financed by EU and German funds for years, and to demand compensation off Israel;
  • employ the restrictive German regulations on arms exports to all warring factions in the Middle East as well, and to put military cooperation with Israel to the test;
  • do all that it can to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and to suggest legally-binding strategies in accordance with international law for both sides to settle the conflict.
Anne Hemeda contributed to the research of this article.

Reprinted with permission from Global Voices.

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