International politics are currently dominated by topics like the euro and refugee crises, the threat of US isolation under Trump, the war in Syria, and the fight against Islamic extremism. One topic that has been nearly omnipresent since the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, but which has become increasingly far removed from news reporting, and thus people’s minds, is the Middle East conflict. For decades the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was a permanent issue and its resolution was a priority of American and European policy. After many, ultimately failed attempts at a solution, however, a status quo appears to have set in. The conflict continues to be viewed, with discomfort but also with helplessness and a certain disillusionment, as unsolvable.
This is all the more tragic as the fronts become more reinforced, the situation of Palestinians consistently worsens, and even the greatest optimist cannot easily assume that the current US government will take a sensible approach to the conflict. But it is especially tragic that this year and next, we will observe two sad anniversaries, particularly for Palestinians: 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba, known by Palestinians as “the Catastrophe”, which was the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from the former British mandate of Palestine as a direct result of the UN partition plan for Palestine and the founding of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948. Al-Nakba continues to occur, as well over 5 million direct descendants of the displaced Palestinians still live in forced exile. And this year, on 10 June 2017, we will commemorate 50 years of ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, a factually and morally intolerable state of affairs. Even those who think that the Six-Day War, which ended on this day, was necessary to defend Israel cannot deny that the occupation and everything that has come after it are an absolute catastrophe. Not just for the Palestinians but also for the Israelis, both strategically and morally.
One half-century has since passed, and a resolution to the conflict seems more distant than ever. No one today can easily expect a young Palestinian or a young Israeli to reach their hand out to the other. And even though the subject may not be “popular”, as mentioned above, it is still important, indeed, it is of vital significance. For people in Palestine and Israel, for the entire Middle East, for the world. That is why, on the 50th anniversary of the occupation, I call for Germany and Europe to make the resolution of this conflict a priority once again. This conflict is not political, but rather a conflict between two nations who are both absolutely convinced that they have the right to the same, small piece of land. If today Europe states that it must be stronger and more independent, then this new strength and independence entails the clear demand for the end of the occupation and recognition of the Palestinian state.
As a Jew living in Berlin for more than 25 years, I have a special perspective of Germany’s historical responsibility in this conflict. It is only possible for me to live freely and happily in Germany because the Germans have faced and processed their past. Of course, even in modern-day Germany, there are worrying trends on the far right against which we all must fight. By and large, however, German society has grown into a tolerant, free society aware of its humanitarian responsibility.
Of course, Germany and Israel have always had a particularly stable relationship; Germany has always rightfully felt especially obligated to Israel. But I must go one step further: Germany also has a special obligation to the Palestinians. Without the Holocaust there never would have been a partition of Palestine, there would have been no al-Nakba, War of 1967, and occupation. In fact this is not merely about German but rather European responsibility for the Palestinians, because antisemitism was a pan-European phenomenon and the Palestinians continue to suffer from the direct consequences of this antisemitism, even though they themselves are in no way responsible for it.
It is absolutely necessary that Germany and Europe accept their responsibility toward the Palestinian people. This does not mean that steps must be taken against Israel, but rather for the Palestinians. The ongoing occupation is unacceptable, both morally and strategically, and must stop. To this day the world has done nothing of significance toward this end, but Germany and Europe must demand the end of the occupation and adherence to the pre-1967 borders. A two-state solution will be promoted, and this requires Palestine finally being recognised as an independent state. A just solution to the refugee crisis must be found. The right of Palestinians to return must be recognised, and implemented in cooperation with Israel. The fair distribution of resources and the guarantee of fundamental human and civil rights of the Palestinians must be asserted. Ensuring this is Europe’s task, especially now in light of the changing world order.
50 years after 10 June we may be far from resolving the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. But only if Germany and Europe start to accept their historical responsibility now and take measures for the Palestinians, then perhaps we can prevent marking the 100th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands 50 years from now, with no change at all.