Open Letter of German Middle East Experts on the Gaza Crisis

OPEN LETTER OF OVER 150 GERMAN MIDDLE EAST EXPERTS ON THE GAZA CRISIS

NOTE: During the recent war on Gaza, over 150 German Middle East experts addressed an open letter to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and key members of her cabinet. The letter received coverage by prominent German media outlets, such as Spiegel Online and Zeit Online, spurred some debate in the German public on Germany's foreign relations towards Israel and its policies towards the Middle East in general and Gaza in particular. The letter was further addressed to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller, Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel and Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen. In addition, it was sent to the German Bundestag's Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Defence Committee, the Committee for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy

Among the signers are Prof. Helga Baumgarten, a German political scientist at Birzeit University; leading members from the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO) in Berlin, a leading German research institution on the Middle East; the chairwoman of pax Christi Germany, a Catholic peace organization; former and current employees of German aid and development organizations in Palestine/Israel; leading scholars and journalists specialized in the Middle East; as well as former and current employees of ​various German party-affiliated foundations.

 

Reaching a permanent ceasefire, ending the siege – Creating development perspectives for Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem

 

We, German Middle East experts, are professionally engaged with the development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the areas of science, development cooperation, democracy, peace and human rights we are campaigning in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Germany for the creation of an independent democratic state of Palestine, which can live in peace with Israel and its neighbours.

For over a month we have had to witness a destructive war, which shattered all these efforts and will for months to come, possibly years, hinder perspectives for development in the Gaza Strip, reducing hopes for a permanent peace in the Middle East. We condemn the use of force for the realization of political goals. The use of force against civilians is not acceptable, neither from militant Palestinian groups nor from Israel.

In this conflict we are particularly concerned about civilians in Palestine and in Israel, as well as for our partners, colleagues and friends in the Gaza Strip. Like all civilians and their families, they are experiencing a nightmare in that narrow coastal strip from which they cannot flee. The military strikes, to which 1.8 million defenceless people were subjected, have left deep scars and severe traumas with unpredictable long-term consequences. According to the United Nations, half a million people were internally displaced during the war; nearly 2,000 people were killed, more than 10,000 injured, over 15% of the residential buildings and 230 schools were damaged, 25 of which were fully destroyed; the already insufficient infrastructure, water supply and sewage plants and the only power generation plant were partly destroyed by air strikes. The capacities for medical and humanitarian supplies are exhausted, among other reasons because several hospitals and UN facilities were severely damaged by the strikes.

We are working and conducting research on the development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which according to international law comprise the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Over the past years, exchange between these areas has become increasingly difficult, and the freedom of movement for Palestinians has been massively restricted or almost completely obstructed. This also concerns the employees and the Palestinian partner organizations of the German and international organizations active on the ground, making it nearly impossible for them to carry out their development goals.

Particularly the Gaza Strip has since 2007 been subjected to a completely counterproductive siege which has forced the people into a fatal aid economy devoid of perspectives for development. In 2012, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Gaza in 2020” that concluded that with the continuation of the siege the livelihoods of the rapidly increasing population of currently 1.8 million people will be fully destroyed by that time.

The destructive siege of the Gaza Strip by sea, land and air must be lifted. This can be done under international monitoring, which would guarantee that no weapons can reach the Gaza Strip, so as to satisfy Israel’s legitimate security interests. Israel’s civil society has the right to live without fear. This is equally valid for Palestinians. Nearly 2,000 victims, according to UN estimates around 80% of them civilians, from which – according to UNICEF figures – up to 30% were children, must not be accepted through the claim of a fight against terrorism or the right of self-defence. The predominantly young population of the Gaza Strip (more than half of which is under 18 years old) urgently need perspectives for their future. They need better education, an end of the isolation as well as normalization and stabilization of the economy in the Gaza Strip. This would be an essential contribution towards the safety of the populations on both sides, since a purely military fight against armed groups – who are nurtured by desperation and hopelessness – will remain futile and, as experience has shown, brings about the exact opposite of the desired effect.

The realization of the two-state solution as the best guarantee for the safety of Israel and of Palestine as well as the self-determination of the Palestinians are declared aims of Germany’s foreign policy. To preserve this prospect, it is necessary to put an end to settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to boost the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem and to lift the siege on Gaza. To that end, the Palestinian transitional government of technocrats, formed in July, which is based on a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas and which has accepted the so-called “Quartet conditions”, constitutes the legitimate interlocutor and ought to be politically empowered.

Hamas remains, regardless of the activities of its military wing, a popular political party. Dialogue with the political representatives of Hamas should therefore no longer be rejected: the balance sheet of the policy of isolation since its electoral victory of 2006 is sobering. Such a dialogue must include an explicit and direct criticism of Hamas’ unacceptable stance on issues of human rights and women’s rights, as well as the demand to recognize Israel in the framework of a peace agreement containing a binding resolution of the border issue. A precondition is that Hamas, for instance as it did after the previous war in 2012, observes a negotiated permanent ceasefire and refrains from using terrorist acts. Only through political integration and an enduring conflict resolution will it be possible to enforce the demilitarization of its militias for the long term.

Without lifting the siege, there can be no prospect for development for the people of Gaza and no chance for a two-state solution. Without a fundamental change to the status quo, the work of development organizations on the ground, in which some of us are active, is at best limited to short-term emergency aid. Billions of euros, which flow into state building or development, are misguided investments, if they are destroyed during the current or the next, inevitably pending waves of violence. This will chiefly harm the people on the ground. This also constitutes a negligent use of German tax money as well as a misguided approach towards development and democracy work.

We ask you:

  • to commit yourselves to a permanent ceasefire, which prevents further killing of civilians on both sides and offers permanent shelter for the massively threatened, overwhelmingly young civil population in Gaza;
  • to force Egypt and Israel to lift the siege of the Gaza Strip, so as to enable a normalization of the movement of goods and people, thereby guaranteeing Israeli security interests through international observers and assistance;
  • to provide for emergency aid and reconstruction work in Gaza, but not without demanding that Israel fulfil her international legal responsibility as occupying power as regards  reconstruction;
  • to vigorously strengthen the already recognized Palestinian unity government, which was sworn into office in June, and its governance over the Gaza Strip and its ability to act in the entire Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem;
  • to investigate the killing of civilians before and during the attacks on the Gaza Strip, to make an active contribution to an international investigation and to support Palestine joining the International Criminal Court; at the same time to investigate the cases of the destruction of civilian infrastructure (such as the bombing of the only power generation plant in Gaza, sewage plants, hospitals etc.) that has been financed for years by the EU and Germany, and to demand compensation from Israel.
  • to apply the restrictive German arms export regulations to all the parties in the Middle East as well as to put under scrutiny the military cooperation with Israel;
  • to vigorously work towards ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and to make suggestions to both sides for a conflict resolution that are binding and in conformity with international law.

Translated from the German original – entitled »Offener Brief von deutschen Nahost-Experten zur Gaza-Krise« – by Phil Butland, edited by Ali Fathollah-Nejad.

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