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Gaza: The Double Standards of Olaf Scholz
Why Palestinians deserve the same protection as Israelis and why the German government is drawing the wrong lessons from the past
Hamas has killed about 1400 Israelis, most of them civilians, in its bloody attack on Israel and took 200 hostages. According to the UN, more than 4200 residents of the Gaza Strip have died so far as a result of the Israeli retaliatory strikes, most of them civilians as well.1 There is no end in sight to the bombardment, with a ground offensive looming. Hundreds of thousands in Gaza are fleeing, but they cannot leave the tiny coastal strip surrounded by fences and walls. Safe zones do not exist. Israel recently bombed southern Gaza as well, having previously told northern residents to seek refuge there.2 The surviving residents face a humanitarian catastrophe due to the total blockade imposed by Israel, with lacks water, food, medical supplies and electricity. In addition, since sewage treatment plants and garbage disposal do not work due to the lack of energy, a hygienic emergency is feared. Israel also recently bombed the crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah, the only way through which aid could reach Gaza in the near future – if Egypt and Israel let it through.3
In this situation, the German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that he stands “firmly by Israel's side”.4 He could also have said that he stands firmly on the side of international law and the victims of any violence, regardless of their nationality, faith or skin color. In this spirit, he could also have called for an end to the spiral of escalation, such as the UN Security Council resolution introduced by Brazil, but stopped by veto by the United States. He did not do any of this, however, but instead unconditionally sided with an Israeli government that is generally classified as extreme right-wing and which, like its predecessors, makes no secret of the fact that it has no interest in complying with the norms of international law.
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The blockade of Gaza, which has lasted for 16 years, is clearly illegal under international law. In 2017, ten years after Israel began the closure, the UN concluded in an assessment of the situation: “Many of these measures are contrary to international law in that they penalize the entire population of Gaza, without regard to individual responsibility and thus amount to collective punishment. Moreover, the blockade has a serious impact on the human rights of the population in Gaza, notably their right to freedom of movement as well as economic, social and cultural rights.”5
In international law, there is also no right to revenge. No matter how brutal and vile Hamas's attacks on civilians were, they do not provide a legitimizing basis for a bombardment of civilians and the destruction of the infrastructure of one of the most densely populated and poorest regions in the world.
If the chancellor stands behind Israel's government without any critical distance, he is abandoning international law and making himself accomplice to an illegal retaliatory action that is already having more devastating effects than the crimes of Hamas. It is true that the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has since conceded that Israel's right to self-defense only applies "within the framework that international law provides for such exceptional situations".6 However, she did not call for an end to both the bombardment of Gaza and the illegal blockade.
The question also arises as to what lessons German politics has learned from the past. If there is one lesson to be learned from German history, it is this: that people must be protected from violence and human rights violations regardless of their nationality, origin, skin color or religious beliefs. This applies to Israeli citizens as well as to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. But there is hardly any mention of a right to protection, defense and solidarity, which is rightly granted to the citizens of Israel, with regard to the Palestinians. Nationality and skin color decide once again who is granted which rights.
German politicians like to emphasize that Israel's security is a “German reason of state”. There would be nothing to object if this security were not to be established at the expense of others. The policy of occupation, blockade and bombardment that Israel has practiced for decades has significantly undermined the security of Palestinian citizens. It has also made Israel itself more insecure. When, as in Gaza, more than two million people are imprisoned indefinitely, denied elementary rights, and repeatedly traumatized by bombings, as in the “Operation Cast Lead” in the winter of 2008/2009, with 1400 Palestinian dead (Israel suffered 13 casualties), it is more than likely that at some point a few thousand of them will resort to massive violence. The spiral of violence can only be stopped if its root causes are eliminated. And that means ending the policy of occupation and blockade and returning to the Palestinians full self-determination over all their territories, as it is enshrined in international law. Even if this seems more difficult than ever at the moment, it is the only way to peace for Israel and Palestine.
Fabian Scheidler is a Berlin-based journalist and author. His book “The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History of a Failing civilization” has been published in several languages, including English, German, French and Chinese. As a journalist, he has worked for Le Monde diplomatique, Berliner Zeitung, Taz. Die Tageszeitung, Wiener Zeitung, Radio France and many others. He has also been awarded the prestigious Otto Brenner Award for Critical Journalism. www.fabianscheidler.com
Amnesty International is speaking of 3.793 people killed, most of them civilians, based on numbers provided by the Palestinian authorities. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/10/damning-evidence-of-war-crimes-as-israeli-attacks-wipe-out-entire-families-in-gaza/
United Nations: Gaza. Ten Years Later. United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory, July 2017. https://www.un.org/unispal/document/gaza-ten-years-later-un-country-team-in-the-occupied-palestinian-territory-report/