The imperative of solidarity is with all those Jews and Palestinians who seek the solution neither Hamas nor Netanyahu wants.
A few weeks before the Yom Kippur war in 1973, as a young German for the first time I visited Israel—the country where many Holocaust survivors had found refuge and a home, not as part of a colonial power but as desperate, maltreated human beings.
Nobody met me with hostility or hatred. That touched me deeply and still does today. Without the willingness of Jewish people to talk to Germans, to talk to Germany, it would not have been possible for the country to return to the international community after Auschwitz. The special relationship with Israel arises not only from the guilt my forefathers brought upon themselves but also from appreciation that after 1945 Jews were prepared to talk to us about the unspeakable.
For me, both constitute an imperative of solidarity with Israel. The deep-seated fear of annihilation among Jewish people is of German doing. Israel’s determination to confront every threat with absolute determination and decisive military force so that the Shoah can never be repeated is of German doing. If we really want to free Palestine from German guilt, as young people shouted recently in front of the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, then we must do everything in our power to create conditions in which Jewish people can live in peace and security.
Hamas’ enthusiastic and self-acclaimed killings had the opposite aim. Hamas wanted to spread terror among Jews. It wanted to deprive them of all security. That thousands of Palestinians have become victims of Israeli retaliation is something it knowingly prepared to accept.
There are always people who justify such acts, who ultimately believe that the right end justifies even the worst means or who excuse the evil deed as an inevitable response to the evil of the enemy. Some on the left, who see themselves firmly on the side of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, defended or excused the massacre on October 7th by contextualising it. For them, Israel is always ultimately to blame—the killings the consequence of its occupation of Palestinian territories and oppression of Palestinians.
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Hamas would probably not even exist without over half a century of occupation and closure of the Gaza strip. But every act is based on a responsible decision. Entire libraries could be filled in Germany with books seeking to understand how the German people could go so wrong—why millions cheered Adolf Hitler and quite a few took part in the persecution and extermination of the Jews. Exploring the context is an attempt to explain the incomprehensible, but a crime remains a crime and a murder a murder.
Hamas is not only responsible for a massacre and its consequences. Politically, it stands for everything the left rejects: fundamentalist intolerance, rule both dictatorial and corrupt, denial of freedom of expression, murder of dissenters, oppression of women and contempt for LGBT+ individuals. That Iran should support Hamas has an obvious logic, but why would any leftist? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Naomi Klein, two icons of the left, have taken a clear stance here.
Preventing a solution
A bitter truth is that Hamas was the most important Palestinian actor aiding Benjamin Netanyahu prevent a two-state solution. That is why he agreed to Qatar financing the organisation. Hamas’ sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israel and the division of the Palestinians between the west bank and Gaza, associated with its takeover of the strip from 2007, were the best excuses for his radical right-wing coterie to refuse to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority.
Rejecting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, Netanyahu and his supporters offer noting but permanent oppression. The Palestinians have been suffering under the occupation for decades. Countless people have died; generations have been and continue to be denied any future. They are confronted daily with a military apparatus of power and have to watch as settlers take away their land, piece by piece. Military occupation and the expansion of settlements are morally wrong and politically ill-conceived.
War can ‘solve’ conflicts under certain circumstances: the American war of independence, the military annihilation of Nazi Germany and the Algerian struggle for self-rule all spring to mind. But there has to be a clear winner and the losers must be able to withdraw or capitulate.
These are not the conditions in the middle east. The Palestinians will not submit, despite their military inferiority. Jews have no other homeland to which they could return, unlike the French in Algeria. So Israel will not shy away from using all its military options if it sees itself as existentially threatened.
What does solidarity with Israel then mean under these conditions? There has been too much silence and too little solidarity in Germany in recent years. For the historical reasons I have mentioned, I hold back from criticising Israel even though I cannot approve of what is happening in the occupied territories. Like many others, I stay out of the debate, in which irrefutable explanations are expected despite the contradictory complexity of the situation.
This was exemplified by the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ debate in Germany. For me, participating in a ‘don’t buy from Jews’ campaign would be inconceivable, although Palestinians calling for a boycott of Israel are engaging in a more convincing and legitimate protest than violence.
In Israeli society, drifting ever further to the right, not only the left but all forces that adhere to the idea of understanding and reconciliation with Palestinians—the ‘peace camp’—have been marginalised. While abstract solidarity with Israel persists, this is one of the reasons why there is less interest in encountering the real Israel.
German society continues to commemorate German crimes on the days of remembrance but social empathy for Israel has gone cold. This is a bigger problem than the visible anti-Semitic demonstrations and criminal offences. These can and must be countered with the law and the police, but interest and sympathy with the people of Israel cannot be decreed. And if this is lacking in the majority society, the moral demand for a commitment to Israel from Muslims in particular appears an attempt to compensate for the void by exerting moral pressure on the Islamic minority.
Status quo untenable
Solidarity can only revive if Israel’s non-negotiable right to exist is not confused with uncritical support for the policies of its government. Every day, countless innocents die in Gaza and an incalculable number of internally displaced are fighting for their lives, while settlers in the west bank are exploiting the situation to expel and kill Palestinians.
We cannot ignore the more than 11,000 dead in the Gaza strip as ‘collateral damage’ of Israel’s right to self-defence in an asymmetric war. At the same time, thousands of friends and relatives fear for the lives of the hostages and many Israelis are fleeing their homes out of fear of further attacks. The risk that the escalating conflict will lead to a major regional war is real.
If all those dead in Israel and Gaza are not to have died in vain, then they must become a reminder that the status quo is untenable. Bombing Gaza to rubble will weaken Hamas in the short term but promote rather than prevent its resurrection—a military victory without a change of policy would be a pyrrhic one. There is no viable alternative to a two-state solution. The diplomatic adherence of Israel’s friends to that solution, while the Israeli government works single-mindedly to make it impossible, is untenable after October 7th.
The international community, including Germany, must make it clear that solidarity with Israel and real progress towards a two-state solution are not mutually exclusive but interdependent. Any government in Israel refusing to accept this is leading its people to catastrophe. The road to a two-state solution is rocky and it is certainly not only up to Israel, but Netanyahu’s policy has failed terribly. Tolerating that policy is to misunderstand solidarity: Israel’s supporters in particular must do everything they can to help change its stance.
Courageous and far-sighted
There are courageous and far-sighted people in Israel and on the Palestinian side. They are a minority and our unwavering solidarity must be extended to both of them—reason needs to be strengthened against the extremes.
Any solution will only work without Hamas and its supporters. The militant settlers, from whose ranks came the murderer of Yitzak Rabin—signatory of the 1990s Oslo accords with his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat—are also part of the problem. And it is hard to imagine how Netanyahu could be part of the solution.
Resolute solidarity with all those in Israel and Palestine who, despite the catastrophe, have the courage and foresight to find the path to a two-state solution is the imperative of Germany’s historical responsibility to the Jewish people.