Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock during a debate in the German Bundestag on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories

21.03.2024 - Speech

More than a million women, men and children in Gaza are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

That is every second person who lives there.

It is almost impossible to imagine the suffering of a mother, a father who does not know how they will keep their child alive for another day. I expect that by now many of us can barely stand to look at these images.

And in Israel? Mothers and fathers there have been desperately waiting for more than five months for a sign of life from their daughter, their son, from 134 people in total who Hamas continues to hold hostage in the most brutal fashion.

I have spoken to many of these relatives on multiple occasions in Israel.

And last time, quite honestly, words failed me a little. What do you say to a proud older man whose two adult children, a daughter and a son, have been kidnapped, and who is now taking care of his granddaughter who continually asks: “When is daddy coming back?”

The suffering is simply unspeakable. And this is why it provokes so many emotions – for us here in Europe, too.

Pain, grief, anger. And in some cases, unfortunately, hate. I too can see this during my conversations in other parts of the world.

This suffering creates a serious challenge for the international community.

Because everyone sees this suffering against the backdrop of their own history.

That sometimes makes it very difficult to discern what is right and wrong.

And yes, I see it the same way, I look at this situation as the Foreign Minister of a state, a state that bears the historical responsibility for the worst imaginable crime, the Shoah, the systematic murder of six million people – just because they were Jewish.

As Eva Szepesi so forcefully put it during our act of commemoration here in January: “Just because I was Jewish.”

For Germany, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.

And for me as the German Foreign Minister, that means continually standing up for precisely this principle, everywhere in the world. Facing up to it. Not only in grand speeches, but in particular every time that the accusation is made: “With Israel you turn a blind eye, you apply different standards.”

Regardless of whether I am sitting opposite my G20 counterparts or a school class here in the region, the fact that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s raison d’être means, to me, in these moments in particular, not remaining silent but facing up to the accusation of double standards.

And so I say, here and everywhere else:

Because our standard is clear. Our standard is the law.

Our standard is the humanity that guides us. And this humanity is indivisible.

Israel has, like every country in the world, the right to defend itself against this destructive terror – against a terror that very deliberately, very systematically hides behind civilians. Deliberately, in order to exploit civilians, Palestinians, with the goal of destroying Israel. Now as in the past. They say as much, time and again, now as in the past.

For this reason we stand by our responsibility for the security of Israel and its people.

And at the same time – and this is an “and”, not a “but” – we stand by international humanitarian law. That too is a lesson from our history and the terrible crimes of the SS and the Wehrmacht.

For this reason I make it clear to the Israeli Government on all of my visits, as does the Federal Chancellor on his visits, that the way in which the Israeli army, the Israeli Government defends itself makes a difference.

Because this must be done within the framework of international humanitarian law.

Because we, too, must face up to the profound concerns about how it can be made at all possible to protect civilians during a potential offensive in Rafah. Knowing that Hamas is hiding behind those very civilians. Because it is also our responsibility that 1.5 million people there cannot simply disappear into thin air.

The death, the starvation must come to an end.

This requires a humanitarian ceasefire – as Qatar is currently trying to negotiate on behalf of many of us.

So that the hostages can be released. Hamas does not want that, but it must happen. And so that aid can reach Gaza. Both must happen.

Because the principle of humanity is indivisible.

Yes, the easiest thing to do would be to completely ignore the suffering of one side. But that does not alleviate the suffering on any side.

And nor would it be our standard.

And, quite honestly, I am sometimes shocked to hear morally charged demands made in the course of political debates that fall into the trap of black-and-white thinking, evidently with the sole aim of making the speaker feel better in the face of this suffering.

For example, the demand for no more assistance at all to enter Gaza because this is supposedly nothing more than support for terrorism, or for us to cut off all channels with Israel because a genocide is supposedly being committed.

But our aim must not be to somehow ease our conscience – our aim must be for this drama to finally come to an end for both sides.

At the very beginning of this terrible conflict, a parent of one of the hostages said to me:

“Do you know what,” she whispered. “My precious child, an adult child won’t come back just because another mother loses her child in Gaza.”

It is this humanity that guides us.

And so I am working ceaselessly with our partners, on behalf of you all, my fellow members of the German Bundestag, on every small step that we can now achieve for each individual human being together with the US, the UK and the many Arab countries.

Since 7 October I have visited the region six times, and I will travel there again on Sunday. To see how we can utilise every possible option, as difficult and hopeless as that currently seems.

This is why we are taking part in the airdrops and supporting the marine corridor via Cyprus. Knowing that really the aid needs to be delivered overland.

This is why we did everything to evacuate the SOS Children’s Village, a process that took months.

This is why we are now working with Qatar, Egypt and the US, in particular, on achieving the release of every single hostage.

Because it is not just about an end to this war, but to this decades-long conflict.

That guides our efforts, my efforts during our ceaseless shuttle diplomacy to consider how a political horizon might look, what guarantees Israel needs so that a 7 October can never again occur, how we can ensure that Hamas lays down its weapons, how we can give security guarantees for Israel on all of the issues that have been raised.

The good thing is that we are working with the Arab countries on this. On how reconstruction, how a new political, administrative and security order in Gaza might look. Because the people in Gaza, too, are suffering at the hands of Hamas.

We all know that the resistance to a two-state solution is huge. But we also know that without the prospect of a two-state solution there will be no peace.

Because there can only be peace when there is peace for everyone.


Top of page