Speech of Foreign Minister Baerbock at the Herzliya Conference 2024

24.06.2024 - Speech

Some images, some words don’t leave you.

And maybe they never will.

Like the words I heard from Yoni, whose wife Doron and two daughters Raz and Aviv were cruelly taken by Hamas on 7 October.

For endless days and nights, Yoni feared for their lives. When the three were released on 25 November, it was a moment of immense joy – in a time of enduring pain. One hundred and twenty hostages are still being held in Gaza.

“I am just glad that my wife’s grandmother did not live to see this.”

That’s what Yoni said, referring to Safta Tirtza, who was born in Munich and who survived the Shoah.

Yoni’s words have stayed with me since.

The images of 7 October have stayed with me since. As a human, a parent.

But also as the Foreign Minister of a country that was responsible for the worst crime in history: the Shoah, the state-planned murder of six million Jews – with the aim of extinguishing Judaism in Europe.

The Nazis hunted down Jews, dragged them out of their homes and murdered them systematically and in cold blood.

The hope of Israel’s founders was that Israel would be the place where Jews would never have to experience this again, where they would be safe.

On 7 October, this assurance was shaken to its core, not only for Jews in Israel, but for people of the Jewish faith worldwide.

It was important to me to come to Israel directly after 7 October – in order to understand this trauma. To meet with relatives of the hostages, like Yoni. To sit in the situation room in Netivot, forcing myself to watch the horrific video of the 7 October atrocities. To see, to understand.

And to make sure that in everything we do, we help to prevent Hamas’ cynical terrorist playbook from succeeding.

I’ve been to this region ten times in nine months, and with every visit, my concerns have been growing that we are slip-sliding towards a dead end… all together. This is why I am thankful for your invitation to this conference. Because I believe we can only prevent this all together.

The security of the State of Israel is paramount for my country. It is part of our raison d’état, as Chancellor Angela Merkel put it when she addressed the Knesset in 2008. You have heard that many times from German politicians.

But what does this mean – today, in this time of anguish? It means standing up for Israel’s security when it is under attack. A 7 October must never happen again.

It means saying very clearly that Israel has the right to defend itself, like any other country in the world. Hamas wanted to destroy Israel’s security, but also Israel’s legitimacy.

Hamas started this war. And it must end this horror. Hamas must release all of the hostages – some of whom are German citizens. Hamas must cease its attacks on Israel. It’s Hamas who has sought to spark a regional escalation with the help of its international backers.

Standing up for Israel’s security means reiterating this message again and again, particularly when talking to those who are cynically seeking to move the focus away from the atrocities of 7 October.

This also means that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hizbollah’s relentless attacks in the north. It’s Hizbollah who started this violence on 8 October, forcing tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes.

No country in the world should have to accept that. All Israeli citizens – from Rosh Hanikra to Metula – have a right to feel safe in their homes.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 must be implemented, full stop. This requires Hizbollah to completely and verifiably withdraw from the Blue Line.

We are extremely concerned about the increase in violence at the northern border. I will pay a visit to Beirut tomorrow for this reason – where many also do not want another war.

Together with our partners, we are working hard on finding solutions that can prevent more suffering. The risk of an unintended escalation and of all-out war is growing by the day.

The utmost prudence is therefore required.

But, ladies and gentlemen, standing up for Israel’s security – today – means more than standing up for its immediate security, its right to self-defence.

It means making sure that Hamas’ strategy, its playbook, does not succeed. It means helping build a future in which Israelis know that their security is not something temporary and fragile, but that this security is lasting. That they can rely on it.

When I say that the security of the State of Israel is paramount for my country, it is this lasting security for all Israelis that we strive for, that guides our thinking and informs our actions.

A future in which children from Sderot and Kiryat Shmona can return to their homes, their schools.

A future in which Israelis won’t have to fear rocket attacks from Gaza – again and again.

A future in which Israel can prosper because it is at peace with its regional neighbours.

A future in which the ruthless threat that Iran poses to Israel’s legitimacy is deterred, with the help of Israel’s international partners.

No one believes that this can happen overnight or will be easy to accomplish. Lasting security might sound like a faraway vision today. But that should not deter us. If we were to throw up our hands in resignation – that would mean hell.

What I want to do here today, after all of the talks I’ve held in the past weeks and months, is to share my thoughts on what elements I believe are crucial to pave a way forward – for Israel’s regional, its political security – and how we can counter the efforts to delegitimise it.

In my view, four elements are crucial.

The first and most important one, from which all others derive, is that lasting security for all Israelis will only be possible if there is lasting security for Palestinians.

And, at the same time, lasting security for Palestinians will only be possible if there is lasting security for Israelis. One is not possible without the other.

Pursuing the vision of two states, living side by side, in peace and prosperity, remains the best path towards this lasting security.

That is not a popular opinion with everyone here in Israel, maybe even less so today than before 7 October, I am aware of that.

And who am I to tell you what’s best?

But as a firm friend of Israel, how could I not share my concerns and ask: What is the alternative to a future in which all people in this region can live without the fear of constantly recurring violence? To a vision that can ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state?

What’s crucial now, to build lasting security, is to find ways to stop the violence in Gaza, to end the fighting permanently.

This has been the focus of all of my talks here in Israel, as well as with our US, European and Arab partners.

Hamas has been cynically using civilians as human shields. Yet we equally know that, also when it comes to self-defence, the restrictions imposed by international humanitarian law such as distinction, precaution and proportionality must be respected.

That’s why we must address the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza. According to UNICEF, at least 17,000 children are now orphaned or separated from their parents.

And as much as it was crucial for me to watch the video of the atrocities of 7 October, it was and is crucial to me to see the pain behind these images from Gaza.

How often, after my conversations with Yoni, did I ask myself: What would I do if 7 October happened to my daughters?

And how often, in the last few months, did I ask myself: What would I do if my children were without me and my husband in Gaza today?

These images from Gaza are travelling the globe, sparking strong emotions – in the Arab world, but also in the US, in Europe, in my country, everywhere. Disbelief. Sadness. But also anger.

And as a friend of Israel, I want to be frank. This anger is not helping Israel to meet its security needs – to the contrary. It only serves Hamas’ cynical drive to provoke further escalation.

That’s why we have emphasised from the outset that Israel must exercise its right to self-defence within the framework of international humanitarian law.

This is what distinguishes democracies from terrorists – that Israel’s military operation targets Hamas and not the civilian population.

We have also pushed hard for humanitarian assistance to reach the people in Gaza.

Because we don’t want Hamas’ strategy to succeed. And we don’t want Israel to lose itself in this war. What it is and what it stands for.

Or, as the mother of one of the Israeli hostages said to me: “It does not bring my child back if a Palestinian mother loses her child in Gaza.”

Humanity is indivisible.

That’s why, in all international forums, I have refused to only speak about the suffering of the people on one side. I strongly believe that it makes us all safer if we see the suffering of the other. If we take the needs of the other into account.

It is this humanity that makes democracies stronger and safer.

And that is my second point. Israel’s greatest strength and its best protection is its humanity, its commitment to democratic values, to international law and human rights.

Looking back at the past nine months, what has struck me is the incredible resilience and humanity of the people of Israel.

After 7 October, people from all backgrounds – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, others – rushed in to help, opening their homes, providing support. It shows how incredibly strong the Israeli nation is when it stands together.

Israel’s democracy is diverse and vibrant. Israel’s strong democratic values form the backbone of this nation.

I have to admit – it is particularly in this knowledge of Israel’s democratic strength that I find certain reports so disturbing. The allegations of mistreatment of detainees from Gaza, not only at the Sde Teiman site. Reports of how extremist settlers in the West Bank are brutally driving Palestinians from their homes, far too often without being duly prosecuted. And, very recently, reports of how certain members of the Israeli cabinet are pushing for the financial destruction of the Palestinian Authority and measures which further entrench the occupation of the West Bank.

These reports are so disturbing because they do not reflect what I believe unites us, as strong democracies.

The knowledge that we are strongest when we uphold human rights, international law, when we rally around these values, united, at the heart of the international community.

That, I believe, is key, and it brings me to my third point: lasting security will only be possible together with partners.

Because isolation is the enemy of security.

I see and I share the frustration at the fact that many in the world refuse to condemn Hamas for its atrocities. We have spoken out on this, relentlessly, particularly at the United Nations.

But we have also seen in the past weeks that partnership is and remains indispensable.

We saw how Israel’s regional neighbours helped to avert Iran’s aggressive drone and missile attack on 13 April. This was a glimpse at what might be possible in the region in security cooperation one day.

We see how international partners, through the UN mission UNIFIL and other instruments, are seeking to prevent further escalation at the border with Lebanon.

We also see how the international community, and Israel’s Arab partners in particular, have rallied around the desire to help end the war in Gaza, by putting proposals on the table.

The plan that President Biden presented, based on Israeli proposals, and that was endorsed by the UN Security Council – by partners from the Arab world, from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa – is a clear path towards that goal.

Towards a ceasefire, the release of the hostages. Towards lasting security for both Israelis and Palestinians. And like many other participants who have spoken at this conference today, we urge Hamas to accept this plan. And we count on Israel to stand by its commitments.

I am aware that not everyone in Israel approves of President Biden’s outline. Some call for continuing Israeli control of Gaza, for a war that goes on indefinitely.

I want to ask in all sincerity:

How would an endless war help the security of the families who want to return to their homes in Sderot, in Kiryat Shmona?

How would it end the suffering of the relatives of the hostages?

And how would more suffering in Gaza bring more security to Israel?

Israel has achieved real success in its effort to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities.

And, crucially, Hamas is now facing a situation that it always wanted to prevent: Israel’s Arab neighbours have come together to contemplate a better future for the region, ways to create security for Israel and Palestinians. This is what we should build on.

And that means, and this is my fourth point, that we need to take a realistic look at the shape of a future Gaza.

A Gaza where Palestinian women, men and children can live in dignity, without fear – and, crucially, a Gaza from which Hamas no longer poses a threat to the existence of the State of Israel.

We have spent the last weeks engaging with our international partners on how to move towards that future.

Most urgently:

How do we end Sinwar’s and Deif’s reign of terror in Gaza?

What kind of governance would come after that?

How do we finance economic reconstruction? How do we ensure these efforts are not exploited to build new terrorist structures?

Eventually, it’s clear that Palestinians must assume security responsibility for all of Gaza. But until that is the case, Israel needs to be certain that its security needs are being met.

With our Arab, US and European partners, we have been considering this issue, asking how an international presence could project security in the interim.

What does Israel need, and what do the Palestinians need? And – as international partners – what should our respective responsibilities be? What would each of us be willing to contribute?

As a country that was able to grow its democracy after World War Two through the help of its partners, we know how important a broad and long-lasting international commitment, especially a security commitment, is in such efforts. Just as our partners were there for us then, we want to be there for them today.

We are grateful that our Arab partners are driving this conversation.

They have been explicit: without a roadmap towards a Palestinian state and without assurances that this will be the last war in Gaza, they will not start investing in Gaza’s reconstruction.

This important message deserves to be heard, including in Israel. We have to consider their vision together with what we Europeans, Americans and others are willing to offer.

And it’s clear, I tell all sides, that women need a place at the table in any peace negotiations. We see it around the world: peace treaties don’t last if women – half of any society – are not included.

If we want the PA to eventually assume a role as the legitimate governing authority in Gaza, it has to actually be in a position to do so.

With civil servants who are capable of providing public services, with a private sector that can help to meet the enormous humanitarian needs and, crucially, with police and security forces that are properly trained to ensure safety and public order.

For that to happen, the PA needs to reform. But the PA also needs adequate resources to take on this enormous task. It’s therefore counterproductive to withhold the funds the PA is entitled to.

When the salaries of teachers and doctors are no longer fully paid, this has dire consequences.

In the current situation, it’s dangerous and self-defeating to destroy and destabilise established PA structures.

I say this with a particular view to the West Bank, where the illegal expansion of settlement projects is doing exactly that.

To build lasting security and stability, Israel needs capable partners it can rely on.

A reformed PA should be such a partner.

Israel’s regional neighbours should be such a partner.

We are such a partner.

A partner who also knows that the path towards lasting security will be very difficult.

But – coming back to the beginning of my speech – throwing up our hands in resignation is not an option, because that won’t end the pain of the hostages’ families, and it won’t end the suffering of the innocent children in Gaza.

Hamas’ cynical strategy must not succeed.

So that together, we can work towards a better future.

A future in which security is not fragile, but lasting – because it is built on the solid foundations of humanity, international partnership and the premise that no one is safe unless their neighbours are safe.

Because your lasting security is paramount for us.


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