Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas during a debate in the German Bundestag on the missile attacks on Israel and the escalation of violence in the Middle East

19.05.2021 - Speech

The Middle East is currently embroiled in the worst violence it has seen in years. This has been caused by the massive rocket attacks launched by Hamas. More than 3500 missiles have been fired at Israel in the last few days at places near the Gaza Strip where people often only have a few seconds to seek shelter but also at cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands have to flee to bunkers. We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. Nothing can justify these attacks, and that includes the events at the Temple Mount the weekend before last.

That is why Israel has the right and the duty to protect its citizens. Hamas caused this escalation very deliberately with horrific consequences for the Israelis and Palestinians, above all for the people in the Gaza Strip. Too many lives have already been lost, including dozens of children on both sides. This has to stop and it has to stop as quickly as possible, ladies and gentlemen.

A few days ago we proposed a three-stage plan to that end. Stage one of the plan is an immediate stop to Hamas missile attacks, stage two agreement on a ceasefire and stage three steps to finally deal with the complex causes of this conflict. There is no alternative to direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ladies and gentlemen, our involvement in all efforts to bring this about goes much further back than the last few days. This involvement now includes sending EU Special Representative Koopmans to the region as decided yesterday at the EU Special Council and above all the mediation efforts that we ourselves have engaged in in recent days as well as in the past through intensive talks with Israelis and Palestinians but also with the United States, our European partners and with Egypt, Jordan and also Qatar and others who have an influence on the two parties.

Ladies and gentlemen, this conflict does not just inflict immense suffering on Israelis and Palestinians time and again. Each and every time, there is also the risk that the conflict spreads across the entire region.

There is another development which is truly shocking: the ongoing violence also within Israel and the West Bank that we have seen in recent days. The situation is Jerusalem certainly poses the greatest challenge here. Since the start of Ramadan, the unrest has left hundreds injured. We are therefore also extremely concerned by the images of violence on the Temple Mount, the Haram al-Sharif, Islam's third-holiest site.

All parties ultimately have an obligation to preserve or re-establish the historic and legal status quo of the holy sites. Our partner Jordan plays a very central role here which must be upheld.

When we now talk about de-escalation, then we of course also address Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories and the planned clearance of Palestinian homes, for example in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem which indeed also sparked the confrontation in Jerusalem.

And so, a solution that can permanently end the violence in the Middle East can only be one that allows both sides to live self-determined lives in peace and security. I am sure that the people both in the Palestinian territories and in Israel yearn for nothing more than peace and security.

We are therefore absolutely convinced that only a negotiated two-state solution can achieve this. The painful truth is that by far not enough has been done here in recent years. The less realistic this prospect, this aim – and all those who now believe the two-state solution is dead and buried should be aware of this –, the greater the danger that radical actors such as Hamas grow in strength. That is exactly what we are seeing right now.

Ladies and gentlemen, but first and foremost – and that is the focus now – the massive rocket attacks by Hamas need to stop so that the bloodshed can end and the weapons can finally fall silent. That remains our utmost priority not just here in Germany but in the entire European Union. This is the only way for humanitarian assistance to really reach the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. That is also part of the painful truth. We have to improve the humanitarian situation of the people who live there to deprive Hamas of the breeding ground that it uses to mobilise these people.

There is something else we can do, ladies and gentlemen: antisemitic preachers of hate, rabble-rousers and those committing acts of violence here in our own towns and cities must meet with the full force of Germany’ rule of law, regardless as to whether they have always lived here or came here in the last few years.

After all, everyone living in Germany whether on a permanent or temporary basis needs to know that there is not an inch of room for antisemitism on our streets, never and never again!

Thank you.


Top of page