Opinion

Germany Is Repaying Its post-Holocaust Debts to Israel - but Not to the Palestinians

Europe, whose anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust, also has moral and historical obligations towards the Palestinians, who still suffer its consequences

A general view taken on May 8, 2017 shows houses owned by Jewish families before the 1967 Six-Day war and now occupied by Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron.
'Ending the occupation doesn’t mean steps must be taken against Israel, but rather for the Palestinians.' Houses now occupied by Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron. May 8, 2017 HAZEM BADER/AFP

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become increasingly far removed from news reporting, and from people's minds as the refugee crises, the threat of American isolation under President Trump, the war in Syria, Brexit and the fight against Islamic extremism dominate headlines. Its resolution used to be an American and European policy priority.

After many failed attempts at a solution, a status quo appears to have set in. The conflict continues to be viewed with discomfort but also with helplessness and a certain disillusionment, as unsolvable.

This is all the more tragic as the opposing camps strengthen their isolation, the situation of Palestinians consistently worsens, and even optimists cannot easily assume that the current U.S. government will take a sensible approach to the conflict.

But it is especially tragic that this year and next, we will observe two sad anniversaries, particularly for Palestinians.

In 2018, we will remember the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba ("the Catastrophe"), following partition and the founding of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, which led to the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from the former British mandate. Over 5 million direct descendants of displaced Palestinians still live in forced exile.

And on 10 June 2017, we will commemorate 50 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, a factually and morally intolerable state of affairs.

Even those who contend that the 1967 Six Day War was necessary to defend Israel, cannot deny that the occupation has been an absolute catastrophe, not just for the Palestinians but also for the Israelis, both strategically and morally.

A child with a Palestinian flag painted on its face along with Palestinian supporters takies part in a rally against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Thousands of anti-Israel protestors took to the streets marching on the South African parliament building to protest against Israeli occupation and strikes on Gaza, in recent time.
Schalk van Zuydam / AP

Half a century has passed, and a resolution to the conflict seems more distant than ever. No one today can expect a young Palestinian or a young Israeli to reach their hand out to the other. But despite the fact it's not trending in popular culture and media, the conflict is still important, indeed, it is of vital significance, not only for the people of Palestine and Israel, but for the entire Middle East, and for the world.

That is why, on the 50th anniversary of the occupation, I call on Germany specifically and Europe in general to make the resolution of this conflict a priority once again. This is not a political but rather a conflict between two nations who are both absolutely convinced that they have the right to the same, small piece of land. If today more than ever, Europe is stating with a loud voice that it must be stronger and more independent, then this new strength and independence entails the clear demand for the end of the occupation and recognition of the Palestinian state.

As a Jew living in Berlin for more than 25 years, I have a special perspective on Germany's historical responsibilities within this conflict. I am only able to live freely and happily in Germany because the Germans have faced and processed their past. Of course, even in modern-day Germany, there are worrying trends on the far left against which we all must fight. But by and large, however, German society has grown into a tolerant, free society aware of its humanitarian responsibilities.

Of course, Germany and Israel have always had a particularly stable relationship; Germany has always rightfully felt particularly obligated to Israel. But I must go one step further: Germany also has a special obligation to the Palestinians.

Palestinians make their way through Israeli Qalandia checkpoint to attend the first Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, near the West Bank city of Ramallah June 2, 2017.
MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS

Without the Holocaust there never would have been a partition of Palestine, there would have been no al-Nakba, 1967 war, and occupation. This is not only about German responsibility for the Palestinians but rather that of all Europeans: Anti-Semitism was a pan-European phenomenon and the Palestinians continue to suffer from its direct consequences, even though they themselves are in no way responsible for it.

It is absolutely necessary that Germany and Europe accept their responsibility toward the Palestinian people. The ongoing occupation is unacceptable, both morally and strategically, and must stop. This does not mean that steps must be taken against Israel, but rather for the Palestinians.

Germany and Europe must demand the end of the occupation and adherence to the pre-1967 borders. To promote a two-state solution with Palestine finally being recognized as an independent state. A just solution to the refugee crisis must be found. The right of Palestinians to return must be recognized, and implemented in cooperation with Israel. The fair distribution of resources and the guarantee of fundamental human and civil rights of the Palestinians must be asserted. Ensuring this is Europe's task, especially now in light of the changing trans-Atlantic and intra-European world order.

50 years after we may be far from resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But only if Germany and Europe start to accept their historical responsibility now and take measures on behalf of the Palestinians, then perhaps we can prevent marking the 100th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands 50 years from now, with no change having been achieved at all.

Daniel Barenboim is general music director of La Scala, the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Together with the late Edward Said he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians.