Diplomatic honesty is key - opinion

The total disconnect between these two people for too many years has led to an inability to feel compassion or empathy for the pain of each other.

 EU REPRESENTATIVE to the West Bank and Gaza Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff visits a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip, in 2020.  (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
EU REPRESENTATIVE to the West Bank and Gaza Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff visits a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip, in 2020.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

During my 44-year career of working across the divide between Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and between Israelis and Palestinians, I have met and engaged with hundreds of diplomats.

Diplomats representing every country that has diplomatic relations with Israeli were interested in reading my articles, policy papers and I even wrote a Diplomatic Brief especially for this community for several years.

I became used to diplomatic talk and learned to discern when I was hearing official blah-blah, and when the diplomat was sharing his or her own political opinion or insights and observations.

Many times when we would get to know each other better, diplomatic protocol would give way to private honest and direct discussion. I have never been very diplomatic, and I almost always say what I believe and believe what I say.

That is why I can look many Western diplomats in the eye now and say “how can you still mouth the mantra of two states when you only recognize one of these states?” If there is a certain level of trust between us, the diplomat in question would usually admit that the two-state solution is probably not viable anymore, but in the absence of anything else, repeating the mantra goes on without question.

European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff walks during a tour of European Union representatives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, December 20, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff walks during a tour of European Union representatives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, December 20, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Keeping to the mantra is the only way to perpetuate the lie that despite that at least 50% of the people living between the River and the Sea are Palestinians, Israel nonetheless continues to call itself the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.

Last week, European Union Representative to the Palestinian Authority Ambassador Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, speaking in Jerusalem to the largest gathering of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers in years, organized by the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), did the most unusual thing: he spoke the plain, naked truth about the situation of the Palestinian people.

His words created a flood of complaints and anger among many right-wing Israelis and their supporters.

But what did he say that was not the truth?

“What do you think a child who sees the houses of their parents, their brothers and sisters demolished because he or she was a suspected or real terrorist will feel?” von Burgsdorff asked. “What kind of hatred will burn in this child? What do you think will happen?

We saw, a few months ago and in the last few weeks, terrible terror attacks perpetrated on Israeli territory. 20 innocent Israelis lost their lives. But don’t be surprised, because there is hatred burning in many of these young Palestinians... It does not matter whether you shrink the conflict,” he added.

“It does not matter if you provide economic incentives unless human beings also have dignity and justice... We need to bring to the fore and to the worldwide attention the plight the people of Palestine have been under for the past 74 years... Since 2008, thousands of Palestinians have been killed and only a handful of those perpetrators have been brought to justice - only a handful.”

We are not used to diplomats speaking so directly and so truthfully in public, but everything von Burgsdorff said was true.

JUST ABOUT every Israeli feels pain when an innocent Israeli is killed by Palestinians. It fills the news 24/7 and that pain leads to anger and even hatred.

The total disconnect between these two people for too many years has led to an inability to feel compassion or empathy for the pain of each other. Six young Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers during the past week. Not all of them were combatants and even those who threw stones or even Molotov cocktails did not have to be killed. They could have been wounded and captured. But today, the default of the Israeli army is almost always shoot-to-kill and there is complete impunity for the soldiers and usually no serious investigation of the killing even takes place.

Those of us who go into the West Bank to try to protect Palestinian farmers and shepherds in the north and the south of the West Bank witnessed violent behavior of illegal settlers during each outing, usually coming from unauthorized outposts built on stolen Palestinian land.

As the violent settlers let their wrath loose on innocent Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, Israeli soldiers stand by idly, watching or even actively protecting the masked violent settlers, even when the victims are Israelis who are there to prevent violence.

I can tell you of the anger I feel towards those soldiers who could be my relatives or neighbors. I see the hatred in the eyes of the Palestinian victims, which is matched by the burning hatred I see in the eyes of the violent settlers behind their masked faces.

What is difficult to understand? I commend Ambassador von Burgsdorff for speaking the truth. I commend his courage, knowing that he was likely to be attacked by many in the Israeli public, the Knesset and the government.

Von Burgsdorff is not anti-Israel and, as a German citizen, he knows his history well, and fully supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. He does not support terrorism in any form. But he also knows that for Israel to live in peace with dignity, the Palestinian people also need to live in peace with dignity.

There is no peace and no dignity with occupation. Israel can chant out loud for eternity that there is no occupation and that the territories conquered in 1967 were liberated and they belong to Israel and the Jewish people because God promised this land to them. That claim will buy no credit in the court of justice or for that matter in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Israel’s claim that only the Palestinians are to blame for their own plight holds no water, as Israel continues to displace Palestinians, demolish Palestinian homes, confiscate land and property, turn a blind eye to settler violence, arrest thousands of Palestinians every year, conduct military trials with no real due process, and more. Israel will not enjoy impunity forever and the Palestinian people will never disappear.

The writer, a political and social entrepreneur, has dedicated his life to Israel, and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.