Ursula von der Leyen, German politician, President of the European Commission defended her closely watched trip to Israel, and called on the European Union to intensify efforts to protect the civilian population in Gaza.
Ursula met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the following day, she released a short statement that backed Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorists, in full respect of international humanitarian law.
“Last night, a new, senseless tragedy shocked us all,” she said, referring to the strike that hit the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. The explosion is said to have killed hundreds of Palestinians who had sought shelter in the hospital, and it is still unclear who was behind the strike.
“The scenes from al-Ahli hospital are horrifying and distressing. There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians,” von der Leyen went on.
“All facts need to be established, and those responsible must be held accountable. In this tragic hour, we must all redouble our efforts to protect civilians from the fury of this war.”
For the past 10 days, Ursula von der Leyen’s words and actions have been the subject of intense scrutiny as critics reproached her for expressing steadfast support for Israel without emphasising the need to respect international law and exercise restraint.
For the first time since the war started, the Commission chief faced lawmakers of the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, and she didn’t hesitate to use the opportunity to defend her response to the rapidly evolving war.
“There is no contradiction in standing in solidarity with Israel and acting on the humanitarian needs of Palestinians,” she said.
Von der Leyen further denounced the “heinous terror attacks” by Hamas “with the explicit goal to eradicate Jewish life” and said Israel was “shocked to its core” by the “pure evil” unleashed against the nation.
Referring to her trip to Israel, she said: “I believe it was important to pass this message of solidarity in person, in Israel, just days after the Hamas attack. Only if we acknowledge Israel’s pain, and its right to defend itself, will we have the credibility to say that Israel should react as a democracy, in line with international humanitarian law. And that it is crucial to protect civilian lives, even and especially in the middle of a war.”
The president, who did not vividly address the criticism she received, said her visit included discussions about “Israel’s efforts to protect civilians’ lives” and also pledged that the EU’s position as the largest donor for Palestinians “will not change.
“EU funding has never gone to Hamas or any terrorist entity. And it never will,” she told lawmakers, underlining the urgency to review development funds. “What Hamas has done has nothing to do with the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.”
Von der Leyen concluded with a stern warning about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents across Europe and the hate speech spreading like wildfire online in reaction to the Israel-Hamas war.