News | 04 December 2023

Empathy, human rights and international law – united for the future

A statement from Germanwatch on terror and war in the Middle East – on the occasion of COP28 in Dubai

Germanwatch is an association that supports the implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and related global goals on the basis of democracy and human rights. As such, it does not wish to remain silent on the terror and war taking place in the Middle East, which is, after all, not so far away from where the UN’s climate summit is taking place. We want to speak out even though we do not cover the conflict in the Middle East in our day-to-day work. In this statement, we are therefore primarily addressing fundamental positions. We hope that our statement will contribute to constructive debate – especially a dialogue within civil society – in Germany and beyond, including at the UN’s climate summit in Dubai, which we are attending.

The objectives of Germanwatch, as set out in its articles of association, include:
"The promotion of understanding between the peoples of the global North and South, whose people are equally entitled to sustainable development, the promotion of an international mindset, tolerance in all fields of culture and the peaceful shaping of a common future worldwide. [...] The association aims to strengthen awareness that only through mutual learning and shared responsibility between North and South in the sense of a multilateral human rights-based order, vital global problems can be solved."

We are currently following the debate in Germany and internationally with a strong sense of unease. The discourse needs to be more nuanced in order to avoid driving people and governments apart and towards destructive polarisation.

We can see that every word spoken – and every word left unspoken – can harm people in this situation, partly because the current events are linked to the deep-seated trauma that the people of the region have experienced in past decades. This may result in bias in the debate – both in what is being said and what is being heard – due to these existential experiences. We therefore understand why the views held on the events in the Middle East are so varied. However, we draw the line at racist, antisemitic positions and, in general, expressions of opinion that violate the dignity of other people.

On this basis, we wish to state the following:

As an organisation focused on human rights, development and the environment, we condemn all violations of human rights and international law, regardless of who carries out these violations. Human rights are universal. All roads to peace must be based on mutual empathy, on human rights and on international law. This is what we advocate in any war and whenever human rights are violated.

Protection of human dignity is the basis for Germany’s steadfast solidarity with the state of Israel, and it is therefore also the measure for any criticism of the specific actions of the Israeli government.

Standing in solidarity with Palestine cannot mean remaining silent on the terror unleashed by Hamas as a conscious act of barbarity and on the continued holding of hostages, who are mainly Israelis. It is also impossible to remain silent on the reports indicating that Hamas is committing the war crime of using the civilian population in Gaza as a human shield.

Hamas is not a liberation movement fighting for decolonisation. It is an autocratic terrorist organisation that is antidemocratic and misogynistic, as can be seen from the Hamas charters of 1988 and 2017.

Expressing solidarity with the people in Israel does not have to mean remaining silent on the possible crimes against humanity, the growing military occupation of the Palestinian territories, the illegal expansion of settlements, the daily acts of humiliation and provocation, and the right-wing extremism of the Israeli government.

Against this backdrop, we want to show our solidarity with all people – especially civilians – who are affected by terror and war. Far too rarely do Jews in Germany hear outside of public statements how deeply sympathetic we are and how horrified we feel about the unfathomable attack on peaceful people, some of whom were dancing at the time. Far too rarely do Palestinians in Germany hear that we realise how much they have suffered in past decades and that it is high time a durable solution is found.

We support the calls for a lasting solution for peace to be negotiated as soon as possible. We plead for adherence to international humanitarian law and human rights, to the non-partisan resolution of human rights crimes on both sides and to the granting of access and support for humanitarian organisations.

The “right of every State in the area (…) to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of violence”* (as formulated in international law) and the call (including in UN resolutions) to end the occupation of Palestine represent the basis for a long-term solution for the region.

We condemn all hostility towards and threats against Jews, Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, and we condemn propagandist expressions of inhumanity and the use of immigration policy as a tool for pursuing populist objectives – everywhere, but especially in Germany. Our duty as democrats is to stand up for our fellow citizens, to live alongside them in peace and dignity and to help to ensure they receive constructive support from our governments.  

War is also torpedoing efforts to stem the climate crisis. Indeed, the continued escalation of the climate crisis may precipitate new wars. As an organisation that is heavily involved in international climate change mitigation, we were very moved – especially in view of the climate summit in Dubai – by what a group of Jews and Muslims living in Germany recently wrote: “Now, more than ever, the people in the Middle East need as great an effort for peace and as much climate action as possible. Now, more than ever, the regions of the world that are vulnerable to climate change need a global society that resists being pushed towards increased polarisation and that takes firm action against the existential challenges of our time. Now, more than ever, global efforts to combat climate change and achieve peace need as many good examples as possible of how understanding and solidarity are more powerful than the fuelling of fear and animosity. Now, more than ever, we all need a climate movement that does not contribute to divisions by unilaterally assigning blame and that harms the common cause, but instead champions solidarity.” With this in mind, we too will be pushing for a landmark outcome to be achieved at COP28.


* Our emphasis.