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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article19 October 2023Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations6 min read

Speech by President von der Leyen at the EP Plenary debate on the despicable terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel, Israel's right to defend itself in line with humanitarian and international law and the humanitarian situation in Gaza

President von der Leyen

Madam President, dear Roberta,

High Representative, Josep,

Minister Albares,

Hamas' terror has plunged Israel and Palestine into a new spiral of violence. Last night, a senseless tragedy has shocked us all. A hospital in Gaza – sheltering hundreds of wounded people – was turned into a hell of fire. The scenes from Al-Ahli hospital are horrifying and distressing. There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians. 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. And let me express my condolences to the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Arras. Tragically, we see that terror is resurfacing again. It is also terror that brings us here to this debate. The heinous terror attacks of Hamas on Israel. What we have seen in the Kfar Azza kibbutz is pure evil. The blood, witness of horror, the burned houses, the abandoned children's toys that no child would ever touch again. Hamas' terrorists slaughtered over 1,400 men, women, children and babies in one day. For one single reason, because they were Jews, just living in the State of Israel with the explicit goal to eradicate Jewish life.

Israel has the right to self-defence, in line with international law. Hamas are terrorists. And the Palestinian people are also suffering from that terror. And we have to support them. And there is no contradiction in standing in solidarity with Israel and acting on the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. I have visited Israel many times in my life. But this time, I saw a nation that is shocked to the core. I was struck to hear the same request from all the people I spoke to. From President Herzog, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, all forces in the unity government, from families of the abducted. They all asked for solidarity and clear words. And this is the least we can do for the people of Israel. This horror calls for a united response from us. As human beings, as defenders of a free world, as citizens of Europe where hate, terror and racism have no place. Europe stands with Israel in this dark moment.

This is the essential starting point. And 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.

We first have to listen, if we want to be listened to. And indeed, during my visit, I discussed Israel's efforts to protect civilian lives. There can be no hesitation on our side: Europe will always be on the side of humanity and of human rights.

Allow me to update you on our work to address this dramatic situation, and the broader crisis that Hamas has unleashed.

Let me begin with the humanitarian situation, which is getting worse by the hour. Humanitarian aid must urgently reach Palestinians. This is why we have decided to immediately triple our humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. And we have launched an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to Egypt, to bring life-saving supplies to humanitarian organisations on the ground in Gaza. The first two flights are taking place already this week, carrying humanitarian cargo from UNICEF. We have deployed our staff, and we are working with UN agencies to ensure that this aid can reach those in need. The European Union has always been the largest international donor to Palestine. And this will not change. But as the situation on the ground evolves, it is also essential that we urgently and carefully review our financial assistance for Palestine. EU funding has never gone to Hamas or any terrorist entity. And it never will. What Hamas has done has nothing to do with the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. So, it was good to hear President Abbas' clear words that came out on Sunday evening.

My second point is about the regional situation. Hamas' actions have major geopolitical implications. We know that they risk affecting the historic rapprochement between Israel and the Arab countries. But there is nothing inevitable in this. Instability can be contained. Dialogue between Israel and its neighbours can and must continue. So this time of war must also be a time of unrelenting diplomacy. A moment to engage even more closely with Israel and with other countries in the region. I have been recently talking to several Arab leaders, including the King of Jordan, the President of the UAE, as well as the President of Egypt. All were very clear about the importance of our EU funding. And the European Union with its massive funding, we are the largest donor, has not only leverage but also has a stake in it.

Thirdly, we are seeing a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including here in Europe. Synagogues have been vandalised. Hate speech and fake news are spreading at worrying speed. And this is something that we simply cannot accept. It is our shared responsibility to make sure that our dark past does not return. We have to protect Jewish life in Europe. 

In these years, we have put the fight against anti-Semitism and all hate crimes at the heart of our action. Thanks to our collective work on the Digital Services Act, we now have laws to take down illegal content online and contain the spread of disinformation. And we are now using them for the first time ever. We have already launched an investigation in relation to X, formerly known as Twitter. They must comply with the obligation to counter the spread of terrorist propaganda and hate speech. Because in Europe, there is no place, and zero tolerance for hate, whether online or in our streets.

We have also stepped up our work to ensure the physical security of Jewish communities. We have already increased EU funding for the protection of places of worship – such as synagogues. And at the beginning of the mandate, we proposed to add hate crimes and hate speech to the list of EU crimes, that must be sanctioned all across our Union. Our proposal is still blocked by some Member States. But it cannot wait any longer. It is time now for Member States to act and move on.

Europe's history is a history of diversity. Jewish values have shaped our common European values. Among others, Jewish culture has for centuries enriched our common European culture. And this must continue to be the case. European Jews must be free to wear a kippah or a star of David in our streets. And to light our cities with the candles of Chanukah in their windows. And every European must be free from fear. We must make good on Europe's promise to be united in diversity to be a safe place for all Europeans.

Honourable Members,

This is the moment for all of us to come together to join forces against terror in all its forms. And to do what is right. I will now go back to Brussels to join a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the recent terror attack in Brussels.

I thank you for your attention.

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