Debate event with Israeli military spokesman Palestinians demand cancellation of Bonn event

Bonn · On 26 February, Israeli military spokesman Arye Sharuz Shalicar will speak at an event organised by the German-Israeli Community (DIG) at the Evangelical Forum in Bonn. The Palestinian community mobilises against this, distributes flyers and calls for the event to be cancelled. How do the church and DIG react?

There were also numerous demonstrations by the Palestinian community in Bonn after the war broke out in the Middle East. Photo: Benjamin Westhoff

There were also numerous demonstrations by the Palestinian community in Bonn after the war broke out in the Middle East. Photo: Benjamin Westhoff

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

In the run-up to an event organised by the German-Israeli Association (DIG) in Bonn, the Palestinian community has harshly criticised the event. Nevertheless, the lecture "7 October and the Iranian regime. Background and the role of Germany" is to take place on 26 February. The Protestant church, whose forum serves as the venue for the event, also wants the Palestinians to have their say - but on a different day.

"7 October marks a turning point. Not only for Israel's army, security forces and intelligence services, but also for its dealings with its neighbours," reads the announcement for the event. The aim is to answer questions: How was Hamas able to prepare this attack on Israel? What role does the Islamic Republic of Iran play in this and is there now a threat of open and direct confrontation between the two? But they also want to discuss how a lasting peace can be achieved.

To this end, the DIG has invited reserve officer Arye Sharuz Shalicar, who is also a writer and political scientist and has been the spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) again since 7 October. As well as the political scientist Aras-Nathan Keul, who specialises in Germany's relations with Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Bonn police have announced that they will accompany the event, also with a view to possible demonstrations.

Criticising the "mouthpiece of the Israeli government"

For George Rashmawi, spokesperson for the Palestinian community in Bonn, this is a red rag. In an open letter, he calls for the event to be cancelled. "The DIG has consistently acted as a mouthpiece for the Israeli government and has endeavoured to deny, relativise or justify its crimes," he writes, referring to the precarious humanitarian situation in Gaza caused by the current war.

Rashmawi also criticises Shalicar himself: He posted on Facebook at the beginning of January: "ALL children in #Gaza have been indoctrinated and trained from an early age to become murderers, rapists and kidnappers since #Hamas took power in 2007. #Hamas must be eliminated." Rashmawi: "A statement that dehumanises all Palestinian children as well as their parents in order to lower the inhibition threshold for the use of lethal force against them." The Palestinian community also distributed leaflets to churchgoers in front of the Protestant church proclaiming their own position - without the church knowing anything about it.

This is not the first time that the Palestinian community has called for a boycott of a discussion: in mid-January, they demonstrated against the solidarity event "100 Days of Attack on Israel" at Bonn University because they felt that the high-calibre panel was too one-sided.

"No intention of allowing our right to freedom of assembly to be contested"

As member Jan Eickenboom explains, the German-Israeli Society only received the open letter via third parties. For him, there is no reason to cancel the event. "Hamas has been firing rockets at Israel and murdering Israeli civilians for years. We are not aware that the Palestinian community in Bonn has ever criticised these atrocities," he says. They repeatedly organise rallies in Bonn without the DIG intervening in any way. "That's their right. For our part, we have no intention of allowing our right to freedom of assembly to be contested." That's why they are looking forward to the presentation by the Israeli army's press spokesperson, including on the role of the Iranian regime. "We welcome the fact that the Protestant church is providing us with premises.“

Church promotes controversial discussions

Its press pastor Joachim Gerhardt explains that the Evangelical Forum is in favour of allowing controversial positions to be discussed and debated. "However, we also expect controversial discussions to be conducted in a civilised and respectful manner. This event will also have to be measured against this," said Gerhardt.

In view of the catastrophe of war and violence for so many people in Israel and Gaza, it is important to the Protestant church that attempts are made time and again to look at the complexity of the situation from different perspectives. "In this respect, this event is just one of many on the topic with different emphases under the umbrella of the Protestant Church.“

At the same time, he points out that the World Day of Prayer on 1 March was largely prepared by women from Palestine. "In the services that we celebrate in many of our churches and to which we cordially invite you, we will very consciously recognise the situation of Palestinian Christians and pray with their words.“

(Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach; Translation: Mareike Graepel)

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