Germany recalibrates backing for Israel as Palestinian death toll spirals

Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock reframes October 7th attack by Hamas as double-edged tragedy and the ‘start of a nightmare without end for the people in Israel and Gaza’

Berlin is adopting a more critical stance towards Israel as German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock’s latest Middle East mission dovetailed with that of her increasingly vocal US colleague Antony Blinken.

Three months after 1,200 Israelis were killed in the October 7th Hamas attack, according to Israel, the Palestinian death toll of more than 23,000 has seen German officials recalibrate their refrain of support for Israel with careful criticism.

On her fourth visit to the region in three months, Ms Baerbock held political talks and met former Hamas hostages in Jerusalem, insisting that “no more danger for Israel must be allowed come from Gaza, Hamas must lay down its weapons”.

Recalling those still held hostage and the daily reality of rocket strikes, the minister said Israel could “depend on our solidarity in the battle against this blind terror”. But she called on Israel to do more “to protect civilians in Gaza”.


“It must find ways to fight Hamas without many Palestinian people suffering damage to life and limb,” she said.

Immediately after October 7th, German statements focused on the shock and suffering of Israelis. Now the foreign minister has reframed October 7th as a double-edged tragedy, “the start of a nightmare without end for the people in Israel and Gaza”.

Amid growing discussion over Gaza’s post-conflict status, Ms Baerbock insisted “there must be neither any Israeli occupation nor a settlement”.

Israel says its army is in a new phase of more targeted warfare and will not allow Palestinians from northern Gaza back to their homes if Hamas refuses to free more of the Israeli hostages it seized on October 7th. More than 100 of the about 240 hostages taken in the October 7th attack were freed during a truce in November, but Israel says up to 123 remain in captivity.

Ahead of meetings with Palestinian officials, Ms Baerbock said people in the West Bank and Gaza deserved “a chance of a life in security, dignity and self-determination”.

Near Ramallah, however, Palestinian farmers showed Germany’s chief diplomat just how little security and dignity they are afforded by radical Israeli settlers. Families in Al-Mazra’ah Al-Qibliyah told Ms Baerbock of growing night-time attacks since October 7th by settlers who, in some cases, block access to their homes and olive groves.

“They simply come over here to me and hit me,” reported one farmer. Another added: “The settlers simply come and drive us out with weapons. A week later they set fire to our house.”

During the minister’s visit, a drone – most likely operated by settlers – buzzed loudly overhead and followed her conversations with locals.

Ms Baerbock said it was the responsibility of the Israeli government “to implement and enforce the rule of law when there are attacks on people who live here legitimately and are attacked illegally”.

“Settlement construction is illegal,” she added. “It undermines lasting peace and endangers the two-state solution and thus also endangers Israel’s security.”

In Israel, the German foreign minister performed a U-turn to back the export of Eurofighter planes, built in the UK, to Saudi Arabia.

Germany’s coalition agreement explicitly bans export permits for arms to states participating in the Yemen war and with a record of human rights violations.

This clause was demanded by Green officials but the Green foreign minister said the post-October 7th reality required new priorities, particularly as Saudi Arabia was acting to shoot down rockets and drones aimed at Israel by Islamists in Yemen.

“We are very grateful for this,” said Ms Baerbock, adding that “we don’t see why we should block British considerations for further Eurofighters” for Riyadh.

The shift caught Green Party leaders in Germany off guard. Party co-leader Ricarda Lang said that, even in the new situation, the unchanged human rights conditions meant arms exports to Saudi Arabia were “still wrong”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin