It was a shocking attack on two Germans that took place in the Palestinian city of Nablus last Saturday: a mob of around two dozen young men threw stones at a car with Israeli license plates and violently prevented the driver from driving on.
The attackers smashed the car's windshield, ripped a door from its moorings, punctured the tires and threatened the occupants with knives. The logo of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and a small Israeli flag were painted on the rental car. Numerous videos and photos of the incident are available to WELT.
One of the two Germans, Gerald Hetzel, is a member of the German-Israeli Society (DIG), an association that works to promote German-Israeli relations. Since the incident, there has been a heated debate in the Israel solidarity scene in Germany. Shouldn't the young man have known that it could be dangerous in the Palestinian territories with an Israeli flag on a car? Was it really just a tourist trip? Or maybe he even wanted to provoke?
Hetzel now has to listen to these allegations from parts of German-Israeli society. DIG President Volker Beck told WELT: “Carelessness, stupidity or a desire to provoke do not justify this Palestinian violence in Nablus. But driving into Area A with Israeli license plates against all warnings is irresponsible to your own life and to Israeli army soldiers.” Areas A are those areas in the West Bank that are controlled by the Palestinian Authority .
Beck raises a serious accusation against the member of his organization: "Gerald Hetzel is often and long enough in Israel and the areas. It smells like an irresponsible PR move.”
DIG Vice President Anna Staroselski, Chairwoman of the Jewish Student Union in Germany, is also clear: "I am really disappointed that a long-standing member of the DIG is knowingly pouring oil on the fire of the conflict." The violence of the Palestinian attackers is "naturally inexcusable".
"For me, this irresponsible action by an actor who knows the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians very well because of his years of commitment shows ignorance." Attention."
Hetzel clearly denies the allegations. “It was definitely not a PR campaign. My friend almost got stabbed. I think it's a pity that Mr. Beck, as DIG President, doesn't get in touch with me before he publicly comments on it," said the 26-year-old WELT.
In other Palestinian cities, he had no problems with Israeli license plates. "I saw in the eyes of the attackers that they wanted to kill us. We were nearly lynched and feared for our lives," he said.
According to Hetzel, the situation was resolved because a man in another car with Israeli license plates guided him and his companion towards the Israeli soldiers at the end of the town. “The man is a Palestinian from the West Bank living in Israel with his Israeli wife. He thought we were lost Jewish Israelis and told me he couldn't help but help us.”
The website of the Federal Foreign Office states that there are "increased massive clashes" in Nablus. "Travel to the region in and around the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus is strongly discouraged." The background: Nablus has become a center of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent months.
Israeli rental car companies do not allow travel into the Palestinian territories. Israelis are banned from entering the Palestinian Authority's A areas. At the start of the Second Intifada, two Israeli reservists were lynched in October 2000 after accidentally taking a wrong turn and heading to Ramallah.
In a public Facebook post by Hetzel, filmmaker Esther Schapira writes: "I'm so glad you're back safely! Precisely because you know the situation on the ground well, your admission that you had thought nothing of it and only planned a normal tourist trip is completely unbelievable. Hetzel not only has his life, but also that of the Palestinian rescuer and the Israeli Soldiers endangered "who should have intervened in the next step to save you".
The discussions within the German-Israeli Society also revolve around Hetzel's activities for the right-wing Israeli non-governmental organization "Im Tirtzu". A video from the organization in April 2022 shows Hetzel wearing an “Im Tirtzu” t-shirt in Jerusalem handing out candy to Israeli soldiers guarding the Temple Mount. In addition, Hetzel often travels to Israel with a leading functionary of the organization. The fact that he wanted to pay this official for member training caused a quarrel within the DIG.
"As a supporter of a right-wing group, this 'German tourist' was very aware of where he was going and what he was doing," says Vice President Staroselski. Hetzel denies the allegations. "I have no connection to 'Im Tirtzu'. I only took part in a campaign on one day and returned the t-shirt afterwards. It frightens and upsets me a lot to be placed in a far-right corner," he said.
Hetzel is defended by other members of the DIG. It is said, for example, that the trip to Nablus was naïve and negligent, but that a deliberate provocation was inconceivable. "He could have realized that this wasn't a good idea, but it certainly wasn't a deliberate provocation," says one member who asked not to be named. However, the Young Forum of the DIG must “deal more intensively with which organizations we work together in Israel”. But the main issue now is that a member of the Young Forum was attacked. "He deserves our solidarity."
Another member, who has known Hetzel for years from pro-Israel activism, accuses him of having to be aware that he is working with the "radical right" in Israel. "Still, I can't imagine that he intended to be lynched in Nablus."
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