Joachim Gauck and Reuven Rivlin have celebrated 50 years of diplomatic friendship between Germany and Israel. The German president used his trip to Israel to express sympathy for the country's current plight.
German President Joachim Gauck had words of support for his hosts at the start of his trip to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.
"We have achieved so much. Let's work together to make sure we don't lose that, and stick together," he said, before adding: "Germany stands beside you."
Gauck's second trip to Israel as German president was a short visit, in difficult times. The situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories has been tense for months. There are knife attacks nearly every day, people are regularly killed or injured, and fear hangs in the streets of Israel and the West Bank.
"It hurts us Germans to see that attacks are being constantly committed against Israeli citizens. It moves us," Gauck said, speaking to Israel's President Reuven Rivlin. "We want to express our sympathy."
Israel's President Rivlin also commented on the terror attacks of the recent weeks: "Violence and intolerance – as well as religious persecution – are present again on the streets of Europe and Jerusalem, and in many parts of the Middle East."
"I believe that we need to show, in Berlin and Jerusalem, that we are prepared to address these challenges," Rivlin said.
Gauck, for his part, remarked that his trip to Jerusalem had made him re-evaluate his view on violence and terrorism. "I sense it myself: now that terrorism has come closer to us in Western Europe, I can understand – better than ever – the threat which Israelis have lived with for decades."
Learning to listen, using music
Still, the main purpose of Gauck's two-day visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was to celebrate 50 years of friendship between Germany and Israel. Part of the celebrations was a performance at the Israeli Opera by the St. Thomas Boys Choir and Gewandhaus Orchestra, both from the German city of Leipzig. The German president was greeted enthusiastically by the audience there.
The musicians performed the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, which tells the story of Jesus' birth. Those in attendance seemingly loved the performance.
"I believe that Germany is sending you its warmest greetings with this music," Gauck said. "This is one of the most-loved pieces of music in Germany."
The Israeli president used the occasion to comment that music is a good way to help people learn to listen to each other. "The relationship between Israel and Germany is not uncomplicated and that's how it will always be," he said, adding that things were still complex and difficult at times between the two countries, just as they were 50 years ago. It's a relationship that required plenty of support, monitoring and a certain sensitivity, he said. But Rivlin still described the bond between the two countries as "friendship."
Gauck saw this simple description as deeply moving.
"When you have the feeling that something good can grow, after hell has done its worst, when you have the feeling that you are entering a reality that is bringing people together - then it is not just good politically, it is good for the soul too," Gauck said.
A message to the next generation
Gauck arrived on Sunday in good spirits at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate. He used the occasion to send a message to young students in attendance, saying that he hoped that the country's decision-makers of the future would have the strength to create a society that everyone yearned to be part of, a place characterized by "respect, justice, freedom and security."
Gauck also took the opportunity to promote a peaceful resolution to the current situation in Israel and the West Bank. "I hope that Jews and Palestinians can finally stop this cycle of violence, and that they come together peacefully and willingly," he added.
At the end of his trip – in the official residence of Reuven Rivlin – Gauck also spoke out about the problems between the two countries, saying that the strength of the relationship should make that possible.
Specifically, he was talking about the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program, which Germany helped negotiate.
"When Germany gets involved like this, it is not about working against Israel's interests. It is also not defeatism or backing down," he said. "It is a desire to play a role and to take on responsibility."
He also said he was pleased that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured him that he wanted to improve living conditions in the Palestinian territories.
On this point, though, Gauck also made Germany's allegiances clear: "We will never let anything come between us and a steadfast relationship with Israel."