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Possible German Peacekeeping in Mideast Sparks Unease in Israel

DW staff (sp)August 17, 2006

Germany's possible contribution to an international peacekeeping force in the Middle East has raised misgivings not just within the country but also in Israel -- particularly among Holocaust survivors.

The idea of German soldiers possibly turning their guns on Israelis has prompted uneaseImage: AP

The intense debate underway in Germany over whether the country should contribute to a peacekeeping force on the Israeli-Lebanese border is highly sensitive given the country's Nazi past and the fact that six million Jews were murdered during the Third Reich.

The idea that its armed soldiers might turn their guns on Israelis has triggered deep unease in Germany and politicians across party lines have expressed skepticism about a peacekeeping deployment with military overtones.

Reservations in Tel Aviv

Jahrestag Auschwitz Holocaust Marsch der Überlebenden
Israeli leaders during the 'March of the Living' in the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in April this yearImage: AP

The issue has sparked misgivings among an older generation of Jews, too -- those who survived the Holocaust and have painful memories of suffering and loss.

Shlomo Shafir, an 82-year-old historian and writer in Tel Aviv who has been following the news on the formation of an international peacekeeping force, said he is opposed to the idea of Germans participating in the mission.

"I'm against it because I believe that it would threaten our good relations," Shafir told Bavarian public radio BR. "I personally see the Federal Republic of Germany as the best German state in German history."

A Holocaust survivor, Shafir was born in Berlin and survived a concentration camp in Lithuania and later another satellite death camp of Dachau in Bavaria.

"If a German soldier shoots an Israeli, then the whole row will start again -- with the Nazis, the Bundeswehr, then the Wehrmacht etc.," Shafir said.

That fear is shared by some in Israel. A high-ranking general told the same radio station that if Germany were part of the peacekeeping force, the Israelis would not be able to deal with it in light of their shared history.

"You can't blame them because they're Germans"

But, not everyone sees a possible German deployment in the Middle East as a bad thing.

Ruth Berkeley, another Tel Aviv resident, said German soldiers equipped with a robust United Nations mandate should be allowed to train their guns on Israelis too, if need be.

"That's their responsibility then, part of their work," Berkeley told BR. "In the same way that accidents happen here -- that we shoot people we didn't mean to shoot -- they can take place even then. You can't then blame them because they're Germans."

Berkeley who lives with her husband Zeev -- who she calls Wolfgang -- in Kfar Sava near Tel Aviv, is in her 80s and increasingly speaks in German with her husband. In the 1930s both of them fled to England to evade persecution by the Nazis. Zeev left behind his mother in Germany, Ruth Berkeley only had her visa with her. The trauma has left lasting scars.

"I still can't just easily travel to Germany," she said. "My heart is still heavy -- there's a pain that's still there. But we again have a lot of friends (in Germany)."

Zeev Berkeley added that his experience with the Holocaust had nothing to do with the question of whether German peacekeepers should be stationed in the Middle East.

"I can't blame the people who are soldiers today just because their great-grandparents or grandparents were Nazis or possibly Nazis," he said.