Credit: ZM / BD

Czech Government Faces Calls To Moderate Position On Israel-Gaza Crisis

The Czech Republic’s rigid stance on the conflict in the Middle East, uncritically copying the Israeli government’s position and defending its actions in Gaza, is distinguishing it from the vast majority of democratic countries, former ombudswoman Anna Sabatova said yesterday.

She made the comments in an online message to a press conference calling for a change in the Czech government’s attitude towards the Middle East crisis.

In an open letter released earlier this week, a number of prominent Czech public figures said they considered the Czech government’s attitude to be unacceptable, and contrary to the principles of international law. The letter is addressed to the government, the president, and the parliamentary and senate foreign affairs committees.

A humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions has been unfolding in Gaza for weeks, said Sabatova, one of the signatories of the appeal. “We are deeply concerned that the Czech government is uncritically copying the position of the Israeli government, that it is defending its unacceptable actions in Gaza, and that it has not changed its position even after the International Court of Justice issued a preliminary injunction,” she said.

The letter was also signed by priests such as Tomas Halik and Bishop Vaclav Maly.

The Palestinian Hamas movement, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and EU, carried out a brutal incursion into southern Israel on 7 October last year, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 hostages. 

In response, Israel launched an intense military assault on the Gaza Strip, which has so far killed almost 28,000 Palestinians, according to the authorities, mostly women and children. In addition, Israel’s almost blanket restrictions of food, water, electricity, and communications in the territory has caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and left hundreds of thousands of people without shelter, and at risk of famine and infectious diseases. 

International human rights and humanitarian organisations have described the ongoing bombardment as the most deadly conflict of the 21st century so far, with 1 in every 100 inhabitants of Gaza dying. Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) warned Israel to take “every available measure” to avoid indiscriminate killing of civilians, responding to charges brought by the Government of South Africa that genocide was taking place in the territory. 

More than 800 public officials from the United States and Europe signed a statement in early February warning that their governments may be contributing to serious violations of international law by supporting Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

According to petition organizer Jana Hradilkova, the call on the Czech government is neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian, but is intended to open up space and encourage debate. The signatories called on the government to join the ICJ’s call for immediate provision of sufficient humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict, to oppose violence against civilians and the actions of extremists on both sides, and to support the international community’s steps towards a just settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Responding to the call, Transport Minister Martin Kupka (ODS) said after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that nothing had changed and would not change in the government’s support for Israel. He said the cabinet was not indifferent to the human cost of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, but that he considered it important to maintain “a clear and understandable position”.

Other signatories to the letter included political scientist Zora Hesova, human rights activist Anna Hradilkova, university teacher Filip Outrata, the former deputy Czech ambassador to Israel Antonin Hradilek, Prague 1 Mayor Pavel Cizinsky, and writers Radka Denemarkova and Alena Wagnerova.

Pavel Fischer (independent), the chair of the Senate foreign affairs committee, said on Czech Television on Wednesday evening that he had invited the signatories of the letter to a meeting on Friday, and they confirmed this yesterday. Fischer said there was good will in the letter, but it “needed to be confronted with the reality of the international situation”.

Jaroslav Bzoch (ANO), vice-chair of the foreign affairs committee, told a shadow cabinet press conference yesterday that he believed the appeal lacked a solution. “Israel cannot just lay down its arms right now and let Hamas continue to operate,” he said, adding that Israel was under attack and had the right to defend itself.

Meanwhile, Frantisek Banyai, the chair of the Prague Jewish Community, said yesterday that he appreciated the attitude of the Czech government to the crisis. “I thank you and the members of the government of the Czech Republic and many members of the judiciary for seeing the context and supporting Israel in its struggle against murderers who have never once shown remorse for the murdered, who hold the defenceless captive, continually threatened murder and violence and the destruction of the State of Israel, and call for a new Holocaust for millions of its inhabitants,” Banyai wrote to Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS).

Mojmír Kallus, chairman of the Czech office of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) said in a statement that the organisation supports the Czech government’s position. “The Czech Republic is one of the few countries that have maintained a morally clear stance on Israel after the October 7 massacre. We appreciate that there is a consensus between the coalition and the opposition in this regard,” he wrote in a statement sent to CTK.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also weighed in on the situation in Gaza on Wednesday, remarking during a visit to Israel that the number of Palestinian civilian casualties from the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip was too high.

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