The 14-year-old Palestinian refugee who hit the headlines after breaking down when German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her that she could not stop her family’s possible deportation has said she hopes that one day Israel will cease to exist.
In an interview Sunday with the German weekly Die Welt, Reem Sahwil said she hoped to return to live in her ancestral homeland — free of Israel.
“My hope is that one day it [Israel] won’t be there anymore, but only Palestine,” she said.
Reem, who was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and currently lives in the eastern German city of Rostock, said she does not consider Germany to be her home.
“No, Palestine is my home,” she said.
Although she had never visited, she said, she intended to live there “one day.”
When asked what she considered to be Palestine, Reem answered “everything.”
“The country should not be called Israel, but Palestine,” she said.
The interviewer asked her if she was aware of the special relationship between Israel and Germany, and the strict laws against anti-Semitism in her adopted home.
“Yes, but there is freedom of speech here, and I am allowed to say that,” Reem answered. “My parents tell me that Israel expelled us from Palestine. That’s true, isn’t it?”
Reem garnered international media attention earlier this month after an awkward encounter with the German leader, during a televised discussion of the country’s asylum policies, left the teenager in tears.
After telling the Reem that she could not stop her family’s possible deportation, a video clip of Merkel attempting to comfort the sobbing 14-year-old went viral.
In a government-initiated discussion called “Living Well in Germany,” Reem told Merkel that her family had been informed they would have to return to a camp in Lebanon imminently, only to receive a last-minute, temporary residency permit for Germany.
Merkel expressed sympathy before defending her government’s asylum policies. “Politics can be tough,” she said.
“You are an extremely nice person but you also know that there are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon,” she said.
She added that Germany would be unable to shoulder the burden of all the people fleeing war and poverty who would like to move to Europe’s top economy seeking a better life.
Germany took in 200,000 asylum seekers last year and expects as many as 450,000 this year.