'One horror does not justify another'

Touring south, EU foreign minister tells Israel not to act from ‘rage’ in Hamas war

Josep Borrell implies war has a high casualty and humanitarian toll because of Israeli fury over terror group’s October 7 massacre of 1,200 people

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell tour a destroyed kindergarten in Be'eri, November 16, 2023 (Ronen Horesh / Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell tour a destroyed kindergarten in Be'eri, November 16, 2023 (Ronen Horesh / Foreign Ministry)

BE’ERI — European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that Israel must not act out of “rage” while waging its war against Hamas, in comments made while visiting communities devastated by the terror group’s October 7 rampage across southern Israel, the trigger for the ongoing military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

“I understand your fears and pain…I understand your rage. Let me ask you not to be consumed by rage,” Borrell said, sitting in the Eshkol Regional Council building alongside Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. “Because what makes the difference between a civilized society and a terrorist group is the respect for human life.”

Cohen said that Israel will continue its war until it has destroyed Hamas and returned the approximately 240 hostages held in the Gaza Strip. Israel set out those goals after 3,000 Hamas and other terrorists killed 1,200 people across southern Israel, most of them civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, on October 7.

Borrell, like the 27-member EU, said that Israel has the right to defend itself, but expressed concern over the expanding humanitarian crisis in Hamas-held Gaza, as well as casualty counts reported by the Hamas-run health ministry, now surpassing 11,500 people.

The Gazan health ministry does not separate figures into combatants and noncombatants, and both Israel and the US have expressed skepticism over their statistics, though UN agencies have stood behind them.

Urging better conditions for Gazan civilians, Borrell said that “one horror does not justify another.” The EU has pressed for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza and pauses in fighting to enable its distribution, among other civilian needs.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell tour the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri, November 16, 2023 (Ronen Horesh / Foreign Ministry)

Earlier this week, the EU slammed “the use of hospitals and civilians as human shields by Hamas.” Israel is currently operating for the second straight day within Gaza’s largest hospital, after long asserting that Hamas has headquarters under Shifa’s broader medical campus. The White House has backed up Israeli claims, citing US intelligence.

The callout of Hamas was notable amid some EU member states’ increasingly aggressive criticism of Israel. Top Belgian officials have pressed for sanctions against Israel over its war with Hamas, and the Belgian parliament declined to screen a raw footage compilation of Hamas atrocities.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier this month said Israeli war-making was “something approaching revenge,” at the time some of the strongest criticism against Israel by the head of an EU member state.

Borrell’s comments, made after visiting the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest-hit communities with about 20 percent of its members either killed or kidnapped by Hamas, aligned with the sentiment behind Varadkar’s remarks and reflect a broader EU view that Israeli military activity should be tempered to protect civilians, even with the acknowledgment that Hamas deliberately embeds itself in their midst.

“Hamas has to be defeated but…Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people,” Borrell said.

Hamas formally came to power by winning 2006 local elections in the Gaza Strip, and then overthrew Palestinian Authority leadership in the territory in a bloody 2007 coup.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell tour the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri, November 16, 2023 (Ronen Horesh / Foreign Ministry)

Borrell, whose title is High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, has invested time in the past year in advancing talks with regional stakeholders to further a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The best homage we can give to the victims is to think about how to prevent these horrors from happening again,” Borrell said, adding: “Our duty is to look for peace.”

Cohen, who led Borrell and Ireland’s foreign minister around Be’eri on Thursday, said, “We all should be united to free Gaza from Hamas.”

Despite the EU’s condemnation of Hamas’s attack and support for Israel’s right to self-defense, conducted in line with international law, the bloc has not put forward an alternative plan for the ongoing war that would both neutralize Hamas’s threat to Israel’s safety and sufficiently protect Palestinian civilians.

In particular, Israel has said that any protracted pause or ceasefire would be tantamount to aiding Hamas, as it would enable the organization to regroup and launch further attacks against Israelis, as it has stated multiple times since October 7 is its goal.

Borrell arrived in Israel on Wednesday and was expected to meet with additional Israeli ministers and the president on Thursday, as well as representatives of families of hostages held by Hamas, before traveling to the West Bank for meetings with the Palestinian Authority.

On Friday, Borrell is slated to travel to Bahrain.

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