Merkel's pat on the back doesn't resolve injustices

Merkel's pat on the back doesn't resolve injustices
Comment: Merkel's attempt to comfort a crying Palestinian girl reduces her and the cause of the Palestinian people to a mere humanitarian issue, says Ali Anouzla.
4 min read
24 Jul, 2015
Merkel appeared not to understand why Reem was crying [Getty]

The news that set Arabic social media on fire last week was not the visit by Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, to Riyadh, or the possibility of his group joining the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen, but the tears of a teenage Palestinian asylum seeker in Germany named Reem.

International news outlets shared a short clip of an uneven conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Reem, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl.

The clip starts with the Palestinian girl telling the most powerful woman in Europe in immaculate German: "I have goals in my life like everyone else. I want to go to university, that's a goal I want to achieve."

Before completing her simple and innocent message, Reem summarised her hardship: "It's really hard to see others enjoying their lives when I can't do the same."

The clip caused a storm on social media with many criticizing Merkel and accusing her of being "heartless".

The German Chancellor's response was as stern as her facial expression.

"I understand the situation, but at the same time this is the hard thing about politics sometimes," she said. "The way you're standing in front of me, you look like an incredibly nice person, but you know that there are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. If we say 'you can all come, and you call all come from Africa', then we wont be able to cope."

Before Merkel finished her sentence, Reem burst into tears.

The mystified Chancellor walked towards her to calm her down, patting the young girl on the back, saying: "You did it so well."

The presenter of the televised discussion responded: "I don't think its about doing it well, Mrs Chancellor, but about this being a very wearing situation for her."

The clip was only a couple of minutes long, but it caused a storm on social media, with many criticising Merkel and accusing her of being "heartless".

Some users mocked the Chancellor for responding to the young asylum seeker's tears with a pat on the back and a justification of her family's deportation.

The hashtag #merkelstreichelt, meaning "the Merkel pat on the back", also spread on social media.

Reem is a displaced Palestinian whose family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon before moving to Germany, where they now await the extension of their stay permit, or their possible deportation if their request for asylum is denied.


Western media and the German press focused on Germany's immigration and asylum policies, while social media users focused on Merkel's heartlessness. Meanwhile, the discussion ignored Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian issue more generally, which has been sidelined as a "mere" humanitarian crisis.

This incident reminds us of a similar incident that happened to US President Bill Clinton on a visit to Gaza in 1998. While Clinton met with children of Palestinian prisoners, one girl the same age as Clinton's daughter, who was with him on the trip, explained the hardships suffered by her imprisoned father and her family.

Clinton could not control his emotions and let slip a few tears, which he then wiped away with his handkerchief, then while holding the sobbing Palestinian girl's hand, handed her the same handkerchief to wipe her own tears.

Clinton's tears and Merkel's pat on the back show the hypocrisy of the West and its politicians.

In front of the world's press, Clinton promised the girl that he would work on getting her father released, and that the imprisoned father would be back home before the Eid.

Clinton left Gaza and the father remained in an Israeli cell, while the daughter, like the Palestinian cause itself, remained heartbroken.

The incident was the focus of a documentary about the families of Palestinian prisoners. The latest interaction between Reem and Angela Merkel comes as a reminder of the Palestinian displacement amid the large number of Arab calamities.

Displacement is no longer the preserve of Palestinians, but now extends to Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians and Druze.

The Palestinian cause was and will remain a just cause, with which every noble human who rejects oppression sympathises.

However, it should not be reduced to a mere humanitarian issue, as it is primarily a political issue - based on a rejection of injustice, and support for Palestinians' right to self-determination and the establishment of a free and independent state.

Clinton's tears and Merkel's pat on the back show the hypocrisy of the West and its politicians, who bear the historic responsibility for the occupation of Palestine.

Reem's tragedy is shared by millions of Palestinian refugees, spread across refugee camps and ghettos created by Israel, besieged on their own, occupied, land.

It is truly sad that the calamities of Arab populations become humanitarian cases begging for the world's sympathy - not political causes which require justice to be resolved.

We should not forget the daily suffering of normal people, but the calamities of entire nations should not be reduced to humanitarian cases that are dealt with by a pat on the back or a few tears.

The Palestinian cause continues to struggle against collective amnesia and political hypocrisy.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.