Austrian President in Israel and Palestine

While the World Wide press was and is still occupied with the news of flying shoes of the Iraqi journalist thrown at U.S President George Bush during his visit to the occupied land of Iraq, I was busy following the news of Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer and his visit to Tel Aviv, occupied Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah to discuss bilateral treaties and relations, and the European engagement in the Middle East peace process.

19391The Austrian newspaper “Der Standard” reported briefly about the official visit of the Austrian President Heinz Fischer and his wife Margit and the ministerial team which accompanied them. Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP), Defense Minister Norbert Darabos (SPÖ), Education Minister Claudia Schmied (SPÖ) and the Vice President of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Commerce, Richard Schenz.

Before traveling to Tel Aviv, President Fischer met a group of Palestinians in his office at the Hofburg in Vienna. I was deeply impressed when I heard about the meeting and the visit, even if these persons who President Fischer met do not represent the Palestinians in Vienna, but ONLY represent themselves, their families and a small circle beneficiaries around them. Both Austria and Palestine are homeland to me since I live in Vienna, and I now consider President Heinz Fischer is my legitimate President.

President Fischer asked the Palestinians their opinion about the President of cimg03011Israel Shimon Peres. If I had been among these Palestinians, then I would have given my President a honest answer, different from what he heard. As a journalist, a peace activist and a defender of human rights, I know lots about the Israelis who expelled me from Palestine and denied me the basic rights to practice my journalistic work, and I also know the Palestinians, their psychology, the regime and our national rights.

President Dr. Fischer visited Israel on several occasions before. While heading the Austrian Parliament he visited Israel on 7 January 2002 by invitation of the Knesset. He stayed three days in Israel together with the Parliament member Anna Elisabeth Haselbach, and the Vice President of the Austrian Federal Council.

In 1963, President Fischer picked apples and took care of the chickens of the leftist Kibbutz “Sarid” near Galilee in the northern part of Tel Aviv.

How the Israeli Press covered the visit of President Fischer?

I followed the news about President Fischer’s visit in the Israeli press. The poor level of their coverage surprised me. The empty reports presented to the public opinion by the Israeli newspapers Ha’aretz, Ynet and Ma’ariv reported in full the details about what Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and… told, asked and reminded the Austrian President during the meetings, but they all ignored everything the Austrian President said and how he answered the Israelis during the same meetings.

For instance, Ynetnews wrote ”Prime minister tells visiting Austrian president that ‘we must not allow situation in which leader of a country carries speech on UN stage in which he calls for destruction of another country and receives a round of applause’, we must learn from history… Olmert spoke to Austrian President Heinz Fischer, the prime minister reminded Fischer of the…”. All the Israeli newspapers reported in same dramatic way about the visit of respected Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer.

Ha’aretz wrote: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak told visiting Austrian President Heinz Fischer on Monday that “I am not afraid of launching an offensive in Gaza, but I’m not running to Gaza. The defense minister spokeBarak said that Iran represents a threat to the stability of…and the article ended by the defense minister voiced his…”

The Office of the Prime Minister wrote: “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, this afternoon  met with Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer and the ministers who are accompanying him on his visit to Israel… Prime Minister Olmert briefed Austrian President Fischer on the diplomatic… the article ended with Prime Minister Olmert noted that on 9.11.08, Israel, Germany and Austria marked Kristallnacht, and said that …”

I was shocked after reading the material of the Israeli news which is published for the public opinion about the visit of Dr. Fischer. I asked myself, just as any reader will ask the same questions: What do these nonsense “news” mean? What is the purpose behind publishing these empty news? What did the Austrian President do and say during these meetings? Did he stay silent, enjoying the symptoms of … displayed in the faces of the Israeli politicians?

709_3617__pet5656Everybody who lives in Austria knows President Dr. Heinz Fischer. He is known through his work in the SPÖ, 38 years in Parliament, 12 years as the president of the Parliament, and then as the Federal President of Austria. Everybody knows that Dr. Fischer is a neutral and diplomatic President, and Israel and it’s journalists should understand that Dr. Fischer is not a soldier at the IDF, the Israeli defense ministry or in the occupied cities of the West Bank  sits in silence and receives orders and instructions from Ehud Barak , and Ehud Olmert and….

It would have been better if the Israeli newspapers did not publish anything about the visit of the Austrian President instead of posting the same old sick declarations repeated by all Israeli politicians. It would have been better if the Israeli journalists and newspapers had not forgotten the moral, the principles and the credibility of their journalistic work, and had instead reported in a responsible and objective way about what the Austrian President told Barak, Olmert, Peres, Netanyahu etc. We are sure that he said useful things which do not fit taste of the writers of the Israeli media and it’s censorship.

What did the Palestinian Press report about the visit of President Fischer?
The Palestinian Press did not report one sentence or even one word about 89262137488681229524403xsthe visit of President Fischer to Israel. It was as if they were reporting from another planet. The newspapers reported briefly about the short visit of Dr. Fischer to Ramallah during the last hours before he returned to Austria. The coverage of the visit of Dr. Fischer in the Palestinian Press was not different from the Israeli press coverage.

The journalists reported in full details what President Mahmoud Abbas said president-heinz-fischer-and-president-abbasto the Austrian President, and they reported something of what President Fischer said. The Palestinian described the visit of Dr. Fischer as a historical one. The Palestinian newspapers all posted the photos of President Fischer placing a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat. This was a gesture of respect set by Dr. Heinz Fischer. The news about his visit to Birzeit University appeared  shortly in the news pages, while the students of the University were proud and happy about this official visit.

What did President Fischer say during his visit that did not appear in the Press?

“President Fischer said at the end of his lecture at Tel-Aviv University, that the international political agenda includes the creation of a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, must have the opportunity of two in independent states living together in peace and security”.

“One of the main tasks of the new Austrian federal government and the European Union will have to deal with the problems of a global financial and economic crisis with courage and properly handle it”.

“The development of the European integration process is also a central task of the new federal government”.

“The international political agenda includes the creation of a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, both must have the opportunity in independent states in peace and security to live together”.

“President Fischer demanded that all Palestinian parties commit to the truce in order not to increase the suffering of the Palestinian people. He added that Israel should open the borders of Gaza and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, and end the blockade”.

“President Fischer promised to discuss the Shalit issue with President Bashar Al-Asad during the latter’s upcoming visit to Vienna, and he talked about international sanctions that should be taken against Iran”.

610x“Israeli construction in the West Bank must stop, because this peace process is difficult, and it must find a solution with which both peoples could live. We demand that the settlement expansion stops. Settlements distance the opportunities for a just and comprehensive peace”.

During his Speech at Tel Aviv University: “according to the Documentation Archive of Austrian Resistance more than 90.000 Austrians were arrested for political reasons by the Nazi regime, and nearly 5.000 people were – in addition to the approximately 65.000 Jewish victims of Nazism – were executed as resistance fighters for political reasons” .

President Fischer said to Israeli president Peres during the talk about the Iranian nuclear weapons that “the war is not a solution for problems between countries”. “The strong wish of the international community, the United Nations Security Council and the European Union is that Iran must not threaten another country – particularly Israel – with atomic weapons.” Fischer did not offer an explanation as to how this should be done.

President Fischer at Birzeit University

President Heinz Fischer was welcomed by Birzeit University President Dr. Nabeel Kassis, the Vice-Presidents of the University and the Governor of Ramallah and Bireh, Dr. Said Abu-Ali.

19395The name of Birzeit University comes from Birzeit, the village and area where it is located. It means “well of oil” in Arabic, as a reference to the abundant olive groves and the rich harvest of best quality olive oil traditional to the area. Today the surrounding area has been “confiscated” in order to build illegal jewish colonies, and most of times the colonists and the IDF impede access of the students to Birzeit University.

At the University, the students welcomed President Fischer and his wife with flowers. Big smiles of happiness spread on the face of Dr. Fischer and his wife in Birzeit University. The smile of President Fischer and his wife presented them as young and lovely students of the University itself. At the University Dr. Fischer spoke to the students. He concentrated on the important need of the education as a basic right for the Palestinian students, and he promised the students to carry their demand to the Europeans. He confirmed that Austria supports building two states for living together in justice and peace in Palestine.

19394President Fischer listened as Palestinian students talked about the right of education and the importance of education as an international human right, guaranteed by international law.

Student Sama’a Qur’an talked about the obstacles which face the educational process at the University under the continuous occupation and its military laws, and the Israeli court system which has affected the University students and professors.

Student May Tahboub exposed some details about the obstacles to education, especially the Israeli military checkpoints which are everywhere and affect the freedom of movement of the students. She mentioned that the Israeli checkpoints have been turned into Israeli detention sites, where the military catch and torture the students and other Palestinian civilians during their daily life.

Rawan Dagher exposed the Israeli laws imposed on the entry of foreigners, which obstruct the process of academic exchange between Birzeit University and abroad.

Omar Kassis presented his experience in administrative detention, during which the Israelis jailed him for no reasons and without trial in order to hinder his education process.

The President of the University, Dr. Nabeel Kassis, spoke about the 19390historical establishment and development of Birzeit University, which was established as a school for girls, developed into a mixed school for boys and girls, was later transformed into a secondary school, and then into a college which developed into the first Palestinian University in the occupied territories. The University comprises 8 faculties and 11 centers and institutes, wherein 40 bachelor programs and 20 master programs are offered.

In Ramallah, President Fischer met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and he place a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat. They held a closed session and discussion in Al-Mokatah in Ramallah, and after that they held a joint press conference.

President Fischer In Israel

During the four days of President Fischer’s visit to Israel, he met President 610reutersxShimon Peres, the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Defense Minster Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. President Fischer opened an Austrian-Israeli business forum together with Austrian Federal Chamber of Commerce Vice President Richard Schenz.

President Heinz Fischer visited Tel-Aviv University and delivered a speech about “The Austrian Republic is 90 Years Old”. He received a honorary doctorate from the University. President Fischer also opened in Israel an exhibition of contemporary Austrian art.
President Heinz Fischer attends an event with Holocaust survivors at the Tel Aviv Museum.

In Jerusalem, President Fischer visited the holy old city, he prayed in the holy part of the Jews, he place a wish paper in the holy wall, according to the Jewish faith. President Fischer also met with the extremist, radical Israeli orthodox settlers who are against the peace process and who believes that all of Palestine belongs to them and that they are the chosen people of God.

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