Speech by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at the 241st session of the National Council on Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel
by Alexander Schallenberg
Dear Madam President Ladies and gentlemen of the House, Dear visitors in the gallery! I just want to say that I am grateful. Grateful for this unanimous decision in this House. This is a really important signal that also strengthens my position. We must never forget: October 7 really was a breach of civilization. In terms of its cruelty, it was a day that actually eclipsed everything. In a region that is not short of atrocities as it is. I will never forget when I received a phone call on that Saturday with the question: Mr. Federal Minister, how good are your stomach nerves? And I said yes, they are good. And then I was sent videos and photos that I knew were authentic. These pictures will never leave me again. The last time I saw something similar was in connection with the Daesh videos. The cruelty, the bloodlust, the dehumanization. And I am therefore very grateful that we have such a clear position here in Austria. I believe that each and every one of us is called upon to take a clear stance on terrorism - no matter where, no matter how. Murder is murder! You must not put something into context, because that means relativizing it. Never in the history of mankind has a conflict come out of the blue. There is always a prehistory for everything. Also for the Russian attack on Ukraine, which we have not put into context either. And of course international humanitarian law applies. But that is precisely the difference - and several MEPs have emphasized this - that Israel is a constitutional state, a pluralistic democracy. It is struggling, it is trying to find the right path. And MP Matznetter also said that we don't want to be in the IDF's shoes. Because it's almost an inhuman task to keep a cool head in such an emotionally charged situation. Yes, they drop leaflets. Yes, they warn. They call for evacuation. They try to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. And yes, we see what we have actually always known, that Hamas deliberately uses civilian facilities such as schools, refugee camps, hospitals and others for their command centers, tunnel entrances, to hide their weapons there. In other words, as a democracy, as a constitutional state in the fight against terrorism, one hand is always tied behind its back. But that is the right thing to do, it has to be that way. You can see from Israel that they are trying. Three points now have priority: The first point is to prevent a wildfire. This is still not averted. It could end up being a three-front war. We are of course keeping a very close eye on developments in northern Israel and in southern Lebanon with Hezbollah. But, and I would like to emphasize this in particular: Austria is not blind with one eye, we see with both eyes. This applies to the West Bank. And I have to say quite frankly: I consider the settler violence that we see in the West Bank to be intolerable. It is also a lack of solidarity. We are currently dealing with a situation in which the Israeli army is stretched to the limit. And then I think it's a lack of solidarity within Israeli society if some people think they can vent their anger, their emotions and set fire to the West Bank. That could lead to a third front. We have to be very clear about this. The second point is of course - as has already been mentioned several times - the unconditional release of the hostages. I had the opportunity to meet some of the survivors of October 7 here in Vienna last week. It really got under your skin. When you meet a father who tells you that he is actually almost relieved because his child is among the dead and not among the hostages, it's hard to imagine what that must mean for these people. We have to stay on it. This is a terrorist organization, there can be no ifs and buts. There can be no negotiations. They must release the hostages unconditionally. The third point - this is also important to me: I myself was one of the first ministers to put development cooperation with Palestine on hold and ordered an evaluation. We do not want to support Hamas. At the same time, however, we do not want the civilian population to suffer. That would again be fertile ground for the next extremism. We have therefore made EUR 2 million available for humanitarian aid via the Austrian Development Agency. A further EUR 6 million for the region - for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan - which of course run the risk of being destabilized. I think it is good that the European Union has quadrupled humanitarian aid. But, and we saw the European Commission's report on development cooperation a few days ago, I believe we must not be naive. In future, we in Austria will take a very close look at which partner organizations - whether in Gaza or Israel, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mozambique - we work with. What does it say on their websites? What does the umbrella organization in which they are affiliated say? Is there racism, is there anti-Semitism? Are there lines that we cannot support because of our values? This is also a lesson for me from the horrific incident on October 7. In future, we need to take a much closer look at exactly who we are helping and how. Thank you very much!