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EU distances itself from German envoy’s Gaza stunt

MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen filed formal questions to E.U. foreign-policy chief Joseph Borrell in response to JNS's reporting.

E.U. diplomat Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff went paragliding off the coast of Gaza to raise awareness for a "Free Palestine." Credit: European Union.
E.U. diplomat Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff went paragliding off the coast of Gaza to raise awareness for a "Free Palestine." Credit: European Union.

The European Union has distanced itself from the actions of its outgoing envoy in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip after he went paragliding over the Mediterranean Sea for a “Free Palestine,” possibly in violation of Israeli regulations, Dutch daily De Telegraaf reported last week.

In a July 17 Facebook post that announced German diplomat Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff’s flight off the coast of Gaza, the European mission in Jerusalem wrote that “for the first time in Gaza sky, the E.U. Representative paraglides on the beach for Gaza and Palestine.”

“You can fly here. You can kayak, you can horse ride, you can swim, you can surf; everything is possible in Gaza. Once you have a free Palestine, a free Gaza, you can do exactly the same thing,” Von Burgsdorff, who once served as a paratrooper in the German army, told the Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news agency following the event.

Von Burgsdorff has yet to clarify what he meant by a “Free Palestine.”

As JNS exclusively reported on July 19, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the stunt as “another provocative action of the head of the E.U. technical assistance office.”

Von Burgsdorff “forgot a long time ago that he represents the European Union and its member states, and continues to represent the Palestinian narrative and to be a propaganda tool in the hands of the terrorist organizations that control Gaza,” he added.

European Parliament member Bert-Jan Ruissen, vice chairman of the parliament’s Delegation for relations with Israel, filed written questions to E.U. foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell in response to JNS’s reporting.

“The flight took place without prior notification, while following the Oslo Accords Israel retains full control over the Gaza Strip’s airspace,” noted Ruissen, adding that Von Burgsdorff reportedly “brought the paraglider past border security using his diplomatic immunity, despite restrictions on the import of dual-use items, that include paragliders, [that] are in place.”

Last Wednesday, Borrell’s office told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that Brussels distances itself from the stunt. “This activity was carried out in a personal capacity. No permission was sought from headquarters. This is not required for all activities of [E.U.] delegation heads, by the way,” Borrell’s spokesperson told the publication.

The statement did not elaborate on the claim that the envoy abused his diplomatic immunity to smuggle the paraglider into Gaza.

This month’s diplomatic gaffe marked the end of Von Burgsdorff’s posting in the region. During his almost four-year tenure, the diplomat regularly attacked the Jewish state.

Last year, amid a wave of deadly attacks, Von Burgsdorff seemingly blamed Israel for Arab terrorism. “What do you think a [Palestinian] child who sees the houses of their parents, their brothers and sisters demolished because he or she was a suspected or real terrorist will feel?” he reportedly said at a conference in Jerusalem. “What kind of hatred will burn in this child? What do you think will happen?”

During a reception at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah on July 18, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas awarded Von Burgsdorff the “Star of Jerusalem” medal. Abbas specifically lauded his efforts in “supporting the Palestinian people and their just struggle to achieve their freedom and independence,” a statement said.

In addition, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh last week hosted a farewell dinner that was attended by “distinguished members of [the] P.A.,” the German representative in Ramallah disclosed on X. According to Oliver Owcza, attendants unanimously praised Von Burgsdorff’s “dedication, professionalism, and humanity.”

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