German diplomat Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, who represented the European Union in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip for the past four years, went paragliding off the coast of Gaza this week to raise awareness for a “Free Palestine,” possibly in violation of Israeli regulations.
“For the first time in Gaza sky, the E.U. Representative paraglides on the beach for Gaza and Palestine,” the European mission in Jerusalem announced on Monday in a Facebook post that included pictures of Von Burgsdorff’s flight over the Mediterranean Sea.
“The first Gaza paragliding flight in history. What does it tell us?,” the envoy told the Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news agency following the event. “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.”
In a statement to JNS, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the stunt “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, likewise called it a “provocation unworthy of a diplomat.” Ruissen said he would be filing parliamentary questions to E.U. foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell “as soon as possible.”
As part of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO in the 1990s, it was agreed that Israel would retain full control over the Gaza Strip’s airspace. In 2009, Israel and Egypt imposed a land and sea blockade on the territory to reduce the flow of weapons being imported by Hamas.
In response to the terror organization’s attempts to misappropriate materials intended for civilian use, Israel has instituted additional restrictions on the import of so-called dual-use items. “Parachutes, windsurfers and model airplanes,” as well as “other flying vessels [that] are not powered by engines,” usually require a special permit to bring into Gaza.
Answering a question from Reuters, a spokesperson for the E.U. Delegation to the Palestinians confirmed that the paraglider belonged to Von Burgsdorff, suggesting that the diplomat managed to bring it past border security. He was some 50 meters up in the air for at least five minutes, the spokesperson said, adding that Israel was not informed as it was a “purely local and sport activity.”
The spokesperson did not clarify what Von Burgsdorff meant by a “Free Palestine.” The European Union does not recognize a Palestinian state, although some of its 27 member states do.
JNS has reached out to the E.U. office for clarification regarding Von Burgsdorff’s remarks.
‘It’s all Palestine’
Von Burgsdorff’s visit to the coastal enclave, which concluded on Monday, marked the end of his posting in the region. During his almost four-year tenure, the diplomat regularly attacked the Jewish state.
Earlier this month, the E.U. representative criticized the Israel Defense Forces over the “proportionality” of its recent counterterror operation in Jenin, which he claimed violated international law.
In May, during a visit to Samaria, Von Burgsdorff said that “there is no such thing as Area B and C, it’s all Palestine.” Areas A, B and C are three administrative zones in Judea and Samaria established under the Oslo Accords that Brussels regards as the cornerstone of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
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 Tuesday, P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas awarded Von Burgsdorff the “Star of Jerusalem” medal. Abbas specifically lauded Von Burgsdorff’s efforts in “supporting the Palestinian people and their just struggle to achieve their freedom and independence,” a statement said.