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Despite political tension, Berliners take to the streets to celebrate Israel

Israel Independence Day celebration in Berlin, May 2017
Polina Garaev/i24NEWS
'This event feels like a vacation in Israel," said one reveler

While politicians clash, Berliners took to the streets on Friday to show that the German-Israeli bond is stronger than ever. 25 German-Israeli organizations belatedly marked Israel's Independence Day with a street festival at the heart of touristic West Berlin.

Passersby were invited to drink Israeli beer, eat freshly-made hummus and try out folk dancing under the watchful eye of the police. Some stands sold products imported from Israel, Hebrew-language books and even blue-and-white neckties and inflatable hammers – for a proper Independence Day celebration.

“This is an opportunity to share Israel with the German public and I think it's important, but also you can't argue with the facts – Israel is a success story,” Israel's Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman told i24NEWS.

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

But with reports of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries making headlines over the past weeks, the event also served as an opportunity to show that there is much more than politics that binds Israel and Germany together.

“There are different aspects to the relationship, also cooperation in science and culture," explained Jörg Gehrke of the German-Israeli Congress, which organizes such events across Germany. “And we are gathered in such a public place instead of behind closed doors, so everyone could see and join us.”

“This event shows how much Israel has to offer in so many different fields. This seems to be forgotten sometimes, when all we talk about is the conflict,” said German parliament member Volker Beck, speaking to i24NEWS.

The special relationship between Israel and Germany recently took a hit, after German Foreign Minister Gabriel insisted on meeting with left-wing NGOs critical of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies. The recent visit by German President Steinmeier to Israel was meant to resolve tension, but also caused outrage in Germany after he laid a wreath on Arafat's tomb.

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

“Our politicians seem sometimes to think that the special part of our relationship is to especially criticize Israel,” noted Beck, who heads the German-Israeli parliamentary friendship committee. “I am for a crucial dialogue, but we should do that with all friends and enemies alike, to apply the same standard.”

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally for the German society to stand up for the right to exist and for the security of Israel, and that's why we have to come here and demonstrate,” he added.

“It is not our job in Germany to tell other people how to deal with the conflict,” stressed Jochen Feilcke, who heads the German-Israeli Association (DIG) in Berlin and Brandenburg and orchestrated the event.

“German politicians drop in, make some statements and leave, leaving other to deal with the trouble. They should mind their own business. But even when there are maybe some differences between German and Israeli politicians, it is our main interest to gather people who are real friends of Israel, without any ifs and buts.”

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

Many of the participants in the festivities felt the same. “Minister Gabriel's behavior was unacceptable, in my opinion,” stated Eva Maria, a DIG member. “Others may see it differently, but I don't like that. There is always Israel-bashing happening and that's unfair.”

“This crisis isn't new and it escalates more and more,” agreed Kerstin, another visitor. "That's why it is important that one stands up for Israel whenever there's a chance and shows support. And this event feels like a vacation in Israel.”

"Between politicians anything can happen," said Jürgen, a young man standing next to one of the stalls, “but we are not limited to just that. There is also a connection between people, and that's still a good connection.”

Polina Garaev is i24NEWS' correspondent in Germany

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