Israeli flags adorn EU buildings after Hamas attacks. Is the bloc united?

After Hamas’s unprecedented attacks in Israel, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Bulgarian parliament were among buildings across the European Union that were lit up in the white and blue of Israel’s flag.

In other demonstrations of solidarity, the European Commission and European Parliament hoisted Israeli flags outside their headquarters in Brussels.On Wednesday, as part of a European Parliament vigil led by its president, Roberta Metsola, a minute’s silence was held to commemorate the Israeli victims and the country’s national anthem was played through speakers.

The Hamas assault on Saturday set off a major new war, with Israel now preparing a ground invasion of Gaza, having blockaded the besieged strip. More than 2,000 people on both sides have been reported killed since Saturday.

“This is a strong message against terrorism in Israel,” an Austrian tourist in Paris said of the Eiffel Tower display.

“So what if it is the EU stance on the conflict now?” said the woman, who requested anonymity.

But some said the gestures do not represent them.

“As a European citizen, I felt that my voice was erased through that action,” Elena, from Italy, told Al Jazeera.

“I was shocked. Especially when I saw [the Israeli flag] on the EU Parliament building. It’s the house of democratically elected representatives of Europe, many of whom do not simply ‘stand with Israel’.

“I was also shocked at how quickly the EU institutions put up the flags, I think it was even faster than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Considering the incredibly complex situation of Israel and Palestine, I think this rapid step is incredibly irresponsible.”

One EU official, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera: “It makes me feel like I’m working for an organisation that is endorsing apartheid.

“Did the commission put the Palestinian flag up when the IDF shot teenagers in the ankles last week? Or when they killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh? What Hamas is doing is terrible – but is it any different to what the IDF does every week?” the official said, referencing the May 2022 Israeli killing of Al Jazeera’s journalist, and recent reports that Israeli troops have been targeting young Palestinian protesters.

But, the bloc’s foreign policy chief’s spokesperson, Peter Stano, said that now is not the time to squabble over demonstrations of support, but rather focus on the grave situation in the Middle East.

“We are the only ones actively pursuing the restart of the peace process and are the biggest donor to the Palestinian people anyway,” he told Al Jazeera.

Diplomatic fallout
On Monday, as Israel retaliated to Hamas’s attacks by bombarding Gaza, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said that the European Commission would suspend 691 million euros ($728m) in developmental aid to Palestine, sparking a brief diplomatic fallout.

The foreign ministers of EU nations such as Spain, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg criticised Varhelyi’s announcement, saying only the bloc’s foreign ministers can make such a decision.

“But where were the other countries, like Germany? Member states need to stand up against this rogue commissioner,” the EU official told Al Jazeera.

The EU has since back-pedalled, saying it won’t suspend the aid but rather review payments to ensure they are not misused. Even so, tensions remain.

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