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We are after Hamas militants, not civilians in Gaza - Israel Ambassador to Kenya Michael Lotem

National
 Israel ambassador to Kenya Michael Lotem. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Israel Ambassador to Kenya Michael Lotem has described the ongoing conflict back home as a sad moment for his country.

The ambassador reflected on the sombre atmosphere terming it a poisonous one for the Israel people who have always wanted to do good but have been faced with difficult times owing to unfriendly neighbours who want them out.

Speaking to The Standard from his office at the Israel Embassy in Nairobi, the ambassador shared insights on the complex history pitting Israel and its neighbours in a perpetual state of conflict.

Lotem gave a historical overview of the Israeli-Hamas conflict beginning with the establishment of the State of Israel, after 2,000 years of wandering in different parts of the world and how the creation of a new state was met with resistance from Arab nations, leading to a series of wars.

In 1993, says Lotem, Israel took a significant step by acknowledging the Palestinian Authority and signing the Oslo Accords, granting it control over the populations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In 2000, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinian Authority a final solution, to possess 95% of what they wanted. Subsequently, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, but the territory was later taken over by Hamas, an extremist anti-Israel group, leading to a cycle of violence and rocket attacks.

This interview reveals the complexity of the situation, with Ambassador Lotem emphasizing that the conflict was not just about land or economics but it is rooted in an illogical ideology that seeks the destruction of the state of Israel. He compares attempts to negotiate with Hamas to trying to reason with extremist groups like ISIS. He insists that there are no two sides. The state of Israel will not negotiate with Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad.

Ambassador Lotem has good things to say about Kenya which he considers a good friend to Israel. It has had a proactive approach and emphasized that Israel is committed to sharing its knowledge and expertise with this country.

The ambassador also spoke about his family life in Kenya, discussing the country's beauty and the peaceful surroundings that his family enjoys here. The Israeli diplomat lives in Nairobi with his wife, Yael. He believes that living in Kenya 'is paradise".

Here is the full interview;

Shalom, Ambassador Lotem. It's a pleasure to have you here. How are you holding up during these challenging times?

Shalom, Persil. I've had better days, to be honest. These are profoundly sad days in Israel - very tough moments for our people.

I can imagine it's incredibly difficult. Before we dive deeper into the conflict, could you provide a historical overview of the Israeli-Hamas conflict for those who might not be familiar with it?

Of course. The State of Israel was established after two millennia, following the UN's partition resolution. However, several Arab countries didn't accept Israel's existence and a series of wars ensued. In 1993, we started negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, leading to the Oslo Accords, which granted Palestinians more control in the West Bank and Gaza.

But the situation has been complicated. In 2000, we offered the Palestinians 95% of what they wanted, but they refused. In 2005, we unilaterally left Gaza, which was later taken over by Hamas. This led to incessant rocket attacks on Israel. Fast forward to now, the situation is still complex and tumultuous.

 Israel ambassador to Kenya Michael Lotem during the interview with KTN News' Persil Telewa. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

It's clear this situation is highly complex. But could you explain why the conflict recently escalated, considering that there was a significant offer on the table?

The challenge is that we sometimes try to rationalize an irrational situation. The Hamas fundamentally refuses to accept Israel's existence. It's not about territory or economics; it's about an organization that openly declares its goal to destroy Israel. Negotiating with such an entity is almost impossible.

Indeed, it's a difficult situation to navigate. So, when we look at international relations and the role Israel plays, many countries are concerned about what's happening. Can you clarify your current objective in Gaza?

We're not at war with Gaza or the Palestinians. We are specifically targeting the military capabilities of Hamas, the terrorist organization in control of Gaza. We're determined to dismantle these capabilities.

There is a lot of global attention on the conflict, in light of statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some people worry that this might lead to the destruction of Gaza. Could you address these concerns?

The goal isn't the destruction of Gaza; it's about neutralizing the military capabilities of Hamas. We want to protect our citizens from rocket attacks and threats posed by the organization. It's essential to differentiate between Hamas and the people of Gaza. We don't seek harm to the Palestinian population.

That's an important distinction to make. When you see tragic incidents like the recent festival, with so many innocent lives lost, how do you personally cope with the emotional toll of such events?

It's emotionally devastating. When you see innocent people, including children, caught in the crossfire, it's heart-wrenching. These images are beyond words. It's a reminder of our history, and it should remind the world of the importance of peace and stability.

Beyond diplomacy, you're also a family man. Can you tell us more about your family and how you balance your diplomatic career with family life?

I have three children. My youngest, who is four years old, has already picked up Swahili. He's quite the linguist. My family has enjoyed living in Kenya. We love the peace, the natural beauty, and the food. It's a wonderful experience.

Kenya and Israel have a long history of bilateral relations. Could you tell us more about your experiences here and what makes Kenya special for you?

We've been sharing knowledge and experiences with Africa for decades, in line with Theodor Herzl's vision. Kenya is unique due to its people, leadership, and potential for growth. We've built strong relationships, especially in Kenya, where people are welcoming and warm.

Lastly, you've spent 30 years in diplomacy. What's your secret to juggling such a demanding career with your personal life? Do you have any hobbies to unwind?

Diplomacy is a lifestyle. I've met so many different people and cultures. I run, I read, and I keep myself busy. I've learned that people who genuinely want to work together will find a way to collaborate.

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