Minister-president on visit to Israel and Palestine


Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois is visiting both Palestine and Israel on a cultural and economic mission

Walking a fine line

Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois is on an official visit to Palestine and Israel. The minister has already visited Palestine, and is now in Israel, where he is met with a member of the foreign affairs committee today.

The government of Flanders has contributed €1 million to the UN organisation that assists Palestinian refugees, but it has a more personal cultural bond with Palestine. Bourgeois visited three organisations that have been supported by Flemish government funds.

The Under Construction arts festival is currently taking place in Palestine’s administrative centre of Ramallah, run by the Connexion non-profit organisation. A co-operation between Flanders and the Mission of Palestine in Europe, the Flemish part of the festival was held in Ghent earlier this year.

The government provided €35,000 to the festival, which features theatre, film and music, much of it based on collaborations between Flemish and Palestinian artists. “The festival isn’t the end but the beginning of a new co-operation and an intercultural exchange,” Bourgeois said.

Dual education on the agenda

Another €35,000 has gone to the Palestinian Circus School, also in Ramallah, which works together with Circus Zonder Handen in Brussels. And €30,000 has gone to Ramallah’s Al Kamandjati music centre, which provides free music lessons to children and young people, focusing on “creative skills and cultural self-development,” said Bourgeois.

“The first phase of a potential conflict is a lack of contact with and ignorance of each other,” Bourgeois said. “Self-aware young people are prepared to enter into constructive and positive dialogue. We are encouraging this in the hope that their future societies will be positively influenced. With projects like Under Construction, we hope to help create a foundation for an open and free society.”

While in Palestine, Bourgeois also discussed putting the state’s education specialists in touch with experts at Flemish training and employment agency VDAB to share knowledge about dual education. This exchange is at the request of Palestinian leaders, who are interested in the concept of young people training for jobs while still in school. Bourgeois also met with Palestinian premiere Rami Hamdallah and visited a museum dedicated to Yasser Arafat.

We must be able to reach out to both Palestine and Israel

- Geert Bourgeois

Bourgeois is now in Jerusalem, where he met today with Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current deputy prime minister of Israel. He also visited the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Bourgeois will continue his visit in Israel with an economic focus, taking in technology hubs and start-ups.

The minister-president told De Morgen that visiting both states was “not contradictory. We must be able to reach out to both Palestine and Israel.” Despite his government’s support for the Palestinian people, he said, “I do have equal sympathies for the Jewish people, who have an ancient shared history”.

Photo: Flanders’ minister-president Geert Bourgeois (left) visits the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem