Richard Gere has voiced his opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
“Obviously this occupation is destroying everyone,” the actor told Israeli newspaper Haaretz during a two-day visit to the country for the local premiere of Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. “There’s no defense of this occupation.”
But his strongest criticism was of the Israeli settlement program, a major source of debate between Israeli and other countries and a matter regularly used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
“Settlements are such an absurd provocation and, certainly in the international sense, completely illegal — and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process,” Gere said. “Just to be clear about this: I denounce violence on all sides of this. And, of course, Israelis should feel secure. But Palestinians should not feel desperate.”
More than 600,000 Jews live in around 140 settlements built since Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Having been increasingly criticized by the Obama administration as a barrier to peace, the inauguration of Donald Trump saw an immediate escalation of settlement activity. In February, a controversial law was passed in the Israeli parliament that retroactively legalized almost 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Speaking of his visit to Israel, Gere said that, despite having been before, it was “more complex” to visit now than at any previous time.
“I had people on all sides — those who have been close friends and people I barely knew — telling me not to come,” he said. “I had people living here who told me, ‘Look, no good will come of this. The bad guys will use you’ — ‘bad guys’ meaning the policy-makers of this government. It was a complex month of going back and forth: ‘I’m coming.… I’m not coming.'”