Richard Gere: Israeli settlements are 'absurd provocation,' 'completely illegal'

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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.

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MIAMI, FL - MARCH 03: Richard Gere is seen at the Miami International Film Festival on March 3, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
Richard Gere attends the 'The Dinner' photo call during the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 10, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.
BERLIN, GERMANY - February 10: Richard Gere and Film director Oren Moverman attend red carpet of the movie'The Dinner' during the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Berlin, Germany on February 10, 2017. (Photo by Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 10: Richard Gere attends the 'The Dinner' press conference during the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 10, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 10: Richard Gere attends the 'The Dinner' photo call during the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 10, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 8: Germany's federal parliament's Vice-President Claudia Roth (R) and Hollywood Actor Richard Gere (2nd R) gesture during their meeting in Berlin, Germany on February 8, 2017. (Photo by Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Actor Richard Gere (L) presents an award to honoree Anne V. Coates during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 8th annual Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 12, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
VALENCIA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 26: Richard Gere and his girlfriend Alejandra Silva attend a charity event of Rais Foundation and Valencia Major for homeless people on September 26, 2016 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Europa Press/Europa Press via Getty Images)
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - OCTOBER 06: Alejandra Silva and Richard Gere on photo call at the 64th International Film Festival of San Sebastian on October 6, 2016 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Claude Medale/Corbis via Getty Images)
Richard Gere and Alejandra Silva attend 'Time Out Of Mind' premiere during 64th San Sebastian Film Festival on September 24, 2016 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by COOLMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 12: Actor Richard Gere attends 'Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer' premiere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Actor Lior Ashkenazi, Actor Richard Gere and Director Joseph Cedar attend the Premier of 'Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer' at Roy Thomson Hall on September 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Che Rosales/WireImage)
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"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.

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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.'"

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