Protester in custody of Berlin police on May 15, 2022, Nakba Day. (Photo: Johann Spischak)
The city of Berlin, Germany banned pro-Palestinian protests on May 15, Nakba Day. But solidarity with Palestine could not be stopped.
This article was originally published in Electronic Intifada.
On Sunday, police in Berlin arrested and repressed anyone they saw demonstrating support for Palestine. Among those who were detained was Ramsy Kilani, a Palestinian whose family was massacred in an Israeli bombing attack in Gaza in 2014.
Majed Abusalama, a Palestinian living in the German capital, said he was attacked by police.
“I just left the hospital an hour ago with an arm sling to hold my shoulder after the German racist police almost dislocated my shoulder with their violent reactions to us wearing Palestine kuffiyehs,” the traditional Palestinian head scarf, Abusalama tweeted on Sunday.
The attacks on protesters came after authorities in the German capital banned a Jewish group from holding a vigil in memory of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera correspondent assassinated last week, with all evidence pointing at Israel being responsible.
“The gathering in memory of Abu Akleh had been organized by Jüdische Stimme, a Jewish group that supports Palestinian rights,” Al Jazeera reported. “But police told the group that the event – planned to take place on Friday evening – fell under the ban on protests in the run-up to Nakba Day.”
Every year on 15 May, which this year fell on Sunday, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba – their 1948 ethnic cleansing from their homeland by Zionist militias, before and after Israel was founded.
“Their official position is that Germany has a special responsibility towards Israel because of the Holocaust,” Wieland Hoban, chair of Jüdische Stimme, said about the Berlin government ban.
“People like us, as Jews, are constantly having to explain to Germans that they are not helping us by supporting the oppression of Palestinians.”
Berlin authorities have twice issued sweeping bans on Palestine-related demonstrations since late April, based on claims that participants in earlier protests had made “anti-Semitic” statements.
Germany officials often equate almost any show of support for Palestinian rights with anti-Jewish bigotry.
Organizers say there was apparently one documented incident of a teenager using a racial slur during a demonstration in mid-April.
That was then blown out of all proportion by media and politicians and used as a pretext to effectively impose collective punishment and sweeping censorship on supporters of Palestinian rights.
Held in the heat
Authorities reportedly deployed more than 1,000 officers to enforce the ban on Palestine solidarity demonstrations on Sunday.
When peaceful protesters showed up anyway, police tightly surrounded them and restricted their movement – a repressive tactic called kettling – “based on physical characteristics, such as people wearing kuffiyehs.” according to one journalist.
“People outside the kettle were dragged into the kettle by police officers.”
“The situation in Berlin is extremely tense,” journalist Hebh Jamal tweeted on Sunday. “Police are literally arresting anyone they see on the street who even says ‘free Palestine’ or wears a kuffiyeh.”
“An hour ago German police arrested one of the most important Palestinian activists in Germany, Ramsy Kilani,” Jamal added.
Kilani confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that he was detained by police and kettled along with others at Berlin’s Hermannplatz.
“They held us for one and a half hours in the heat, until they took our ID info to sue all of us for an allegedly illegal assembly, even though we did not stage a demo, but were just present in Palestinian colors or kuffiyehs,” Kilani added.
Kilani’s father and five siblings – German citizens – were killed in an Israeli air attack on Gaza in 2014.
“German police in Berlin forbidding any demos connected to Palestine and cracking down on anyone wearing Palestinian colors or the keffiyeh in public places is an alarming step of repression,” Kilani tweeted Monday.
“It’s anti-Palestinian,” he added. “Now it‘s debated to make forbidding demos easier in general.”
Setback on road to democracy
Over the last year, the intensifying effort to erase Israel’s persecution of Palestinians from public view in Germany has included a purge of Palestinian and other Arab journalists by public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Despite the censorship and repression by police and politicians, supporters of Palestinian rights have recently won several court victories reaffirming the right to free speech.
Nonetheless, the sweeping and violently enforced Berlin ban, which was upheld by a local court, is a severe setback along the former Nazi state’s long and rocky road towards democracy.
Though it may be intensifying, this repression is nothing new. German elites have long conspired to silence criticism of Israel.
They consider unconditional support for Israel’s brutality against Palestinians a form of atonement for the German government’s systematic murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.
A film that will premiere on YouTube on 22 May will highlight German repression of free speech, thought and activism about Palestine, and Germany’s complicit relationship with Israel.
The new documentary, The Time of Slanderers, by Dror Dayan and Susann Witt-Stahl, jumps off from a 2018 conference that brought together Jewish and Palestinian critics of Israel and Zionism in Berlin.
“The rightward drift of the Western world manifests itself in bizarre ways,” the conference organizers had observed, “Left-wingers are vilified as ‘Nazis,’” and “Jewish anti-fascists as ‘traitors.’”
“The majority of the German left are at best silent on these alarming developments, thus committing a betrayal that amounts to a capitulation to German great power aspirations, NATO’s bellicose regime change policy and murderous aggression against refugees and other migrants,” the filmmakers say.
The film, in German and English with English subtitles, features Moshe Zuckermann, Rolf Becker, Jackie Walker, Moshé Machover, Judith Bernstein and this writer.
It is dedicated to the musician and Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano, a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights who delivered a message at the conference and passed away last year at the age of 96.
A trailer can be viewed above, and the whole film will be available at this YouTube channel for 24 hours on Sunday, 22 May.
After that, the film will be screened on request.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books. Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.