Germany’s Response to Pro-Palestinian Activities

A planned event called the Palestinian National Congress (PNC) was shut down by police in Berlin on April 12th. The event, initially scheduled for April 12-14, was to be a weekend conference of speeches, workshops, and seminars for pro-Palestinian activists to meet and network. Among the invited guest speakers were Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and Irish MP Richard Boyd Barret. Multiple Palestinian journalists and doctors were also due to attend, including Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who treated patients in Al-Shifa hospital during the bombing of Gaza. The PNC’s website stated that “together, with the voices of the Palestinian movement and the international community, we will denounce Israeli apartheid and genocide. We accuse Germany of being complicit.”

The Incident at the Palestinian National Congress

The event had initial approval from the Berlin Police, yet multiple speakers and guests were detained and prevented from entering Germany in the days leading up to it, including Dr. Ghassan and Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta. On the morning of the event, for which anticipated attendance was around 200 people, Berlin police denied prominent organisers and activists access  to the venue.

As the event began, despite these setbacks, it was quickly interrupted. The electricity in the building was cut off, and the building stormed by riot police. Berlin police later justified the activity in a statement posted to social media, that “a speaker was projected who was subject to a ban on political activity.  There is a risk that a speaker will repeatedly be shown via video who, in the past, made antisemitic remarks and glorified violence. For this reason, the gathering was ended and banned on Saturday and Sunday as well.” 

According to the Berlin police, 930 officers deployed to help shut down the event. Once inside, police began arresting people, including a Jewish activist who was wearing a traditional Jewish kippah hat with a watermelon on it, a symbol that has become associated with Palestinian solidarity.

“Cutting the electricity of the hall where 200 people were gathering to discuss peace is a new low even for Germany,” said May Zeidani Yufanyi, a Berlin-based activist. Germany’s federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, spoke on the issue and stated, “those who spread Islamist propaganda and hatred of Jews must know that it will be prosecuted quickly and consistently.” Amnesty Germany has called for an independent investigation into the “various forms of discrimination” at the conference and “reports of police violence against those protesting its dissolution.”

Europe has witnessed heavy-handedness against Palestinian activists, but it is most prevalent in Germany. The German state is one of Israel’s biggest military suppliers, sending 326.5 million euros ($353.7 million) in equipment and weapons in 2023, according to Economy Ministry data. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on the issue that “our responsibility deriving from the Holocaust makes it our permanent duty to stand up for the existence and security of the State of Israel. This responsibility guides us,” showing that many in Germany feel almost a moral obligation to support Israel no matter what.

German Policing of Pro-Palestinian Activism

It is common in Germany for criticism of Israel’s actions to be deemed antisemitic. Movements such as the popular Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) are officially illegal in Germany and have been marked as antisemitic movements.

These policies have recently come to a head in the city of Berlin, which has a huge Palestinian diaspora estimated to number around 25,000. The largely Palestinian neighbourhood of Sonnenallee experienced brutal crackdowns from riot police at any attempted demonstrations to support the Palestinian people, and indeed, the area is now reported to be heavily monitored by police. In the weeks following Hamas’ October 7th attack, the entire neighbourhood was permanently patrolled by a fleet of riot vans.

Following Israel’s attack on Al Ahli Arab hospital on October 17th, a vigil was organised outside the Brandenburg Gate to mourn the victims. Candles were lit on the ground, and mourners placed photos of deceased family members. Police began dispersing the crowd while reportedly walking over the candles, saying the gathering was unlawful.

Over the course of recent months, many serious incidents such as this have occurred. On January 15th, many people from Germany’s radical left-wing gathered to commemorate the death of Rosa Luxembourg, a Polish socialist murdered by Nazi street gangs in 1919. The demonstrations saw thousands of participants from a range of different political groups. Police attacked the Palestinian block in the protest without provocation and hospitalised 15 people, including a 65-year-old man who was beaten unconscious.

Police Ban Pro-Palestine Slogans

In October 2023, the prosecutor’s office for the German city-state of Berlin announced that the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” was to be made illegal as it was an incitement to hatred. According to a German Press Agency report, the slogan violates Paragraph 130 of German law because it negates Israel’s existence. The law bans hatred “against a national, racial, religious group, or a group defined by their ethnic origins.” The prosecutor’s office claimed the anti-Israel slogan meets these criteria.

Hundreds were arrested and demonstrations shut down over the use of this slogan in the following weeks. This highlights how much more severely German authorities have taken this issue than other countries; no other countries have outlawed a slogan such as this.

In December 2023, two courts in Germany overturned the ruling and declared that a number of pro-Palestinian slogans are not illegal and are protected under the right to freedom of expression. However, organisers in Berlin of pro-Palestine demonstrations still call on demonstrators not to say “from the river to the sea” as despite this ruling, police are allegedly arresting people or shutting down demonstrations if they hear it. According to the Cologne court’s decision, the judge reiterated that criticism of the Israeli state is “protected by freedom of expression,” stressing that the slogans are “directed against Israel and not against the Jewish population of Germany,” which resulted in the rejection of “inflammatory allegations of antisemitism.”

December Raids

On December 20th, 2023, Police raided multiple Palestinian-owned businesses in Berlin. One of these businesses was Cafe Karanfil, an anti-fascist Palestinian cafe that was raided due to “spreading propaganda on behalf of a banned terrorist organisation.” This refers to an Instagram post made by Zora, a feminist group linked to Cafe Karanfil, which stated, “There can be no liberation of women without the liberation of Palestine…We know that Hamas has no interest in smashing the patriarchy” and claimed it was important “to strengthen forces such as the PFLP as part of the Palestinian resistance.” The PFLP refers to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian militant Marxist organisation who were involved in the October 7th attacks but are often seen as more progressive than Hamas. According to Cafe Karanfil, armed police officers masked in balaclavas confiscated computers and leaflets from the cafe.

“Occupation Against Occupation”

On April 7th, a protest camp began outside the German Parliament. The movement was known as ‘Occupation Against Occupation’ or ‘Besetzung Gegen Besatzung’. The organisers claimed the movement was to demand Germany ends its arms exports to Israel and stops criminalising the Palestinian solidarity movement. From the beginning, the camp was heavily monitored by police with multiple arrests made daily. One Berlin-based activist told The New Arab, “When law enforcement officers arrived at the camp on Sunday, police conducted searches and swiftly resorted to violent arrests, assaulting attendees brutally. Civilians were kicked, beaten, and harassed. The police have violently attacked us several times; they threw me on the floor and pepper-sprayed me.”

“The camp was given a blanket ban by police on speaking any language other than German or English. During Ramadan, they were warned the police would shut them down if they prayed in Arabic,” the activist added. This ban was controversial and spawned a Berlin-based group called “Irish Bloc Berlin” to show up to the camp and demonstrate in Irish. Activists were told by the police that they were not allowed to speak the Irish language at the protest without an interpreter and that their protest was banned. The Irish Bloc were dispersed and followed by armoured police for the rest of the day. In a statement released by Irish Bloc, they claim that “disruption and interference by the Berlin police began even before most of the group had arrived.” The reason for the ban on the Irish language given was “the lack of a registered Irish language interpreter, despite Irish being an official EU language.” Irish Bloc Berlin says this “interferes with our fundamental rights as European citizens to assemble and speak our native language” and is “a clear contravention of German and EU law.” Irish is an official EU language and the banning of speaking Irish at a Palestinian protest drew huge attention in Ireland where multiple politicians have since called for an apology from the German state. In late April, the entire Occupation Against Occupation was violently broken up by Berlin police.

This state’s response to Palestinian activism in Germany is interpreted by watchdogs to be excessive, and many basic human rights are being infringed upon. In Berlin, the wearing of traditional Palestinian clothing in schools has been banned. An organisation called “Jewish Voice for Peace” had its bank accounts frozen by Sparkasse Bank in relation to its support of the aforementioned Palestinian National Congress and the BDS movement. In a statement, the group said “We are fully aware that our activities are displeasing to some who support the Israeli government. What we, however, did not expect was an attack by a German bank on our right to freedom of expression.” Activists and journalists have since revealed that the far-right AFD party, who have been linked to neo-Nazi groups, have an active bank account with Sparkasse.

The German government increased its arms exports to Israel massively in 2023. In January 2024, the German government declared that it would end its financial support for humanitarian aid in Gaza. Germany is currently being accused by Nicaragua at the International Court of Justice of perpetuating genocide in Israel’s war on Gaza by supplying Tel Aviv with military weapons and aid. Germany denies these allegations.


This article was written by Ethan Rooney as a guest contribution to Atlas News. You can follow his work and see his full portfolio here.

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