German authorities’ crackdown on Palestine Conference sparks widespread outrage

Police not only stopped the event from taking place in Berlin but prohibited international guests from even transmitting their planned speeches on video April 15, 2024 by Leon Wystrychowski –

German police stormed the Palestine Congress minutes after it began. Photo: Palestine Congress

The German state’s crackdown on the Palestine Congress, scheduled to take place in Berlin this past weekend, has provoked global outrage. Under the slogan “We Accuse: Stop Germany aiding and abetting the genocide in Gaza”, the three day conference was slated to serve as a tribunal against the occupation, apartheid, colonialism, and genocide in Palestine. During the conference set to take place in Berlin, the role of the Federal Republic of Germany in particular was to be discussed and criticized. International guests such as journalist Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, Palestinian-British surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, and the scientist Salman Abu Sitta were supposed to address attendees. The congress was organized by German, Palestinian, and Jewish left-wing organizations.

However, the conference only ran for a couple minutes on Friday April 12 before it was shut down. Even before the proceedings were supposed to begin, an entry ban was imposed on several international guests. Ghassan Abu Sitta was refused entry at Berlin airport and forced to buy a ticket back to the UK, with German authorities threatening further action were he to transmit the speech he planned to give in Berlin via a video recording. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced on April 13 on social media that the German Ministry of the Interior issued an entry and activity ban against him.

In the run-up to the congress, the right-wing Axel-Springer outlets and Tagesspiegel, among others, had raised sentiment against the “anti-Semitic hate summit”. The Berlin Senate publicly declared that it wanted to ban the congress. In addition, the “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace” bank account, which was used to sell tickets, was blocked by the German bank Berliner Sparkasse.

The location of the congress, which was only announced shortly before it was scheduled to begin, was blocked by police. Organizers and speakers were only allowed into the building after more than an hour of negotiations. However, the police arbitrarily limited the number of participants to 250 people, while over 1,000 tickets had been sold. Police also ensured that a large proportion of these seats went to right-wing media representatives. Meanwhile, the queue in front of the door was classified as a “gathering” and was ultimately broken up by the police.

After hours of negotiations and struggle, organizers finally kicked off the program by playing a video greeting from Salman Abu Sitta. The audience had barely caught more than a minute of the Palestinian scientist’s video when police stormed the venue, broke into the technical room violently, interrupted the live stream, turned off the power, and arrested two Jewish organizers. The official reason for the operation was that there was a ban on activity in Germany against Salman Abu Sitta.

The following day, organizers held a press conference and criticized the actions of the police and politicians as racist and anti-democratic. They called for protest against the repression and, among other things, demanded that the ban on the congress be lifted. Lawyer Nadija Samour explained that extensive cooperation discussions had taken place with the police beforehand and that there was therefore no reason to assume that the event would be banned. Samour further emphasized that no criminally relevant statements were made at the congress, that the organizers were not aware that there was a ban on activity against Salman Abu Sitta and that playing a video did not violate such a ban on activity. The police therefore acted arbitrarily and unconstitutionally. The organizers announced that they are currently considering legal action against the ban.

The state of emergency imposed by the authorities was not limited to the location of the congress. Former Samidoun activist Zaid Abdulnasser was banned from contact, meaning he was not allowed to have any contact with the organizers or participants of the congress during the weekend.

Police in emergency vehicles followed those who were barred from entering the conference venue to public places where the live stream would be shown and harassed and stopped them. Others were intercepted in various parts of Berlin, searched and sometimes reported under various pretexts.

At the Palestine protest camp that had been set up in front of the German Bundestag for a few days, where many people came to watch the live stream, hundreds of police marched, surrounded the camp and singled out individual people in order to establish their personal details and file reports.

On Saturday April 13, after the press conference, several thousand people marched from Alexanderplatz through Berlin towards the Reichstag, the building which houses the Bundestag. They chanted slogans which are subject to strong repression in Germany, such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as well as the Arabic version. Nevertheless, things remained peaceful until the police attacked demonstrators. According to eyewitnesses, officers allegedly knocked over a little boy. His father is said to have intervened, which the police interpreted as resistance or attack and escalated further. Several people were injured and arrested and police effectively blocked their advance towards the Reichstag.

Reactions to police operation against Palestine Congress

While Amnesty International criticized the authorities’ arbitrary and brutal actions, the majority of the German press was disinterested or even expressly approved of the German authorities’ actions.

German government politicians, ministries, police, and media have continued to spread the narrative that the event was an “anti-Semitic” event and expressed support for the authorities’ action to shut down the event. The Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser described the repression against the congress as a crackdown on “Islamist propaganda” and “hatred against Jews”.

In an article published on March 21, the Berliner Morgenpost classified the Palestine Congress as a “jew-hating event” whose aim is to “proclaim racism, hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel”. In reporting on the crackdown on the event, Tagesspiegel wrote, “no anti-Semitism will be tolerated in streets, rooms and streams”. The paper stated that police “had to enforce freedom of the press. The organizers only allowed press representatives they liked to enter,” omitting the fact that police did not even guarantee organizers and activists the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Despite the unity and support of German authorities and media around the crackdown, internationally it shone a light on the extent of Germany’s ironclad support for Israel and its willingness to blatantly violate fundamental rights in order to silence criticism about it. It also undermined its shallow excuses for its support of Israel which largely revolve around repenting for its extremely antisemitic past and feelings of “collective guilt” towards the Jewish people. Yet, the systematic targeting of Jewish peace groups and initiatives as part of its clampdown on the congress has once again exposed this narrative.

Instead of dissuading pro-Palestine activism within the European country, the Berlin police crackdown has ignited the need to continue fighting Germany’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and across Palestine. Conference organizers have vowed to continue organizing to stop the criminalization of the Palestine movement in Germany and to fight for a free Palestine.