Unapologetic Palestinians, Reactionary Germans

15 September, 2022
Demon­stra­tors for Pales­tin­ian rights have been arrest­ed in Berlin, where author­i­ties claim recent protests were “anti­se­mit­ic.”


Opin­ions pub­lished in The Markaz Review reflect the per­spec­tive of their authors and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent TMR. 


Abir Kopty


One of the most strik­ing things I’ve heard since I moved to Berlin eight years ago was from a Pales­tin­ian-Ger­man friend and a moth­er, who told me that after every pro-Pales­tin­ian protest she takes her kids to, she tells them not to men­tion this to their class­mates to avoid harass­ment and judg­ment at school.

I do not think this is unique. I think this is the expe­ri­ence of many Pales­tin­ian fam­i­lies in Ger­many, who are afraid their kids will be harassed for stat­ing their Pales­tin­ian ori­gin or aspi­ra­tions for free­dom. I’m ter­ri­fied that this might be soon my expe­ri­ence, with my kids. That is not a fear in a vac­u­um. It is bred by the grow­ing anti-Pales­tin­ian dis­course in Ger­many. What is hap­pen­ing in Ger­many is grow­ing racism against Pales­tini­ans amidst silence and denial of the vast polit­i­cal currents.

Last August, a whole incite­ment cam­paign took place in the Ger­man media against Pales­tin­ian pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas for his unfor­tu­nate use of ter­mi­nol­o­gy. He used “holo­causts” to describe the many Israeli crimes against Pales­tini­ans, when he obvi­ous­ly meant mas­sacres. An intern in Pales­tin­ian diplo­ma­cy would know he shouldn’t use this word, but Abbas did. Watch­ing how this unfor­tu­nate use of ter­mi­nol­o­gy was inter­pret­ed as “Holo­caust denial” by Ger­man media and politi­cians is irri­tat­ing but predicable.

The Ger­man pub­lic sphere does not miss any oppor­tu­ni­ty to incite against Pales­tini­ans. Even the Ger­man police declared that they will open an inves­ti­ga­tion against Mah­moud Abbas for “Holo­caust denial.” This is not about Ger­mans bat­tling Holo­caust denial, but rather their attempt to export their feel­ings of guilt onto the shoul­ders of Pales­tini­ans, and more­over, to use such inci­dents to cov­er up the fact that anti­se­mit­ic sen­ti­ments and racism per­sists in their society.

Last June, the Goethe Insti­tut, a Ger­man state-fund­ed cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tion, decid­ed to dis­in­vite promi­nent Pales­tin­ian writer and jour­nal­ist Mohammed el-Kurd from speak­ing at its con­fer­ence, “Beyond the Lone Offender.”

“After some con­sid­er­a­tion, the Goethe-Insti­tut decid­ed that Mohammed el-Kurd was not an appro­pri­ate speak­er for this forum: in pre­vi­ous posts on social media, he had made sev­er­al com­ments about Israel in a way the Goethe-Insti­tut does not find accept­able,” stat­ed the Institut.

 “Appro­pri­ate” and “accept­able” are not ran­dom here — they reflect a deeply enshrined approach in Ger­many towards the Pales­tin­ian cause. It’s patron­iz­ing: “We, the Ger­mans, can teach you, the vic­tims, from our com­fort zone, what should or should not be said about your oppressor.”

But it also shows how Ger­mans are sub­ject to a min­istry of thought when it comes to Israel. The “appro­pri­ate” and “accept­able” is not accord­ing to Ger­man cri­te­ria, it’s what Israel con­sid­ers appro­pri­ate and acceptable.

Being haunt­ed by their past, Ger­mans are try­ing to clean their con­scious at the expense of the Pales­tini­ans. Anti­semitism is not their prob­lem any more, it is the Pales­tini­ans’. Pales­tini­ans who are not going to bear this respon­si­bil­i­ty and apol­o­gize are not appro­pri­ate and accept­able voic­es. Down this road there is a dan­ger­ous slope into a racist soci­ety that per­se­cutes Pales­tini­ans for just being Palestinians.

Ger­man police forcibly detain long-time Pales­tin­ian activist Majed Abusala­ma dur­ing a Nak­ba Day demon­stra­tion in Berlin, Ger­many, May 15, 2022. He says was hos­pi­tal­ized due to injuries he suf­fered dur­ing his deten­tion. (pho­to by Mohan­nad Darabee, cour­tesy Human Rights Watch).

In May, Berlin’s police banned sev­er­al Nak­ba Day protests. When hun­dreds of activists took to the street despite the ban, they were faced with bru­tal attacks by the police, who detained scores of them. In one clip, shared by Human Rights Watch, an offi­cer tells a woman she is being held because “she shout­ed ‘Free Palestine.’ ”

The anti-Pales­tin­ian prac­tices and dis­course have been on the rise in recent years. It’s not just pop­ulist behav­ior in the streets among right-wing groups. It’s not in the mar­gins. It’s in the main­stream — among offi­cials, elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives, offi­cial insti­tu­tions, civ­il soci­ety and media. 

Jour­nal­ist Nemi el-Has­san was fired by the Ger­man chan­nel WDR after a right-wing activist pub­lished a pho­to of her on an al-Quds March in Berlin in 2014, when she was 17, way before she became a jour­nal­ist. The way the Ger­man media joined the attack on her and treat­ed her as a sin­ner who need­ed to apol­o­gize was shameful.

Germany’s state broad­cast­er Deutsche Welle (DW) recent­ly fired sev­en Arab and Pales­tin­ian jour­nal­ists over their social media posts it con­demned as “anti­se­mit­ic.” Two of them, Pales­tin­ian jour­nal­ists Farah Maraqa and Maram Salem, have recent­ly won their case against the DW. The court ruled that their dis­missal was not legal­ly justified.

Also in May, an exhi­bi­tion of Pales­tin­ian artists’ work as part of the renowned art fes­ti­val Doc­u­men­ta 15 in the city of Kas­sel was tar­get­ed with racist van­dal­ism.

Pales­tin­ian artists are being denied visas to come and per­form in Ger­many. Numer­ous lec­tures and events have been can­celled over recent years after pres­sure and accu­sa­tions of antisemitism.

In 2019, Dr Anna-Esther Younes, a Ger­man-Pales­tin­ian aca­d­e­m­ic, was dis­in­vit­ed from speak­ing at an event after a secret dossier com­piled about her was shared with orga­niz­ers. A secret dossier!

No, these are not ran­dom unfor­tu­nate events. This is a sys­tem­at­ic anti-Pales­tini­an­ism. It’s not any­more about Ger­mans being afraid to speak up — that job has long been accom­plished; Ger­mans often refrain from any crit­i­cism of Israel or show­ing any sol­i­dar­i­ty with Pales­tini­ans. It is now also lead­ing to Ger­mans refrain­ing from defend­ing the right of Pales­tin­ian voic­es to be heard.

This silence is allow­ing anti-Pales­tin­ian sen­ti­ment to set­tle deeply in the society’s mind­set, beyond the right-wing or the Zion­ist lob­by. This is a process that can take us to a very dark place. It is ter­ri­fy­ing to think that this is hap­pen­ing in a coun­try that has so much to learn from its own his­to­ry. It is a threat to Pales­tini­ans in Ger­many, depriv­ing them of a safe space to speak about their own cause in public.

The attempt by Israel’s defend­ers to make being pro-Pales­tin­ian rights syn­ony­mous with anti­semitism is destruc­tive for Pales­tini­ans in Ger­many on so many lev­els. It asks gen­er­a­tions of Pales­tini­ans in Ger­many to reg­u­late their iden­ti­ty and feel­ings about their home­land in a man­ner that is appro­pri­ate and accept­able for their oppressor.

What will come next? Forc­ing Pales­tini­ans to hide their iden­ti­ty so as not to be hunt­ed in the streets? The sto­ry of my Ger­man Pales­tin­ian friend shows that this is already happening.

This should be extreme­ly alarm­ing for Ger­mans. Try­ing to rid your­self of a dark past towards one group should not hap­pen by cre­at­ing a dark present for another.

Rather than retreat, we need to make a lot of noise when faced with racism, and we have to stand with every­one who faces racism, and build alliances with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties who face racism. We need to do that for our kids, so they can grow up being proud Pales­tini­ans and human beings who hold val­ues of dig­ni­ty and free­dom with­out any fear of bul­ly­ing or harassment. 


antisemitismBerlinGerman policeIsraelPalestinian rightsprotestRacism

Abir Kopty, a Palestinian journalist and writer based in Berlin, holds an MA in Political Communication from City University, London, and is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. She contributes political analysis to media outlets such as Middle East Eye and TRT, and hosted in 2018 "Eib", an audio podcast about motherhood and parenting, and in 2020 the "Almostajad" podcast, covering the pandemic in the Arab world, both produced by Sowt Podcasting. She tweets @abirkopty.  


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Brett Kline
Brett Kline
16 days ago

I sym­pa­thize with the Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in Berlin and in Ger­many, and I sup­port what should be their right to orga­nize protests and demon­stra­tions in sup­port of the Pales­tin­ian cause. You right­ful­ly crit­i­cize the Ger­man police and gov­ern­ment for shut­ting down Pales­tin­ian voic­es in Ger­many and for deny­ing oth­ers visas to come to the country. 

But you change your focus and dam­age your argu­ment, in my hum­ble opin­ion, when sud­den­ly near the end of the piece, you write: “The attempt by Israel’s defend­ers to make being pro-Pales­tin­ian rights syn­ony­mous with anti­semitism is destruc­tive for Pales­tini­ans in Ger­many on so many levels.” 
You offer no exam­ples of this in the arti­cle. You throw in this state­ment with­out back­ing it up, whether it is true or not. This is a whole oth­er sub­ject. There are hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of Israelis liv­ing in Berlin, and I would guess that many sup­port the right of Pales­tini­ans there to express them­selves, and do not sup­port the pol­i­tics of the Israeli gov­ern­ment. This para­graph does not belong in this arti­cle. The Ger­man gov­ern­ment is not the “Zion­ist lob­by,” what­ev­er that means. Thank you for an oth­er­wise good arti­cle. If you would like to exchange on this, I would be hap­py to do so. Brett Kline