Berlin evicts pro-Palestinian camp that set up in front of the Reichstag

Free speech is being taken apart in front of our eyes. It is time for German civil society to stand up


After seven months of protests against the genocide in Gaza—which has been sponsored, encouraged, and defended by Germany—police brutality toward pro-Palestinian activists is no longer surprising to those paying attention. A fortnight ago, Germany made headlines for the banning and live-streamed dissolution of the Palestine Congress in Berlin.

Following that, on April 26, hundreds of police were dispatched to carry out massive, violent arrests of peaceful protestors occupying a camp in front of the Reichstag. Activists had established the camp only weeks before, on April 8, in order to publicly demand an end to the genocide in Gaza, and to protest against Germany’s collaboration. When peaceful demonstrators arrived across the street in order to protest the campers’ eviction on April 26, many were rounded up and arrested. According to police sources, 161 arrests were made that day alone, and 41 criminal investigations were opened.

The encampment began on the day that Nicaragua sued Germany in the International Court of Justice in The Hague for its complicity in the genocide in Gaza. During the intermittent weeks, there have been activities, talks, and concerts hosted within the camp. Yet there have also been daily arrests and unprecedented rules that the police appeared to come up with on the spot, such as campers having to move all tents daily, and the banning all languages other than German and English. After protests at the camp, police allowed Arabic to be used for a few hours while there was a translator, so people could pray. In the name of fighting antisemitism within the peaceful encampment, not only Irish, an official EU language, but also Hebrew was banned.

Other bans implemented by police included a the removal of a sofa from the encampment, thereafter nicknamed “comrade sofa” (I recommend following our comrade’s Instagram), tables, chairs, hanging things from trees, and red triangles (which led to the painting of red circles by protestors). Unable to break the morale of the campers with arrests and absurd rules, and recognizing the beginning of summer tourist season, which attracts hundreds of tourists daily to the esplanade in front of the parliament where the encampment was installed, police gave an immediate eviction order at the site.

This order claimed that prohibited acts had taken place, such as speaking in languages other than German or English, saying “from the river to the sea”, and critically, because the grass on the esplanade must be protected. As Philip Roth writes in Operation Shylock: “It is too ridiculous to be taken seriously, and too serious to be ridiculous”.

Arbitrary arrests and bans are a constant occurrence at demonstrations and events in support of the Palestinian cause. During the last seven months in this country, there have been arrests for: wearing kufiyas, shouting “Free Palestine”, wearing stickers with a fist on them, and calling the police Nazi or antisemitic for are laughing at the kippah with a watermelon motif worn by a Jewish colleague, who was arrested by force the next second by the same police officer.

In addition, arrests have been made for minors for carrying marbles with which they were playing, for displaying maps of Palestine from 1947 to the present day, Jewish activists wearing the Star of David in the colors of the Palestinian flag, carrying a banner reading “Jews against Genocide,” or calling the police ridiculous in public. This is all done in the name of fighting antisemitism in Germany—and it is an incomplete list of arrestable offenses.

It should be mentioned that what these arrests mentioned above have in common is that the people targeted are either of migrant origin, mostly Palestinian, as Germany is home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, or Jewish. What this points to is two things: the deep-seated racism and antisemitism in the German police, and the low presence and engagement of white Germans at demonstrations and events.

This silence, and thus complicity, of a huge part of German society will be the subject of study for decades to come. The pro-Palestine encampments being set up on US campuses, and the growing solidarity of students and professors stand in stark contrast to the largely silent college campuses here in Germany.

With honorable and courageous exceptions, students are silent; a good part of the faculty and management of universities, including the now misnamed “Free University” of Berlin, are advocating the expulsion of students for “political reasons,” which has been exclusively applied to Palestinian solidarity efforts. The same university had already sent riot police in December to forcibly break up a pro-Palestinian assembly and brought charges against some of its students.

Rather than prompting an outcry in defense of free speech and the right of assembly in the sacrosanct public universities, the German press and society became divided between condemning these students who, without evidence were branded as dangerous antisemites (several of the students were in fact Jewish), or simply looking the other way.

It is in this breeding ground of apathy, constant criminalisation, excuses and, let’s not kid ourselves, absolute support from a large part of society, even some who consider themselves leftists, that the German state is skirting democratic boundaries and slipping into authoritarianism in all matters pertaining to the Palestinian liberation movement.

But here, right now, Germany’s adjustments toward authoritarianism don’t seem to matter; in fact, it is welcomed by too many who accept German politicians and media framing it as a fight against jihadist terrorism and antisemitism. Right now, critical thinking, in general, is conspicuous by absence. While much of German society has indicated privately that they that Israel is going too far, few seem to be showing up in public to defend these beliefs.

Nor does this majority appear to care that in Germany today, there is no full right of speech or assembly when criticising the same genocidal actions they allegedly take issue with. This may be because they do not agree with what is said at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which many interpret in black and white terms, to be for either Palestine or Israel, since the political and historical context has for decades been either banned or directly rewritten in Israel’s favour.

The absurdity reaches Dantesque limits when the anti-Deutsche (known also as anti-Germans, they are a theoretically left-wing anti-fascist movement, which opposes the establishment of the German state due to its crimes in World War II) While their motto is “Never again Germany,” they presently fill the streets with stickers of the Israeli flag next to the anti-fascist flag, as if Netanyahu and his government were not extreme right-wing politicians; organize events about antisemitism without first inviting Jewish comrades to talk about their experience; inviting a singular, token Jewish participant onto their panel, complain about anti-German hatred in videos of the aforementioned camp where “Fuck You Germany” was shouted.

Apparently only the anti-Deutsche can complain about a country that is actively complicit in the genocide in Gaza—a genocide in which many of the camp’s protesters have lost dozens, or hundreds of family members and friends—a country which is forcibly suppressing demonstrations, riding roughshod over the right of assembly and free speech of those who inconvenience it.