It will soon be the 75th anniversary in 2023 of the Nakba. This was the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. Ferat Koçak (member of Berlin city parliament for the party Die LINKE) asked the city Senate a detailed parliamentary question (19/14 493) about the demonstration bans issued in this context last year. In May 2022, five registered events commemorating the Nakba and in memory of Palestinian journalist Shirin Abu Akleh, who was murdered by the Israeli military, were banned across the board in Berlin.
In the answer to the parliamentary question, the police justified the blanket prohibition on the basis of their experience with “gatherings based on similar themes and events in Israel and the Palestinian territories.” The police do not refer to any known calls for criminal acts in advance – or to participating organizations – as reasons for their threat predictions. Therefore it seems that it was the issue itself that was decisive for the bans, namely the commemoration of the Nakba (a historical event of existential significance for many Berliners) – or the commemoration of a murdered journalist.
Ferat Koçak criticizes this severe interference with the exercise of freedom of assembly:
“From the answer of the Berlin department of the interior, no valid reason emerges for me as to why there was a blanket ban on demonstrations for human rights in Palestine and solidarity with Palestinians around the anniversary of the Nakba. It cannot be that this fundamental right is so severely restricted based solely on experiences with gatherings on ‘similar issues.'”
In Koçak’s view, the police also did not sufficiently exhaust other means under the laws of assembly to ensure that peaceful demonstrators could express their opinions.
“That antisemitism must be fought is beyond question. No one wants antisemitic statements at demonstrations; even the organizers of the Nakba demonstrations reiterated exactly that in advance, as well as a desire to demonstrate peacefully. The police for their part have a number of measures in the run-up to and during the demos that amount to far less than a ban on the entire gathering, for example to prevent unconstitutional statements or calls for violence. Instead, Jewish groups organizing around the Nakba and the assassination of Shirin Abu Akleh, for example, were also banned from gathering: an inconceivable action, especially when we consider that Nazis, protected by the freedom of assembly, repeatedly carry their contempt for humanity into the streets without any problems.”
115 people were detained by police on May 15, 2022 – ironically, “on suspicion of violating the Freedom of Assembly Act” – and 25 received hefty fines of around 330-380 euros each.
“For me, this action is a sad consequence of years of repression of people and groups in Germany who stand up for human rights in Palestine. Today it’s Palestinians; tomorrow, protests for human rights of Kurds will be banned. Where will the restriction of basic rights lead? For 2023, the police must ensure that freedom of expression is possible in this context and they must stop the proceedings against all the people who wanted to exercise their right to assemble on Hermannplatz and Pannierstasse on May 15.”