In this article I want to argue two things. Firstly, that internationals in Germany, and particularly in Berlin, are highly motivated to take to the streets for Palestine, perhaps more so than their counterparts in other European countries. Secondly, that it is precisely these people who can help break the logjam of passivity which has paralysed the German Left with regards to the situation in Palestine.
I will start with three anecdotes from recent weeks.
Mid-October, I was invited to speak to a group of Spaniards about what we internationals can do to support the Palestinians and oppose the ongoing Israeli bombardment. I was expecting only a handful of people so was pleasantly surprised to see 20 people there. Most of them had the same question: “We want to take action, but all the demos are banned and the German Left don’t even want to talk about Palestine. What can we do?”
Since then, the demo ban has been lifted, largely as a result of the number of people who were prepared to defy the ban and take to the streets. Yet, even now, although individual Biodeutscher (essentially white Germans) and small organisations are demonstrating, the presence of the organised German Left is still relatively small. On 4th November, most of my LINKE branch in Wedding marched for Palestine; however, they remain in the minority.
One of the decisions we took at my meeting with the Spaniards was to launch an open letter from international activists to the German Left. We are currently looking for international organisations based in Germany to join the first signatories. For more details, send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two weeks later, the Berlin LINKE Internationals, a group of whom I am one of the speakers, held our monthly organising meeting. The subject was Palestine and the German Left. Instead of the usual 5 attendees, 35 people took part in a very productive meeting out of which we made several concrete suggestions for supporting the Palestinian cause. You can see some of these suggestions at the foot of the article.
Finally, just one day later, I was interpreting a meeting on Palestine by the new initiative Sozialismus von unten (Socialism from Below). We set up a small number of chairs for “whisper translation” to support participants who do not speak German fluently. By the time the meeting was ready to start, there were 20 of us.
During the meeting, there were a number of contributions from the floor by non-Germans who were not in our group. Eighteen people left their e-mail addresses for networking and to learn about future activities and events.
The role of internationals
I’ve lived in Germany for nearly 30 years now. In this time, I have seen a radical shift in the political engagement for Palestine – both by Germans and by internationals. While it’s easy to be frustrated when 800,000 march in London while there are only tens of thousands in Berlin, things are a lot better now than they’ve been in a long time. For decades, demonstrations have been small and predominantly attended by Palestinians or those with close ties to the region.
In 2021, we experienced an important shift. On the anniversary of the Nakba, Palästina Spricht organised a demonstration which was attended by 15,000 people. The demo was so successful that the following year, the Berlin local council and police banned all demonstrations around Nakba day.
Why did this demonstration gain such traction? There are a number of reasons:
Firstly, Palästina Spricht arose from a new generation of activists. Previously demonstrations had been called by older Palestinian community leaders. They invited the German Left to attend their demos, but their sphere of influence lay mainly in the Arab communities.
Palästina Spricht, in contrast, had their roots in the international anti-capitalist movement, and made a concerted attempt to involve international activists. Meetings were held in English, not Arabic (and also not German, as the initial wave of support came from people who were born outside Germany). This meant not only that 15,000 demonstrated, but also that the people marching were much more diverse than at previous demos.
A second factor was Black Lives Matter. 6 June 2020 saw Berlin’s first large post-Covid demonstration, when 15,000 marched in protest against both the police murder of George Floyd and institutional racism in Germany. The demonstration was organised and led by Black Germans and internationals – people who felt much less conflicted about the sins of their grandparents than white Germans.
When BLM started speaking out on Palestinian rights on an international level, the German Left was forced to listen. They didn’t become strong advocates of the Palestinian cause overnight, but BLM’s support for Palestine radically shifted the terms of debate. Many people who attended the BLM demo – both Black and white – were also at the Nakba Day demo less than a year later.
The international queer community has also played a huge part in Palestine solidarity. Internationalist Queer Pride has attracted thousands of people in recent years with a strong and explicit show of support for Palestine. Berlin Queers Against Racism and Colonialism (QuARC) is a Berlin-based umbrella group for queers* committed to anti-racist and anti-colonial politics. Drag for Palestine is a new group that has started to call for a boycott of racist anti-Deutsch clubs and cultural venues. They have an open letter targeting Schwuz.
Another factor was demographic changes in Berlin itself. I have often quoted the statistic that a quarter of Berliners do not have a German passport, but something else is also happening. People are staying here longer. Ten years ago, many internationals in Berlin were fleeing the economic devastation wreaked on Southern Europe. They planned to stay in Germany short-term before returning to their home countries when the economy got better.
But these economies did not improve. People stayed. Many got permanent jobs and started families. These longer term residents learned German and began engaging with German politics. When we set up the LINKE Internationals 10 years ago, we communicated in English as a necessity. Now many of our members are fluent German speakers and active in German campaigns, including for Palestine solidarity.
The final factor that I want to talk about here is subjective – a rebellious response to suppression. When another leftist tells you that Germans can’t discuss Israel and Palestine, when the left’s parliamentary party, die LINKE, joins the CDU in organising a demonstration for Israel, when a left-wing theatre un-invites Jeremy Corbyn from a meeting on the EU because of his support for Palestine, you are driven to either despair or more militancy. Internationals in Germany are not just protesting to change conditions in Gaza, we also want to change the conditions in here.
Germany, we need to talk.
So what can we do?
To look at my earlier statistic through a different lens, three quarters of those living in Berlin do have a German passport. To build a mass campaign for Gaza, we also need their participation.
Most internationals are BIPoC people from the Global South, who are – quite rightly – leading the fight against colonialism. It is no coincidence that some of the demonstrations in Berlin have been organised by Global South United, an alliance led by anti-imperialist migrant and BIPOC groups.
But there is also a role for white Europeans and North Americans. To put it crudely, many Germans – including anti-racists – are reluctant to take part in a demonstration where most participants are Palestinians and the chants are in Arabic. The simple presence of white faces acts as a bridge which helps Germans join the demo despite their prejudices.
Internationals are used to a more sophisticated level of discussion about Palestine than we experience in Germany. We are much more acquainted with the arguments which we need to build a campaign for Gaza. While it’s great to spend some time in our international bubble, we also make an effort to speak to Germans and explain why Germany is politically failing in its implicit and explicit support for an apartheid régime.
In the face of the initial Israeli attacks after October 7th, and the refusal of many Germans to even consider the suffering of Palestinians, many of us felt alone and isolated from mainstream opinion. This is why it’s important that we network and that we organise. The international community in Berlin has the potential to be a significant political player. Let’s come together and turn this dream into a reality.
Together we are strong.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned a list of suggestions made by the Berlin LINKE Internationals. If you have any other ideas, please contact us at email@example.com.
Here are our suggestions so far:
- To stay informed of demos and other events, we recommend that you subscribe to The Left Berlin Newsletter and regularly visit the website’s Events page. The website also contains excellent coverage in English on the Palestine movement in Germany and beyond. You can also find some useful information in English on pages like those of Palästina Spricht and the Jüdische Stimme.
- A group of Spanish activists in Berlin have written an open letter to the German Left on Palestine. Before they publish the letter, they are looking for first signatories, particularly international organisations based in Berlin or Germany. If you are a member of such an organisation or can help find signatories, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We have set up a group on Signal for internationals to exchange information on Palestine events, and to organise leafletting and stickering actions. Please contact us if you want to be added to this group.
- We are planning a series of film screenings and fundraisers on Palestine. The first one was on Sunday, 12th November. Sixty people attended and we raised over €400 for activities for Palestine in Germany.
- The LINKE Internationals have set up a reading group on Palestine. The first meeting oversubscribed within a couple of days. Further meetings are planned, and will be advertised in The Left Berlin Newsletter and the LINKE Internationals Telegram group (linked under Contact us, below).
- If you are interested in writing about Palestine, you can contact The Left Berlin editorial board on email@example.com
- There is a whole number of other individual events which you can find on The Left Berlin Events page.
If you have any other ideas, please contact us at the addresses below. We would love to see you at our next meeting on 4th December in Schierker Straße 26. As well as continuing our debate about our relationship with Die LINKE, we will be planning more events, discussions and debates.
Many thanks to Andrei Belibou, Kate Cahoon, Rowan Gaudet, Molly Hill, Ramsy Kilani, and Annie Musgrove – all Berliners from a range of different countires, who gave valuable feedback on an earlier version of this article