At midday on Thursday, 16th February, 50 people gathered opposite the Tiergarten District Court to protest at the first prosecution of someone arrested on Nakba Day 2022. Protestors held banners that read, “Defend Civil Rights” and “No Nakba Demo ban”. Given the time of day and the difficulty of discussing Palestine in German politics, this was an impressive mobilisation.
A report in the Electronic Intifada, the day before, pointed out that the first person put on trial, who prefers to remain anonymous, was Jewish, and a member of the Jewish Bund. He was facing a fine of over €300 for being in Hermannplatz a few days after the Israeli state murdered Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
One of the people arrested in Hermannplatz last year explained her experience: “Being surrounded by the German police for an hour in the middle of Berlin, under 30 degrees in the sun, without any explanation. This whole thing still feels surreal and I cannot believe that for the first time in my life I got a fine and face a court hearing. Simply because I wanted to use my rights.”
Christine Buchholz, former MP and member of the LINKE national executive, who was attending the trial as a witness told TheLeftBerlin: “We are at the court case to clearly show that we will not accept this limitation on the freedom of opinion. The Berlin Nakba demo ban is primarily aimed at Palestinians, but it affects us all. This is why it is important that we organise solidarity now.”
The protest started with speeches from representatives of Palästina Spricht, the Jewish Bund, Jüdische Stimme (Jewish Voice for Peace), as well as Berlin councillor Ferat Kocak and others. Speakers pointed out that one hour earlier, an environmental activist from Letzte Generation had been tried in the same court. They said we must unite the different struggles against repression.
A first victory
After the speeches, most people attending the protest went to a court room, which was too small to hold everyone, so most of us were forced to wait in the lobby outside. After about 45 minutes, Ahmed Abed, lawyer for the accused, came out to tell us that there wasn’t a case to answer. Witnesses who were present were not called. Instead, proceedings were stopped and the case was dropped.
The good news is that the accused does not have to pay any fine, but this is not necessarily a case which can be used as a precedent. Other protestors are due in court in the coming months, and at least one has already paid their fine. Although the accused are organising and supporting each other, people are under intense pressure, especially those who don’t hold German passports.
Pawel Wargen, who is also facing a fine, said “It’s clearly good that the court recognised the absurdity of the situation and dismissed the case, and we hope this will be true for the others facing trial, but that’s a very low bar. The ultimate goal is an end to the punishment of Palestinian solidarity in Berlin.”
The protests must continue at future court cases, and we must start preparing for May 2023, the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. Last year, while demonstrations took place worldwide, even in Israel and other parts of Germany, several planned demonstrations in Berlin were banned, including one called by the Jüdische Stimme protesting the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh.
The bans were justified by the police on the grounds that “the current situation”, by which they meant the cold-blooded murder of a journalist, “can provoke the anger of Palestinians living here.” They went on: “The Palestinian diaspora here is considerably tense and emotional. As a result, these gatherings often caused considerable disruptions to public safety.” In other words, bans are more likely to take place when people are angry about a recent injustice.
Of course, this only applies to certain communities. The police statement continues: “The majority of participations in the demonstration will be from the Arab diaspora, especially those with a Palestinian background. In addition, other Muslim-inluenced groups of people, preferably from the Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian diasporas, will participate on the march. A large number of youths and young adults are also expected, who will continue to be highly emotional.”
This statement comes in the wake of recent demonstrations by right-wing conspiracy theorists and open Nazis. The German police and legal system can live with this, but is systematically denying a voice to “Muslim-influenced groups”, whoever they may be.
Forward to the 2023 demo
The danger that there will be a similar ban in 2023 is very real. This will be much easier to impose if Palestinians and other groups are left isolated. This is why, although all significant protests have been led by Palestinians, it is significant that recent pro-Palestine demonstrations in Berlin have been attended by an increasing number of white faces. This could be reflected both at Thursday’s demonstrations and in the people who have been fined.
There is some more ground for optimism as Thursday’s demonstrators have made it clear that the fight for justice is not over. Over ten people registered to help the organising team planning #Nakba75, the demonstrations in Berlin that should take place in May. As we can expect further repression, it is important that this group is as strong as possible.
Summing up the day, Ramsis Kilani from Palästina Spricht said: “The first court case has shown: the Nakba demo bans have no legal basis. They are politically motivated. On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, we must make it clear that we will not be silent about our basic democratic rights of opinion and assembly. We are ready to call and mobilise for demonstrations which are both large and broad.”
We will continue to report on future cases, and on the limitation of the right to protests on TheLeftBerlin.com. We also urge you to support the legal fund for the people who were arrested. If you would like to know how you can get more involved in the campaign, please contact us at team@TheLeftBerlin.com.