Palestinians in Germany fear new level of repression after Nakba Day crackdown

Claiming to fight antisemitism, Berlin police arrested 170 people for carrying flags and keffiyehs during a flash mob marking Palestinians' mass expulsion.

On May 12, days before Palestinians around the world marked the anniversary of the Nakba, Berlin police issued a blanket ban on all Palestinian protests and events slated to take place in the city over that coming weekend, deeming them “potentially antisemitic.”

Despite the ban, pro-Palestinian activists in Berlin, a city with a large Palestinian and Arab community, insisted on showing solidarity and commemorating the 1948 expulsion and ongoing denial of return to their homeland of over 700,000 Palestinians. By the end of the day, the city’s police had detained over 170 protestors and bystanders who came out to mark the Palestinian catastrophe.

The ban — which was appealed by two Palestinian groups, PalestineSpeaks and Samidoun, and upheld by the administrative court on the grounds they posed an “immediate risk” of antisemitic violence — came alongside the separate barring of a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who eyewitnesses say was killed by Israeli snipers last week as she covered a military raid on Jenin Refugee Camp. The gathering was organized by Jüdische Stimme, a German-Jewish group that stands in solidarity with Palestine.

One group of Palestine activists opted for a Nakba Day flash mob in Hermannplatz, a town square in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood. Within five minutes, the group was met with intense police presence and was ultimately broken up. After the participants were kettled in an attempt to control the crowd, police then strode across the square to make arrests, often using force.

The flash mob, which involved a small group of people with their fists in the air, was preceded by a protest against climate change. Activists who were at the scene told +972 that some of the detained protesters had been there to take part in the first demonstration, during which they held Palestinian flags and wore keffiyehs.

Eyewitnesses told +972 that police were targeting Arabs and people of color, even if they were not part of the flash mob. “One guy just had a Palestinian flag on him when the police came out of nowhere and told him he was not allowed to carry it,” said one bystander who preferred to remain anonymous. “The police told us that two people holding flags counts as a demonstration and warrants arrests.”

Another man was arrested for shouting “free Palestine,” while yet another was arrested for wearing a keffiyeh. “Their method seemed to be arresting anyone who might be pro-Palestinian or just looked Arab,” the eyewitness said. Over 1,100 police officers were deployed in Berlin on Sunday, with some even being reportedly sent in to the city from other states for backup.

Ramsy Kilani, an activist with the German left-wing Die Linke party, was one the protesters detained on Sunday. He said was grabbed by a police officer who dragged him into the kettle for more than an hour in hot weather. “I now have bruises all over my arm, and when I asked why we were being abducted for no reason the policeman did not answer or give me a reason,” Kilani said.

Kilani, whose father, five of his half-siblings, and his step-mother were all killed when Israel bombed their home during the 2014 Gaza war, stressed that the activists were not staging a demonstration.“We upheld the law and simply looked for an alternative for people to just wear the colors of the Palestinian flags, or even bring a watermelon [one of the symbols of Palestinian identity] as an act of solidarity,” he said.

Majed Abusalama, a Palestinian political activist and co-founder of Palestine Speaks, an anti-racist Palestinian-led movement that fights for Palestinian rights and against racism across Germany, was also forcibly detained at the protest. Abusalama says he was approached by officers and asked why he was wearing a keffiyeh. Suddenly and without warning, he said, the police attacked him by twisting his arm. “It was crazy. They used so much force and nearly dislocated my shoulder. I had to be hospitalized,” Abusalama told +972.

After being thrown into a police van, Abusalama was asked by the police whether he worked for Hamas and Hezbollah. “This is unacceptable,” Abusalama said. “These prejudices are used against our struggle and function to discredit us.”

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