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In Germany, burning the Israeli flag is a problem, but killing Palestinians isn’t

July 6, 2021 at 2:39 pm

German ambassador in France Susanne Wasum-Rainer in Paris, on April 25, 2014 [PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll met with the German Ambassador, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, on Monday along with visiting German parliamentarians. Roll thanked the German guests for their country’s strong support for Israel during its major military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza from 10-21 May.

Germany’s unlimited support and cooperation make it a special friend of Israel. Among EU members it is the second-biggest supplier of weapons to the occupation state. Between 2009 and 2020, 24 per cent of Israel’s arms imports came from Germany.

When Israel treats international law, human rights, democratic principles, and liberal beliefs with contempt, Germany automatically takes its side, even when the result is the killing of innocent children and women. During the latest Israeli offensive, Germany supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” although it was killing civilians and destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure. The fact that an occupying state has no right to claim “self-defence” against the people under occupation was ignored by the Germans.

On 12 May, a German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, refused to condemn Israel’s killing of 14 Palestinian children. He referred to the legitimate Palestinian resistance as “terrorist attacks” and that the resistance groups had to stop their action against Israel so that “people do not die”.

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Seibert ignored the Israeli warplanes pounding the besieged Gaza Strip. He ignored the Israeli tanks firing indiscriminately towards densely-populated areas across Gaza. He ignored weeks of Israeli harassment and attacks on Palestinians worshipping in Al-Aqsa Mosque throughout Ramadan, and the residents of Jerusalem facing attacks by illegal settlers, which prompted the resistance groups to act. He ignored all of that.

On the same day, the deputy spokesman of the German Foreign Ministry, Christofer Burger, angered journalists when he said that the Palestinians had no right to self-defence. His claim that this right is only guaranteed by international law to sovereign states and Palestinians are not a state was palpable nonsense. All people living under occupation, collectively and individually, have the right to defend themselves and resist military occupation. Israel’s occupation of Palestine is a military occupation.

On day ten of the Israeli offensive, when the occupation state had killed 66 children, 40 women, and 16 elderly people out of 266 Palestinians killed in total, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas insisted that, “Germany stands with Israel and its right to defend itself.” He even visited Israel to prove that his country’s support was not limited to words. “I came to Israel to show solidarity and support Israel. Israel’s security and that of the Jewish residents here are not negotiable.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin, Germany on June 23, 2021 [Abdulhamid Hoşbaş/Anadolu Agency]

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin, Germany on June 23, 2021 [Abdulhamid Hoşbaş/Anadolu Agency]

Two days earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity.” She showed great interest in Israel’s security and safety of its people and condemned only the legitimate Palestinian resistance.

Germany’s verbal support for Israeli brutality and aggression against the Palestinians was backed up by officials who claimed that peaceful protests during which Palestinian flags were flown and anti-Israel slogans were chanted were “anti-Semitic”. Calls for Israel to be held accountable for its breaches of international law were described as “hate speech”.

According to Seibert, “Anyone who uses such protests to shout out their hatred of Jews is abusing the right to protest [in Germany].” He described the pro-Palestine protests which raised awareness about the ongoing Israeli crimes as “anti-Semitic rallies”, and stressed that they “will not be tolerated by our democracy.”

During a debate in the German parliament during the Israeli offensive on Gaza, Maas condemned the pro-Palestine demonstrations and called for a violent crackdown on them. “There shouldn’t be one centimetre of space for anti-Semitism on our streets. Never again.”

Germany has since banned the Hamas flag in the country in response to pro-Palestine demonstrations. “We do not want the flags of terrorist organisations to be waved on German soil,” Thorsten Frei, a lawmaker for Merkel’s CDU, told Die Welt. A ban, he added, would send “a clear signal to our Jewish citizens.”

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Israeli daily Haaretz that Germany believes that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories because of the “absence of the Palestinian state”. Germany is not only unconcerned about Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, but also does not even want those crimes to be investigated. Palestine was, of course, granted the status of a “non-member observer state” by the UN in November 2012, a move described as “de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine”.

Writing in Open Democracy, activist and sociologist Inna Michaeli said that Germans are against the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to end the Israeli occupation. Moreover, apparently, they do not like to hear anyone accusing Israel of killing children, despite this being “a description of horrendous reality — one in three Palestinians that Israel kills in Gaza are children.”

The targeting and arrest of Palestinian children has been a constant Israeli policy - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The targeting and arrest of Palestinian children has been a constant Israeli policy – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

She asked rhetorically: “What should people chant when Israel is killing children? How can the victims express their rage and sorrow, how can they mourn their children who are killed again and again by Israel?”

Even the German mainstream media ignores Israeli brutality against the Palestinians. “Much of the mainstream media coverage of Nakba Day demonstrations did not even mention nor explain to the readers what the Nakba is, and its continuation in the form of ethnic cleansing and denial of Palestinians’ right to return,” Michaeli pointed out. “Berlin, with the largest Palestinian population in Europe, is home to people whose family members have been murdered by Israel in recent days. These protests are often framed as ‘anti’ Israel, but the fact that they are primarily ‘for’ Palestinian life is omitted.”

Omri Boehm is an Israeli philosophy lecturer in New York. “Whenever one attempts to raise this subject, one is immediately accused of anti-Semitism,” he noted. “It is impossible to simply state the facts. For example, that within Israel’s borders, three million Palestinians live under brutal military law without being recognised as Israeli citizens. The Germans do not want to see this.”

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When pro-Palestine protesters burned an Israeli flag in Germany, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer described the act as “anti-Semitic” and said that Germany would crack down hard on anyone found to be spreading “anti-Semitic hatred” because “We will not tolerate Israeli flags burning on German soil.”

Commenting on this, Michaeli said: “Israeli flags matter, Palestinian lives do not. When people, politicians, and the media, care more about the burning of national flags than the burning of homes and neighbourhoods and the killing of entire families, they should really have a hard look at themselves.”

German support for Israel goes back to the early 1950s when reparations were paid to the state as the “heir” to the Holocaust victims who had no known surviving family. Billions of German marks and euros have been handed over in the intervening decades, helping to build Israel as a state. The fact that this is largely to the detriment of the people of occupied Palestine has, shamefully, been lost on successive German governments. Those parliamentarians who met Israeli officials earlier this week need to be educated about international laws and conventions, and the reality of Israel’s brutal military occupation which they and their colleagues in Berlin endorse so willingly.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.