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Contextualisation of events is not anti-Semitism; nobody wants another Auschwitz in Gaza

November 27, 2023 at 4:30 pm

People participate in the ‘solidarity with Palestinians’ march organized by the United Palestinian National Committee, which started at Anhalter Bahnhof Square and continued to the Berlin Cathedral, in Berlin, Germany on November 25, 2023 [Halil Sağırkaya/Anadolu Agency]

On 7 October, I went for dinner in Neukolln, Berlin. In the street, German police officers were asking people for their ID cards, dismissing pro-Palestinian crowds, and making sure that people were no longer handing out stickers with the flag of Palestine on them or chanting “Free Palestine”. This reminded me of a scene from the infamous 1999German movie Sonnenallee, where a checkpoint was still in operation for a few months and East Berliners had to show their identity documents, which were stamped at the time by the GDR border authorities.

A few Palestinian youngsters were celebrating at Hermannplatz earlier by handing out Arabic sweets in the middle of Berlin. This was their way of celebrating the revival of Palestinian resistance which has been diminished for many years within occupied Palestine because of the complicity of the Palestinian Authority with Israel, as well as beyond Palestine due to the oblivious international community and its refusal to apply international laws and conventions to the occupation. These youngsters are the exiled children and grandchildren of those Palestinians driven out of their homeland in the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (the Naksa). They will cheer for anything that gives them hope that they might return to their homeland. According to Nagib Mahfouz, Egyptian writer and Nobel Laureate, “Home is not the place where you are born. It is the place where all your attempts to escape cease.” Perhaps Germany will be such a place one day.

Once you arrive in what is known as the “Street of Arabs” in Berlin, you are greeted by the official street sign: Sonnenallee (Sun Avenue). The writing is underlined by a sticker proclaiming “Free Palestine”. Walk the lively streets in the neighbourhood and ghosts of Palestinian detainees, prisoners and martyrs gaze at you from every poster on their walls. Various Arabic dialects are heard; poetic graffiti is sprayed left and right; signs are in Arabic, German and Turkish; and the smells are of frying oil and tobacco, Syrian desserts, Turkish doner and baklava, Iraqi spices and Lebanese pastries, with a soundtrack of Kurdish and Egyptian music. It is very loud and chaotic compared with other parts of the city. Such is life. Sonnenallee is a space that allows for cultural translation and healthy dialogues.

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Integration with German culture and society by Arabs and Palestinians will always be problematic

German hipsters are in abundance in this area with their Arab and Turkish friends. It is a very refreshing sight. You could not tell this is a street which was built in the 19th century, renamed in 1938 as Braunauer Strasse after the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, and was once divided by the Berlin Wall. It was the crossing point between East and West Germany before the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Berlin and Germany. Today, Sonnenallee deconstructs and frees the street from its colonial context, expands its cultural borders, challenges the parameters of its local community, and offers spaces for political revision. Integration with German culture and society, however, by Arabs generally and Palestinian youths in particular, will always be problematic.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on 12 October that two Heron armed combat drones, leased by the German military, as well as shipments of German ammunition, were despatched in a day for use by Israeli forces and warships. Millions of euros have been paid this month as additional aid to help Israel in its bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip. Over a billion and a half has been paid in compensation for Holocaust survivors.

“There is only one place for Germany,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a speech to lawmakers. “That place is by Israel’s side.”

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A few days later, Scholz’s face brightened the otherwise dull red cover of Die Spiegel. The caption read: “We finally have to deport people on a large scale”.

In a motion passed a few days after 7 October, the German Bundestag agreed unanimously that Israel’s security is considered to be not negotiable. Until Russia’s war with Ukraine last year, it had been Germany’s longstanding official policy not to supply arms to conflict zones. Despite Berlin’s commitment to rethinking its security and foreign policy, opposition to German military entanglement in conflicts overseas still runs deep in German society. Protestors on the streets today affirm their national identity as a defensive mechanism in the face of Western capitalism, colonialism and materialism overseas.

Throughout the past couple of weeks, police in Berlin have been patrolling, intimidating and arresting Arabic-speakers in the Sonnenallee area. It is home to one of the biggest Palestinian communities in Europe.

I have read testimonies and seen videos of intimidation, targeted insults and threats of dismissal for anyone who expresses support for the Palestinian people. Mainz Football Club terminated the contract of its Arab Moroccan player, Anwar El-Ghazi, for a post on Instagram calling for an end to the genocide in Gaza. This selective criminalisation of Palestinians and Arabs, our voices and our national symbols is inhumane. This selective proscription of people who support us and those who practice their right for peaceful protest and anti-colonial resistance is unjust. This internationally complicit silence towards our suppression is unacceptable. The Palestinian flag, the Palestinian Keffiyeh scarf and the slogan “Free Palestine” are all constituent elements of our cultural identity and nonviolent means of resistance against colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

Just a couple of weeks ago the Arab Book Association in Egypt and the Sharjah Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates withdrew from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, calling for the role of culture and books in encouraging dialogue and understanding between people to be highlighted. This was their response to the statement of the director of the fair in support of Israel, and the decision by the event’s management to withdraw an award for Palestinian author Adania Shibli for her novel Minor Detail, which was listed for the Booker Prize in 2021. The novel depicts the life of a Palestinian woman raped by Israeli soldiers in 1949 and touches upon the violence, memory and the sufferings of the Palestinian people. German public and state-owned international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that the award organisers cancelled the event at the last minute.

Anti-Semitism is a European problem generated over two thousand years of Christians marginalising and murdering Jews. Explanations of the socio-political and historical conditions which led to the horrors of 7 October and the November 1947 UN Palestine Partition Plan are not ant-Semitic, because contextualisation does not mean justification. This issue did not start on 7 October 2023. It started in 1896 with the establishment of the political Zionism movement and the consequent Palestinian Nakba of May 1948.

Germany should allow peaceful protests in support of Palestinian freedom; legalise expressions of solidarity using Palestinian symbols and slogans; revoke the policing of students; and hold the police to account for their violence and discrimination. The federal republic has a moral and political obligation to call for a ceasefire and stop arming and supporting Israel in its war against the Palestinians. It should abide by its democratic legislation and make sure that history does not repeat itself, because no one wants another Auschwitz in Gaza or anywhere else.

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Akram Al-Deek is a writer in exile, activist, literary critic and an Assistant Professor of English, majored in post-colonial studies and world literature. He is the former Acting Vice Dean of the Faculty of Languages and Communication, and Head of the Departments of English Language and Literature, and Department of Translation at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He is a contributing columnist at The Left Berlin, the Jordan Times, Al Rai Alyoum and The Palestine Chronicle. Al-Deek has a BA in English Language and Literature, a Master’s degree in World Literatures and a PhD in Post-colonial Studies and Literature from Sunderland University, UK.

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