Germany: Police admit people detained under ‘protest ban’ just looked Palestinian

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While Benjamin Netanyahu sat down for lunch in Berlin on Thursday with the German chancellor to assure his continued support for Israel, a pro-Palestinian activist was in front of a judge across town, accused of taking part in a banned protest. .

The accusations date back to May 15 last year, when Berlin police issued a sweeping ban on protests marking Nakba Day, the annual anniversary of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when the state of Israel was established.

The man in the dock is the sixth person to appear in court in recent weeks, in an attempt to overturn fines of €300 each.

Although there were no major protests that day, the police said at the time that they had detained 127 people for opposing the ban.

But the defendants have told the court that, far from protesting, they were ‘quoted’ and detained by police for the most trivial matter – such as wearing the traditional Palestinian headscarf known as the keffiyeh or be dressed in the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Activists say the trials show that Germany is increasingly suppressing Palestinian expressions of identity at home as it continues its unwavering support for Israel’s occupation.

‘Just meeting friends’

Most of the arrests took place around Hermannplatz, a central square in the Neukölln district of Berlin, home to a large Palestinian community.

The first case was dropped late last month after the defendant, a Jewish-American antifascist, said he heard about the possibility of protests and just wanted to see what was going on.

He said he was not participating in a demonstration or wearing symbols of the Palestinian cause when he was surrounded by police and subsequently detained.

The case of another activist facing trial today – German – was dismissed on similar grounds.

The Palestinian keffiyeh: All you need to know about its origin

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But the judges were not so accepting of the testimony of the other defendants – all Palestinians.

One said he was only in the area to meet friends. He denied claims in a police report that he was part of a demonstration and that he had ignored an order to leave the square.

“The only thing that is true is that I was wearing a keffiyeh,” he told the court. “And that is part of my identity as a Palestinian.”

Another defendant said he had rolled up a Palestinian flag he had borrowed from a friend and wanted to return. On his way to the subway, he was surrounded by police and arrested. He disputed the police’s claim that he hung the flag to the cheers of the crowd.

The third Palestinian defendant said that she came to Hermannplatz to meet friends half an hour after the time that the police said a short protest took place. They had left the square for a restaurant on Sonnnenallee – Berlin’s so-called “Arab Street” – when officers told them they could go no further.

Yesterday, for the first time, a police witness was called to explain his actions. He told the judge that he and his colleague followed orders to expel a group of people, before he led them away one by one.

He admitted that he had not seen any protest, but that his colleagues had identified and rounded up people who “stood out” because they were wearing Palestinian scarves or the colors of the Palestinian flag.

In each of the four cases involving Palestinian defendants, the judge adjourned the trial to gather more evidence, including calling more police witnesses.

The right to object

“The police write a lot of things in their reports that are not true,” the defendant’s lawyer, Ahmed Abed, told Middle East Eye. “It takes a long time to clean that up.”

Palestine solidarity activists said Berlin’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests and arrests of people who only wear symbols of Palestinian statehood showed a parallel in Israel.

“This trial was ridiculous from the beginning, which shows that Germany is involved in what is happening in Palestine,” one of the defendants, who asked to be identified only by his initials MJ, told Middle East Eye.

“It’s not just silencing Palestinian voices,” he said, “but anyone who disagrees with the government’s colonial agenda.”

Human Rights Watch called the ban on protest “an extreme restriction that effectively works as a collective punishment for those who wish to assemble peacefully”.

While the current court cases are not addressing the fundamental question of whether the police acted lawfully to prevent all pro-Palestinian protests, activists hope the proceedings will draw attention to the nature the ban is false.

Hanging in the air is the question of whether Berlin will try to block protests for this year’s Nakba Day, which will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and the beginning of the occupation that continues to this day. Activists have announced plans to protest in Berlin on Saturday 20 May, and have launched a campaign to defend their right to do so.

The trials continue.

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