Just two hours after its start, the police dissolved the controversial “Palestinian Congress.” There is currently an online debate about the procedure.

Several cloths are held, a yarmulke that looks like a watermelon.

Before the start of the Palestinian Congress, participants tried to prevent journalists from filming and taking photographs. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa

SEDAN taz | There are many ways to prevent an event. You can try to ban them. You can put pressure on the organizers and have them block your account. You can ask building authorities, business authorities and firefighters to find reasons why the event cannot take place. You can impose massive requirements up front to make it more difficult. It can prevent participants from reaching or entering the event room. And you can look for a reason to end the event early. The Senate and the Berlin police did all this to stop a controversial “Palestinian Congress.”

Two hours after the event began, police burst into the room on Friday to interrupt a video conference, temporarily cut off the power and half an hour later asked the approximately 250 people present to leave the room.

A police spokeswoman later explained to the public that there was a “ban on political activity” against author and researcher Salman Abu Sitta, 87, who had just been video linked. It is feared that “anti-Semitic speeches that glorify violence and deny the Holocaust” could occur. Therefore, the event scheduled for three days was completely banned.

British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah, chancellor of the University of Glasgow, had previously been refused entry at Berlin airport. He should have appeared as a speaker at the venue. Abu Sittah traveled to Gaza with Doctors Without Borders in October 2023 and wanted to inform Berlin about what he had experienced there. During a three-hour conversation at the airport, he was warned that he would commit a crime if he participated online in the conference from abroad, he later reported.

Criticisms of Varoufakis & Co

The “Palestinian Congress” was already very controversial before it began. Among those announced are former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former Spanish Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero of the left-wing Podemos party. Criticism of the event was sparked by the fact that the advertisement already mentioned “apartheid” and “genocide” in Gaza. Furthermore, some participants did not condemn the Hamas terrorist attack, including Yanis Varoufakis.

For this reason, the tabloid media had warned for months that “Israel haters” and “anti-Semites” would gather in Berlin. Many other media outlets echoed this and FAZ even drew parallels with the Wannsee Conference. Politicians from all parties, from the Union to the Left Party, protested against it. Various groups and initiatives were invited to the meeting; the Berlin interior administration described it as a “spectre of anti-Israel boycott.” One of the organizers was the group “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace,” of which a dozen members participated in the event, some identified as Jews by wearing a kippah.

The reason police canceled Abu Sitta's video conference was apparently a blog post by the 87-year-old from January. In it he wrote that if he were younger, he could have been one of those who broke the blockade of the Gaza Strip on October 7. Around 1,200 people were killed in Israel in the attack by the Islamist group Hamas. However, Sitta had been announced as a speaker for months, so his talk was hardly surprising. However, the police acted with full force, as if there was imminent danger.

Massive police presence

As a precaution, organizers did not announce the meeting location until Friday morning: a wedding hall in an industrial area of ​​the Tempelhof district. Before it even started, Berlin police intercepted would-be visitors and blocked off the entire street, with police cars and barriers everywhere. The police had prepared for a large operation that would last several days with around 2,500 officers and had requested reinforcements from North Rhine-Westphalia. About 900 officers were on duty in Berlin on Friday alone.

Considering that the police exerted exhausting harassment from the beginning, most participants were surprisingly patient. Discontent was only occasionally expressed in songs. People who were prevented from entering the hall on the street chanted “Long live Palestine,” “Israel bombed, Germany financed,” and “Where were you in Hanau?” And when the electricity was cut, cries of “Shame on you,” “Save international solidarity,” “Intifada,” and “Ceasefire is not enough” rang out. Scholz and Baerbock before the court.”

According to organizers, more than 800 people purchased tickets for the event. Police briefly limited access to 250 people and many were not allowed entry. Officials had briefly classified the congress as a “public meeting” and therefore imposed conditions similar to those of a pro-Palestinian rally. There was a separate area for the press, where journalists from German, Turkish and Arab media gathered.

Police quickly stopped some activists' attempts to block their sight with cloths. Before the start of the event, the police demands were read: in German, English and Arabic, because the audience was international. For example, flag burning, calls for violence against Israel, and symbols of terrorist organizations were banned. None of this was seen or heard at the event, just lots of Palestinian scarves and some Palestinian flags.

Fight for the sovereignty of interpretation

The only guest who spoke was American journalist and activist Hebh Jamal. He quoted Edward Said and author Ghassan Khanafani in his speech, calling Israel a “fascist colonial state” and saying he could not have imagined the scale of the horror in Gaza. When he talks about a 14-year-old relative who died there with his brother and 20 members of his family due to Israeli bombs, he tears up and stops. She then cites a police report said to have been made about her and that she had been followed the night before by an undercover police officer.

Once the event was over, the battle for sovereignty over interpretation began on social media. Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner wrote: “We have made it clear which rules apply in Berlin.” Federal Interior Minister Nancy Fraser wrote that “we do not tolerate Islamist propaganda or hatred against Jews,” an absurd statement, especially since there were more Jewish participants in the congress than on the board of directors of the “German Society.” Israeli”.

Left-wing critics were outraged. “Fascism is back and it doesn't even need a government to come to power,” Yannis Varoufakis said in a video statement. “A scandal,” wrote left-wing British author Owen Jones. The lawyers also expressed doubts about the legality of the police measures. The ban on entry to the rector of the University of Glasgow, Abu Sittah, and the arrest of a Jewish participant wearing a melon-print kippah, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity, sparked particular outrage. Because officials had mocked him, he accused an official of anti-Semitism.

The police are taking tough measures.

Another participant reported receiving a complaint for wearing a t-shirt with the words “Free Palestine” printed on it and a fist stylized in Palestinian colors. He had to take it off and give it to the police as “evidence”: “Luckily I had something underneath.” A Spanish journalist reported that the police had denied her entry to the event. Upon returning from the event, the Viennese students were detained for a long time.

It is not in any way necessary to approve the opinions and individual statements of the organizers and participants of the congress to have the impression that the State has imposed an ominous reason of State with the means of a police State. Organizers initially lodged an objection against the police decision and may be planning to take further legal action. According to the Berlin police, a demonstration of 1,500 people against the ban on the congress was recorded on Saturday. The authorities expect spontaneous protest demonstrations.

“Putin and Netanyahu would be proud of the Berlin police,” Wieland Hoban of the “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace” told the taz. Also questionable are entry bans and the cancellation of your club account. “It's not constitutional.”