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Occupy Against the Occupation: Protest Camp in Front of Germany’s Parliament

Since Monday, April 8, pro-Palestinian activists have been braving Germany’s bleak climate — both meteorological and political — to protest the Israeli genocide in Gaza, and the unconditional German support for it. 

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Erik de Jong, Alina Tatarova

A small, makeshift village where you would not expect one: right outside the German parliament or Bundestag. In the last two weeks, what started as a protest camp has steadily grown, with kitchen tents, information stands, daily workshops, and at least thirty sleeping tents. In the background, the Israeli flag flies over the Bundestag, flanked by the German and European Union flags. The sound of fifty to a hundred people fills the air — chants, speeches, music, and casual conversation in a mixture of German, English, and Arabic. The diverse coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations, including Jüdische Stimme (Jewish Voice), has many different demands, but the core one is: stop supplying Israel with the weapons it uses to oppress and kill Palestinians. One of the camp’s inhabitants told us:

Over the last six months, and in some cases longer, we have been marching, educating, demonstrating, and staging artistic interventions in protest. As nothing has swayed Germany from its commitment to dehumanizing Palestinians and supporting the Israeli occupation in its genocide, we now plant our bodies as a sign unmoving in front of the heart of German political power.

The camp started out small, with a couple of tents, signs with slogans like Besetzung gegen Besatzung (Occupation against occupation) and Stoppt die Waffenlieferungen (Stop the arms deliveries), and an exhibition of items currently not allowed into Gaza by the IDF. The list ranges from the mundane but essential (baby formula, cat food, insulin) to the utterly bizarre (wedding dresses, coriander, doors). 

Each day in the camp starts with breakfast, followed by a camp plenary, morning exercise, and workshops. The workshop topics include digital security, filming the police, protest training, and even choir rehearsals singing Palestinian songs. Of course, day-to-day life in the horizontally organized camp also consists of meetings about who will do what labor, and then actually doing the labor.

The camp welcomes visitors and invites them to participate, to write letters to political prisoners, or just to stop by during night shifts to support comrades who are on duty. Visitors are kindly asked to bring sleeping bags, rain capes, hot water, and any other supplies that make camp life more bearable. 

The activists’ dedication should be an inspiration to everyone who considers themselves to be part of the Left, all the more because life in the camp under the constant threat of state repression. On a daily basis, cops attempt to interrupt meetings or to escalate tensions by policing mundane acts (such as playing music). On several occasions, activists have been violently detained, without having charges pressed against them. Police have also attempted to criminalize Arabic speakers, by prohibiting slogans in Arabic at certain times and even going so far as to record Muslims praying in the camp during Ramadan. More recently, police even banned the Irish language being used!

In “liberal” democracies around the world, pro-Palestinian and anti-genocide activists are facing increasing state repression. In Germany, unconditional support for Israel is seen by the ruling class as one of the state’s reasons to exist. In early April, the Jewish philosophy professor Nancy Fraser lost a guest professorship at the University of Cologne for speaking out against Israeli war crimes. Last week, the police violently broke up the international Palestine Congress in Berlin, while speakers were not allowed to enter the country or even to speak via Zoom. As has been common in recent months, several Jewish pro-Palestine activists were arrested on charges of antisemitism. After the congress was broken up, many of its participants instead spent the weekend at the Occupation against Occupation camp. One camp resident explains their motivation:

Germany is enabling the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people via weapons exports and political, economic, and diplomatic support. As such, it is not only our right, but our duty to resist.

Since the camp was set up nearly two weeks ago, its original inhabitants have experienced an influx of visitors, increasing police repression, and severe changes in the weather. Amidst everything going on at the camp, it would be easy for one to miss a small, but hopeful detail: the Israeli flag that was flying over the Bundestag has finally been taken down.

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