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  • Writer's pictureDIe Frau

The long shadow of faraway wars

The Hamas terror attack exposed long-simmering tensions here

Even as the German government was declaring its support for Israel following the horrific attack by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, groups of supporters of Palestine were waving flags and handing out pastries along a busy street in Neukölln in southeast Berlin - in celebration of the massacre of more than 1,000 unarmed Israelis and foreign nationals in Israel.

Berlin mayor Kai Wegner's statement on the platform X (formerly Twitter) in support of Israel.

Berlin is home to an estimated 25,000 Palestinian immigrants, by some estimates the largest single Palestinian community in Europe. There are often rallies to protest German support for Israel and the Israeli government's 16-year blockade of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Last week, a Berlin teacher was allegedly beaten by a group of students after he told one to stop displaying a Palestinian flag. Some accounts say that the teacher struck the student first in reaction to the student's refusal to comply. Other accounts say the teacher only struck the student in self-defense. The school association is investigating.

In my (admittedly very limited) experience here, pro-Palestine advocacy is often accompanied by or brings out a rash of overt anti-Semitism. (Not all of it by Palestinians or immigrants.)

On my Instagram post sharing an image of an interfaith prayer vigil planned by the House of One, there were several virulent anti-Semitic comments. (And I don't mean comments against Israel or its government - these were explicity and profanely anti-Jewish.)

The Berlin government has added police protection for Jewish synagogues and the Berlin police have been tasked with finding and removing anti-Semitic graffiti in public spaces.

I don't feel knowledgeable enough to get into a discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, except to say that I am aware that Western media has virtually ignored the humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by the Israeli and Egyptian blockades. It also rarely mentions the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

News video shows several police beating a person at a pro-Palestine rally in Berlin.

It does feel hypocritical to express grief at the deaths and suffering of Israeli children, when we've said nothing at the deaths of Palestinian children.

That said, I refuse to align in any way with a group that celebrates or incites violence against unarmed people. Or calls for violence against members of a particular group of people.

I am increasingly disoriented by the feeling that I can't really trust the information that I get. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there were waves of disinformation published on social media, particularly on the X platform.

WIRED's David Gilbert writes that the X algorithm prioritized paid accounts promoting lies while it was almost impossible to find posts by users who were actually in Gaza and Israel and writing about the events in real time.

Rather than being shown verified and fact-checked information, X users were presented with video game footage passed off as footage of a Hamas attack and images of firework celebrations in Algeria presented as Israeli strikes on Hamas. There were faked pictures of soccer superstar Ronaldo holding the Palestinian flag, while a three-year-old video from the Syrian civil war repurposed to look like it was taken this weekend.

This extends to coverage locally, where the same incident receives very different play depending on the outlet. These search results all describe the incident at school that I mentioned earlier. You can see the difference in the headlines.

Berlin has a long history as a city with an international, multicultural population. Almost a quarter of its population are not German citizens. It is inevitable that there will be regular conflict between people from very different cultures living close together. Also, probably inevitable that there will be conflict here when people's native countries are at war.

Last year, as Germany welcomed Ukrainian refugees, Berlin was also the site of several controversial pro-Russia demonstrations. (A similar one took place on the one-year anniversary of the invasion, with many saying that the supposed 'peace demonstrations' were playing into Russian and German far-right propaganda.)

I think at times like this it is important to continue to amplify the more moderate voices that often get drowned out. In this situation, there are people on the Palestinian side and Israeli side calling for caution and to remember the humanity on both sides.

We need to reject simplistic narratives and continue to critically examine information and its source before taking any action.


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