My trip to Germany was not easy. Last month I was invited to speak at an event, “Palestinian Women in the Liberation Struggle,” alongside Rasmea Odeh, a 71-year-old Palestinian activist who was stripped of her U.S. citizenship after she was convicted of immigration fraud in 2014 for failing to report a conviction in her naturalization paperwork a decade earlier. The panel was organized to coincide with International Women’s Day by Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and Hirak, a Palestinian youth organization in Germany.
Rasmea spent ten years in prison in Israel. When she was a 21-year-old college student she was arrested on terrorism charges in 1969 in a sweep of more than 500 people, including her two sisters, one of whom is paralyzed, and her father. She confessed but says the confession was made under duress. She alleges she was tortured with electrical shocks, raped and further sexually assaulted during interrogation, which lasted 45 days. Her father recounted one horrific scene in 1979 to the Sunday Times. At one point interrogators brought him into a room with Rasmea, who was handcuffed and naked, and threatened to force him to rape her. When he refused the interrogators sexually assaulted her with a stick in front of him.
After she confessed she recanted, yet she was convicted in 1970 for planning bombings that killed 2 and injured 9 and for membership in a banned organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or the PFLP. She was given two life sentences in a Israeli military court, a system with a 99.7 percent conviction rate that Human Rights Watch said lacks due process and violates international law. In 1980 after she was released in a prisoner exchange she gave testimony about her alleged torture to the United Nations and Amnesty International.
But I never got to speak with Rasmea at the event, because German police prohibited her from speaking and revoked her visa after complaints from Israeli officials.
Before I got to Berlin, my own difficulties started.
When I arrived at Ben-Gurion airport in Lod to depart for Europe, the first step my of journey began with segregation, racial discrimination and classification. Then an investigation, questions and my own private security monitor who followed me everywhere for everything I did. Even if I went to buy a water bottle, I was followed.
My passage through airport security was long and bitter and the search continued for three and a half hours.
My trip inside of this trip turned out to be something like a police investigation. I felt as though I was back in the interrogation room at jail and not at the airport! The charge against me this time was only that I am a Palestinian passenger at Ben-Gurion airport and was once imprisoned for writing a poem.
I never went through the routine security examination that air travelers go through, because, as I was surprised to learn from an airport security employee, I would have to go with her for a special inspection. After she took my passport and planted a yellow sticker on it, I also had to put yellow stickers on my bags. Then she asked me, “Is there a weapon in your bag?” I replied, “There are only poems and clothes.” After that she took me with her to a semi-enclosed room to begin my journey with questions and answers and with searches of my bag. Then she searched my body and in the end it was a naked search.
After suffering racial and ethnic discrimination alone, without any other passengers nearby, I left the search and investigation area with just eight minutes to get to my plane before it took off. I finally arrived in Berlin.
Meanwhile in Berlin the city’s Senate barred Rasmea’s participation in the event under pressure from the Israeli government, according to Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan. Erdan, who has repeatedly attempted to link Palestinian activists engaged in boycotts against Israel with “terrorism,” revealed Israel’s ambassador in Germany was involved in the cancellation along with “a slew of Jewish organizations.” Washington’s ambassador in Germany also spoke out against Rasmea’s scheduled appearance. He told the German outlet Bild, the event gave “a Palestinian terrorist convicted of murder and terrorism … a public platform that legitimizes anti-Semitism at a time when we should be condemning it,” reported Deutsche Welle.
Under German law, criticism of Israel can be considered hate speech after a 2017 law changed the definition of anti-Semitism.
Removing Rasmea from the event seemed like the end of the affair as German police indicated the it could go on without her participation.
Before the event via Facebook I received several letters of incitement against me and my participation. The threats even escalated to threats of death and rape if I participated in reading a speech. Among these many messages the most severe was, “Your terror will not pass through Germany,” “Terrorist, death is your destiny,” “I would be the happiest person if I could rape you and throw you into the sea to save Israel from your terror,” “Rape is the best response to your terror,” and “One bullet cuts your voice”.
March 15, the day of the event, I was still expecting to participate with Rasmea where each of us would talk about our experiences in prison, the stages of the Palestinian women’s struggle and, and the conditions of Palestinian women prisoners.
I was supposed to talk about police crimes as a Palestinian woman during interrogation in jail, and talk about Israel’s illegal practices against myself and other Palestinian female prisoners. I was also supposed to read some of my poems.
When I arrived at the event hall, I was surprised by something else. The venue was vandalized with graffiti.
Then the German police intervened and canceled the event altogether because it was a danger to public safety, according to their claim, and they took everyone out of the hall immediately. We were made to stand in the street in the cold, and under the rain.
Outside a large crowd had amassed. More than a hundred supported the event, and dozens of pro-Israel protesters congregated, organized by a local right-wing Zionist activist. On the street, without planning and spontaneously, we organized a demonstration against these racist practices and the policy of silencing the mouths of Palestinians in Germany.
Throughout, Rasmea was the one who received the most severe attacks. She was taken to the nearest police station and the police handed her a file containing nearly 50 pages explaining her life and activities full of lies borrowed from the German media, right-wing advocacy groups the and Israeli media. In addition she was handed an order to prevent her participation in any political activity or gathering and any speaking engagement that day. The order also revoked her Schengen zone visa to Europe, taking effect no later than March 22, 2019. Her passport was confiscated and she was told to present herself at a foreign registration office the following week.
It was very unfortunate that the German government dealt with this issue this way because it only listened to one party and we Palestinians did not get an opportunity to explain the reasons for the panel and the purpose of its establishment. And they did not even think about asking us, the participants, about the fact of the harassment we experienced.
It is a painful feeling when a cultural or political event in which I was supposed to have participated in, specifically in Berlin, is cancelled. This is especially so as I have suffered a lot from systematic policies related to the occupation of Palestine and constant pressure from the Israeli Ministry of Culture on cultural institutions. Increasingly in Israel artistic and cultural works are being declared as conduits to terrorism that the state must abolish. I never imagined for a moment that I would relive the feelings of artistic sanction, or any degree of incitement to violence against me, in Europe too. Nor that I would witness a woman having her visa stripped because she was going to talk on a stage about an experience she first told the United Nations about nearly 40 years ago.
I returned to Palestine because after this spontaneous demonstration I had nothing more to do in Germany. But Rasmea stayed in Germany and decided to fight and appeal the decision to deport her in this seemingly illegal way.
She was subjected to very racist positions as a result of the proliferation of propaganda, including from the Green Party in Germany, a group that supposedly supports freedom, justice, humanity and human rights, except for the Palestinians. An online campaign ran in English and German calling for Berlin to cancel the event, including posts made by an Israeli government-run social media project, 4iL.
With Rasmea’s appeal in the works, a group of solidarity activists with her case decided to give her a chance to speak and defend herself. They held an official event on March 28 in Berlin, The event was supported by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Berlin Muslim Feminists, Bündnis gegen Rassismus, Hirak, The Coalition Berlin, Bloque Latinoamericano Berlin, Brot und Rosen international socialist women’s organization, Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation – Klasse Gegen Klasse, Berlin Against Pinkwashing, Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace), RefrACTa Kollektiv Brasilien-Berlin, BDS Berlin and the Kali feminist collective.
Despite all the restrictions, Rasmea was able to speak and shout out in the presence of dozens of supporters. Using a legal loophole, she did not participate in person but a recording of her was displayed on a screen. The audience heard her voice without the need for her presence and without violating any of the prohibitions imposed by the German authorities. The police arrived on site looking for Rasmea and did not find her. I was very happy when I received this news and Rasmea was able to communicate her voice despite all the pressure. Because her voice is the voice of every Palestinian.