As the brutality of Israel’s systemic apartheid is being unveiled, human rights activists who speak up about Israel’s crimes against humanity become a target of political persecution. Berlin is currently witnessing a crackdown on freedom of expression as German authorities yield to Israeli government pressure to criminalize dissent. Whereas Berlin has positioned itself as the last bastion for Zionism over the past decades, activities to challenge it are of a growing concern for the authorities. Recent efforts to suppress such critical voices include the German Parliament’s anti-BDS Resolution as well as the violent arrests, deletion of video evidence and literally gagging of protesters at IsraelTag. These along with the revoking of Rasmea Odeh’s European visa and the cancellation of her public talk with poet Dareen Tatour, at the behest of the Israeli government only weeks earlier.
Amid all of that, we chose to turn German state repression into a tool of resistance as we faced Judge Miller at the Berlin Criminal Court. We are currently on trial for counts of trespassing and assault for protesting against MK Aliza Lavie, an Israeli official, and stressing her responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity back in June 2017 at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
Facing the Judge
The trial started with our opening statements, emphasizing the duty to speak up against Israel’s criminal policies. The judge silenced the audience as it applauded after each of our statements, which were read aloud in our native Hebrew and Arabic. In his turn, Majed distributed his printed statement to the crowd. When the judge ordered him to sit down, he replied: “They [the audience] are not less important than you are.”
The second court hearing shed light on the motivation behind putting us on trial. It started with defense attorney Nadija Samour reading out loud a request to summon the expert witnesses Profs Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, authors of the UN ESCWA report which accuses Israel of practicing The Crime of Apartheid as a form of institutionalized regime of systematic oppression.
The UN report is embedded throughout the history of the Humboldt case. Starting off with Ronnie quoting from the report which he was holding in his hand during the disruption, handing it to MK Lavie as he was being escorted out of the classroom. We cited from the report in our public statement Speaking Up in Times of Apartheid, which the prosecution later submitted as part of the evidence material against us.
Before the trial, Prof. Falk had endorsed our action in a joint event on challenging Israeli apartheid, while urging civil society institutions and individuals to use the instruments at their disposal to raise awareness of Israel’s ongoing criminal enterprise.
Gaza 2014 atrocities presented in court
Defense attorney Lukas Theune followed Samour, reading out loud sections from the Amnesty International report “Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes.” The report describes violations of international law by Israeli forces during the Gaza onslaught of 2014, for which Lavie carries direct responsibility as member of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee which oversaw the military operation that resulted in 2200 being killed, including 551 children and 89 entire families that were obliterated.
Testimonies from the Amnesty International report were introduced, detailing “the horror of frantically digging through the rubble and dust of their destroyed homes in search of the bodies of children and loved ones.” The judge responded by stating that “this [hearing] is not a political event.” She later dismissed the relevance of the entire report stating that “this is not an international court,” warning of further delaying the legal process.
Prosecutor admits: ‘Of course it’s political!’
Attorney Theune told the prosecution that similar cases where defendants have no criminal record had the charges dropped, adding that Yair Lapid, who was a leading candidate for Prime Minister, had sent a harsh letter to the Berlin mayor following our action at Humboldt. The prosecutor agreed that dropping such first-time offenses is common, “but not when it is political.” Defense attorney Matthias Schuster replied that the prosecution had politicized the event — not the defense — to which the prosecutor responded: “Of course it’s a political process.”
As the real motivation of the prosecution became clearer, defense attorney Theune presented a video that was published by one of Lavie’s delegation members. The video, taken from the delegation’s view, shows Majed in a very different light than the testimony given against him: he spoke only after receiving permission to do so, and was then about to leave the classroom. One of Lavie’s panelists got anxious by his intention to step out, imploring him to “stay and listen” while saying to their colleague in Hebrew: “They shouldn’t take him out. No, no! This doesn’t look good!” Even though documented proof for Majed’s innocence was presented, the prosecution chose to cast the responsibility for his pending residence status on the defense for its insistence on “opening a tribunal against Israel.”
Since the judge could not arrive at a decision and no time could further be allocated in the coming weeks, she had to resort to ordering a re-trial — which will be scheduled for the coming months.
As the tables are turning on Israel, even in Berlin, it is ever more crucial to bring Israeli crimes to public awareness and demand accountability for Israel’s actions. Holding a re-trial in the coming months would further this effort, as we make another step towards the abolishment of apartheid and the beginning of a new era in Palestine.