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Trial update: confronting apartheid in Berlin’s criminal court

Activism

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.

At the University of Zurich. (Photo: Martin Büechi)

At the University of Zurich. (Photo: Martin Büechi)

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.

About Stavit Sinai, Majed Abusalama, and Ronnie Barkan

Stavit Sinai is a Jewish Israeli dissident and anti-apartheid activist. She holds a doctoral degree in sociology. (@stav_si); Majed Abusalama is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, born in Jabalia, Gaza. (@majedabusalama); Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli dissident, a BDS activist and serial disrupter to apartheid representatives. (@ronnie_barkan)

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8 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson on May 21, 2019, 1:51 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Stavit Sinai, Majed Abusalama, and Ronnie Barkan

    SEE: “Israeli diplomat in Berlin: Maintaining German guilt about Holocaust helps Israel” | By Nir Gontarz | Haaretz.com | Jun. 25, 2015

    [EXCERPT] A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in Berlin recently told Israeli journalists it was in the country’s interest to maintain German guilt about the Holocaust, and that it isn’t seeking full normalization of relations between the governments.

    Embassy spokeswoman Adi Farjon made the comments in a closed briefing session with journalists at the embassy.

    “We were all in shock,” said a female journalist present at the briefing. “The spokeswoman clearly said it was an Israeli interest to maintain German guilt feelings. She even said that without them, we’d be just another country as far as they’re concerned.”

    Others present at the event confirmed the journalist’s account.

    Some added that the Israeli ambassador himself, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, was present for some of the briefing, as were other embassy workers who don’t speak Hebrew. Another journalist commented, “It was so awkward. We couldn’t believe our ears. We’re sitting there eating peanuts, and behind the spokeswoman there are two German women sitting there who don’t understand a word of Hebrew – and the embassy staff is telling us they’re working to preserve the German guilt feelings and that Israel has no interest in normalization of relations between the two countries.”

    “I don’t remember saying that,” Farjon told Haaretz in response. “I can’t vouch for any particular quote, she added. “It was an off-the-record conversation, a briefing talk. The way I speak with Israeli journalists is a little different. These things aren’t intended to get out. I can’t reveal the principles I work by. For example, I don’t say who I go to in order to get good stories out here, or who I pay for things like that.” . . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-israeli-diplomat-german-guilt-about-shoah-aids-israel-1.5374078

    CACHE – https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LK29m00b1GMJ:https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-israeli-diplomat-german-guilt-about-shoah-aids-israel-1.5374078+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    WAYBACK MACHINE – https://web.archive.org/web/20190515034543/https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-israeli-diplomat-german-guilt-about-shoah-aids-israel-1.5374078

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson on May 21, 2019, 1:56 pm

      P.S. ALSO SEE: “Gunter the Terrible”, By Uri Avnery, The Palestine Chronicle, 4/13/12

      [EXCERPT] Stop me if I have told you this joke before:

      Somewhere in the US, a demonstration takes place. The police arrive and beat the protesters mercilessly.

      “Don’t hit me,” someone shouts, “I am an anti-communist!”

      “I couldn’t give a damn what kind of a communist you are!” a policeman answers as he raises his baton.

      The first time I told this joke was when a German group visited the Knesset and met with German-born members, including me.

      They went out of their way to praise Israel, lauding everything we had been doing, condemning every bit of criticism, however harmless it might be. It became downright embarrassing, since some of us in the Knesset were very critical of our government’s policy in the occupied territories.

      For me, this extreme kind of pro-Semitism is just disguised anti-Semitism. Both have a basic belief in common: that Jews – and therefore Israel – are something apart, not to be measured by the standards applied to everybody else. . .

      ENTIRE COMMENTARY – https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/04/13/gunter-the-terrible/

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso on May 22, 2019, 9:25 am

      For the record:

      https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israeli-academics-to-support-BDS-is-not-antisemetic-590202

      Jerusalem Post Israel News, May 20/19

      “ISRAELI ACADEMICS TO BUNDESTAG: BDS IS NOT ANTISEMITIC”

      “In a public letter, Israeli academics call recent German parliament decision ‘incorrect.’”

      “Israeli academics sent an open letter to the German government ahead of a recent vote in which the German Federal Republic equated BDS with antisemitism, urging them not to do so, an Im Tirtzu press release reported on Monday.

      “Citing that BDS is a non-violent movement which is against ‘all forms of racism, including antisemitism’ the signatories argued that it would be wrong to de-legitimate it or deny it German funding, as doing so might alienate German-Palestinians who will not be able to ‘express their sorrow.’

      “The letter cited the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to argue that BDS actions should be protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association.

      “The German resolution that passed on Friday, titled ‘Resisting the BDS movement decisively – fighting antisemitism,’ stated, ‘The argumentation patterns and methods used by the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.’

      “Signatories included ten professors from Hebrew University, seven from Tel-Aviv University, seven from Ben-Gurion University, and five from Haifa University, all heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, Im Tirtzu wrote.

      “Among those signed are Dr. Dmitry Shumsky from the Hebrew University, Dr. Brian Klug of Oxford and Dr. Merav Amir from Queen University Belfast.

      “One element in the BDS program is that Israeli academics and universities should be boycotted.

      “Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirtzu, said that ‘there is no parallel in the world to this phenomenon of hypocrisy and ungratefulness, in which these professors earn their living at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer yet at the same time work to boycott and slander them.'”

  2. just
    just on May 21, 2019, 2:15 pm

    Thank you Stavit, Majed, and Ronnie!!! You put so many to shame all over this planet, including the Bundestag, the US Congress, and too many others to count. Thank you to the defense attorneys, too~ hopefully Judge Miller will take advantage of some education. Hopefully MK Aliza Lavie will witness your exoneration and apply her efforts toward justice for Palestinians and “the abolishment of apartheid and the beginning of a new era in Palestine.” It is beyond belief that this is taking place in Berlin Criminal Court…

    • Eric
      Eric on May 22, 2019, 9:56 am

      “It is beyond belief that this is taking place in Berlin Criminal Court…”

      Considering Germany is a vassal state of Israel, and the pro-bono supplier of its entire submarine fleet, it’d be “beyond belief” if it wasn’t taking place in a German court. After all, a country needs to be sovereign before it can advocate for its own interests, rather than those of its Protectorate. However, perhaps that will change in future so let’s check back in a hundred years or so.

      • lonely rico
        lonely rico on May 30, 2019, 12:23 pm

        > Eric

        Considering Germany is a vassal state of Israel

        The crown jewel of the zionist empire is of course the USA.
        The crown is ringed with other brilliant jewels – Germany, the UK, France, Canada, Australia etc.
        They/we all contribute in our own way to the power and glory of the zionist empire, which will surely last for a thousand years.

  3. Tuyzentfloot
    Tuyzentfloot on May 23, 2019, 6:02 am

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/17/german-parliament-declares-israel-boycott-campaign-antisemitic
    The Guardian talks about and Anti-BDS motion. Looks like a statement, not binding, not a law.

  4. just
    just on May 24, 2019, 7:44 am

    Hooray!

    “Israel Labelled ‘Apartheid State’ at New York University Graduation Ceremony …

    NEW YORK – A host at a New York University graduation ceremony praised the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement during his speech this week, calling Israel “an apartheid state.”

    Steven William Thrasher, a NYU alumnus, spoke at the commencement of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences stating he is “so proud of NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and of Jewish Voice for Peace […] for supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against the apartheid state in Israel because this is what we are called to do.”

    “This is our NYU legacy: That we are connected in radical love, and we have a duty and a privilege in this position to protect not the most popular amongst us, but the most vulnerable amongst us on every campus where we serve in every community where we live, in every place that we work, this is our duty,” Thrasher continued.

    The Department of Social and Cultural Analysis earlier this month voted to boycott the NYU satellite campus in Tel Aviv over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its policies toward Palestinian universities.

    The NYU student government has considered resolutions to boycott and divest from Israel and, last month, the Students for Justice in Palestine received a President’s Service Award during a ceremony that the president himself skipped.

    “I found it quite objectionable that the student speaker chose to make use of the Graduate School of Arts and Science doctoral graduation to express his personal viewpoints on BDS and related matters,” NYU President Andrew Hamilton said …

    “We are sorry that the audience had to experience these inappropriate remarks,” Hamilton said. “A graduation should be a shared, inclusive event; the speaker’s words — one-sided and tendentious — indefensibly made some in the audience feel unwelcome and excluded,” he concluded.”

    https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-israel-labelled-apartheid-state-at-new-york-university-graduation-ceremony-1.7280956

    The ‘president’ is so very worried about feelings and donations and precious else.

    FYI, from wiki:

    Stephen William Thrasher is an American writer and editor and was recently hired as a faculty member by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.[1]

    He was the recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Journalist of the Year award 2012,[2][3][4][5][6][7] and the Al Neuharth Award for Innovation in Investigative Journalism 2015.[8]

    His journalism has appeared in The Village Voice,[9] The Guardian,[2] and The New York Times.[10] He is a Contributing Editor for BuzzFeed.[11] …

    According to NYU president Andrew Hamilton, Thrasher had omitted his comments about boycott of Israel from the version of the speech submitted for review, and stated that “NYU rejects academic boycotts of Israel, rejects calls to close its Tel Aviv campus, and denounces efforts to ostracize or exclude those in the University community based on their location in Israel, their Israeli origin, or their political feelings for Israel.”[12][13]”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Thrasher

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