Oppression and resistance: Khaled Barakat speaks on Germany’s repression and Palestinian liberation

Photo: Khaled Barakat

Khaled Barakat, Palestinian writer and the international coordinator of the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, filed an appeal against the latest attack by German immigration authorities against him. The Berlin immigration office announced that it intended to bar him from Germany for four years based on his political beliefs, writings and articles, particularly his rejection of “Israel’s right to exist” and his support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Barakat and his lawyer are fighting back in court against the decree, the latest in a long line of repressive actions by the German state targeting Palestinian activists and organizers working in solidarity with Palestine.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network talked with Khaled Barakat about the situation in Germany and the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Read our interview below for a critical discussion of key issues facing our movement, from racism and repression to a vision for a liberated Palestine.

We invite you to join us for a virtual event on Thursday, 26 March, “Fighting Anti-Palestinian Repression with Khaled Barakat.” This event will take place over Zoom at 12:00 pm Pacific time/3:00 pm Eastern time/8:00 pm Central European Time/9:00 pm Palestine time. Join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/518907218772925/

To register for the Zoom event and receive access information, please visit this link: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/uZMlduCppz8vR4nim8KpDfMLB4l0Bq9CKw?fbclid=IwAR242lKoyJkTMNFakrPei84Bf1vDF_GZanFuWlr04267iINADHViUeFqn4c

Samidoun: Why do you think German officials and the Berlin immigration office are continuing their political attacks on you, even though you are not living in Germany?

Khaled Barakat: The main reason that the German authorities took this decision of banning me for four years from entering Germany is to silence and suppress the Palestinian and Arab communities inside Germany more broadly. This case began with the confiscation of the right to speak, with the political ban on my speech at the event on June 22, 2019, shutting down an event that was organized by three Arab community organizations. My planned speech at this event was a discussion of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” and they found it so unacceptable that I would address this, that they sent the police to prevent it from happening.

This began as an attack on speech and expression, and it remains an attack on speech and expression. Germany is attempting to create an “example” of me, to show that those who oppose Israeli policies and the German political position in support of the occupier and the colonizer, will be subjected to silencing and repression. They do not want Israel – or Germany – to face this type of open criticism.

Further, they are not just worried about one writer who writes articles and gives talks. They are concerned about the strength of the Arab community in Berlin. They want to undermine the community’s attempts to organize itself, particularly the activities of Palestinian and Arab youth, who can become a real power if they come together, mobilize and organize for justice in Palestine, but also in Germany, fighting against racism and all forms of oppression.

S: Throughout the document, they repeatedly raise that you have spoken out in support of Palestinians’ right to resist occupation. At the same time, they claim that opposing Israel’s “right to national defense” is actually anti-Semitic, so they do not embrace some sort of pacifist position and instead support an Israeli monopoly on arms and “violence.” Why do you think it is important to defend Palestinians’ right to resist?

KB: Palestinians have been resisting occupation and colonization for over a century. They have waged revolution after revolution. Their revolution is continuous; it has never stopped, and it will remain until the liberation of the land and people of Palestine. Palestinian resistance is a right, and this right belongs to all Palestinians. This right stems from the legitimacy of our just cause: the liberation of Palestine and the return of the refugees. If our aims are met, when our goals are achieved, then there will be no need for armed resistance.

But so long as Palestine is occupied, so long as colonization confiscates our homes, so long as there is a settler-colonial, apartheid system implanted in Palestine, Palestinians will continue to resist through all forms. Palestinians will resist through popular protest, by building their popular movements, and by strengthening their military resistance to occupation.

S: There have been attempts to classify Palestinian resistance as “terrorist,” something we see within this document, even as it rests upon solely political speeches and writings. What do you think about this framing and why is it used?

KB: The colonizer will always impose an array of labels on the colonized people when they rise up and resist. They have called us savages, barbaric, and now, terrorists. For example, we have seen the “terrorist” term used against the Native and indigenous population in North America, as the modern incarnation of those past terms, when people rise up to protect their land and people from settler-colonial violence and extraction. Most recently, we have seen this term used repeatedly by right-wing groups aiming to stir up racist hatred and harsh repression against the Wet’suwet’en land defenders and fellow strugglers across Canada, as they block pipeline construction and train and port traffic to protect Indigenous land.

Just as the term “terrorism” is not uniquely applied to Palestine, of course, armed struggle to resist colonialism is not the sole domain of Palestinians, even if it may appear to be in the rhetoric of the Zionist movement and the Israeli state, adopted here by German officials. Many national liberation movements and revolutions around the world were historically and are at present based on and include armed struggle as a central part of that fight for liberation. The people of Algeria won their liberation through armed struggle, despite the bitter cost of 1.5 million martyrs extracted by French colonialism.

Today, when people in the Philippines fight to defend their land, their resources and their rights and fight for real land reform and social change, they have the right to take up arms in their struggle. When the people of Namibia resisted German colonization and faced massacres at the hands of invading German forces in the late 19th century and early 20th century, they had the right to take up arms and resist by all means necessary the colonialist forces invading their land and confiscating their resources.

The important thing here is that the people who are colonized are the ones who determine their forms of struggle, how they use these forms of struggle and when they use them, according to the needs and dictates of the liberation struggle and the people, not according to the whims of the colonizer. Germany, the United States and these forces who are responsible for creating the misery of the Palestinian people have no role to play in determining how the Palestinian people fight for their liberation.

S: This document also repeatedly refers to the boycott campaign, particularly the BDS campaign. In May 2019, the Bundestag passed an anti-BDS resolution, which was claimed at the time to be “not legally binding.” Yet here we find it cited multiple times as a reason to ban a person from entering Germany for four years for no other reason than his support for Palestinian liberation: a clear legal attack on freedom of movement and expression justified through repeated citations of this resolution. They attempt to label the BDS campaign as anti-Semitic and justify its suppression on this basis, despite the fact that it is a Palestinian call based on principles of international law and human rights. Why do you think this is?

KB: Germany and Israel are attacking the Palestinian voices and the supporters of Palestine to protect their interests in the colonization of Palestine. They are not concerned for Jewish people around the world, but for the perpetuation of colonization. They claim that the BDS campaign recalls memories of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses; of course, however, the BDS campaign has nothing to do with Jewish businesses in Germany or anywhere else, but with Israeli businesses in occupied Palestine as well as those multinational corporations reaping huge profits from the confiscation of Palestinian rights.

In fact, one of those multinational corporations that is a major target of BDS campaigns is HeidelbergCement, the German cement corporation that plunders Palestinian natural resources in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. It seems that there is, in reality, not German guilt for Nazi crimes, but self-interest in protecting its corporations involved in the theft of resources from an occupied, colonized people. In the same light, Germany is opposing the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction in occupied Palestine; is that not to protect the very German corporations profiting from war crimes?

We see today that the Zionist movement is closely aligned with far-right, neo-Nazi and fascist forces in Germany and throughout Europe. It is these groups that pose a threat to Jewish people in Europe – and also to our communities, who have been subjected to brutal racist attacks. On the other hand, Jewish people who speak up against Zionism and in support of Palestinian rights are themselves attacked as “anti-Semitic,” along with Palestinians, while fascists receive a free hand.

Which party was pushing an even more extreme anti-BDS, anti-Palestinian motion in the Bundestag? The AfD, the Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right, racist political party riddled with fascist sympathizers, because they saw it as support for their ally Israel and another way to attack Arab and Palestinian communities in Germany. And, of course, the rest of the parties in Germany, including the SPD and the CDU, have allowed an encouraged this kind of anti-Palestinian agitation, as we see in this dangerous Bundestag resolution.

Far from expressing guilt or responsibility for Nazi atrocities against Jewish people in Europe and the crimes of the Holocaust, this resolution and the other official anti-Palestinian attacks are an attempt to shift responsibility for these crimes from European fascism to Palestinian and Arab communities, especially refugee populations seeking refuge and safety. It is a tremendously racist resolution.

The racist, right-wing groups are in a direct alliance with Gilad Erdan and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to attack this most basic form of expression by Palestinians and their supporters and allies – boycotting Israeli products and institutions. Meanwhile, BDS is supported by the progressive voices and social movements around the world, by a growing number of labor unions, left-wing parties, the progressive LGBT community that rejects pinkwashing, the anti-colonial women’s movement, liberation movements and oppressed peoples around the world. There is a Palestinian consensus on BDS and the boycott of Israel. There is an Arab popular consensus, even as reactionary regimes push a normalization agenda.

The reality is, they are worried because BDS is becoming a tool to raise the awareness of the public in Germany who still, in opinion polls, show greater support for the Palestinian cause. It exposes the relationship between Germany and Israel, the alliance in colonization and exploitation. It is Germany that provided free nuclear-capable submarines to Israel and continues to manufacture and sell these warships to the occupying power. These submarines are well-known to be equipped with nuclear warheads. This is only one part of Germany’s role in militarizing and destabilizing our region. We don’t want Israel’s nuclear weapons in our region!

Germany is not just militarizing Israel, it is becoming known to the people of the region as an enemy of Arabs and Palestinians, not only because they take these positions to defend the Israeli occupation from any type of pressure or accountability, but because of the racism and oppression directed against Arab and other refugee communities in Germany.

S: It seems that Germany doesn’t want to allow any opportunity for Palestinians to resist. They accuse you of being a danger for defending Palestinians’ right to resist through armed struggle, but also that you are a danger because you support a completely popular campaign, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

KB: The German state is lying when it claims to respect international law. If Merkel and Germany actually respect international law, they should be actively welcoming and engaging in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which is a call based upon international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The government of Germany should boycott Israel! All of the German parties should boycott Israel, including the SPD, which seeks to blame Palestinian youth for anti-Semitism in Germany, and Die LINKE, whose leadership’s cowardice means it repeatedly betrays its supposedly left principles when it comes to Palestine. If Germany genuinely supports international law, democracy, peace, human rights and all of these phrases it invokes in official statements, then Germany should support Palestinians. In fact, it should provide financial, political and military support to the Palestinian people. It should not be providing that support to Israel, the occupier and the colonizer.

S: In the document, they talked about you going to the European Parliament. They claim that you speaking at the Parliament is somehow proof that you are a leader of the PFLP, and they cite Israeli complaints about your speech but not the Parliament’s own response dismissing them. Of course, your speech was about Germany’s violation of your rights and the silencing of your speech through the political ban. Why do you think they say this about their own parliamentary institution of the European Union?

KB: The colonizers are enraged when the colonized resist, even by delivering a speech at the European Parliament. Even more, they want us to be isolated. The purpose of these attacks is to frighten not just me as an individual, but the community as a whole.

If all can see that instead, we have the support of people around the world, across Europe and even in the Parliament, they can see that we are not alone. We are not isolated or silenced, despite their best efforts. When the solidarity groups speak out and support us in raising our voice and continuing to struggle, it is clear that Palestinians are not isolated and we have friends.

When we went to the European Parliament, our objective was to expose German violations against Palestinians and supporters of Palestine in Germany. My case is just one case, it is not the only or even the most important case.

This is also deeply connected to the fight against racism and oppression in Germany. Migrants from all areas and walks of life, Arabs, Africans, Kurds, Iranians and others, as well as Roma and other marginalized communities of Europe, all suffer from oppression and racism in Germany in various forms. They want to personalize this case and make it an individual issue, when the real issue is a collective struggle for justice.

S: Throughout the document, they refer to the term anti-Semitism a number of times, although they never cite anything you say that is anti-Jewish. Instead, they blatantly equate opposition to Zionism and Israel with anti-Semitism. What do you think about this line of argument?

KB: Anti-Semitism exists and is real, and the primary perpetrators are right-wing, racist, anti-Jewish groups, the same groups that also attack people of color. These are the same fascists that can organize rallies in the streets of Germany, while German officials defend their “freedom of expression” and police attack anti-fascists who challenge them.

Not to mention the “legitimized” extreme right, like those of the AfD, who have entered Parliament with campaigns based on racist rhetoric. These are the forces that present the danger of anti-Semitism in Germany, and we need to oppose these forces and fight together. They are also the same groups that present an ongoing and direct threat to Palestinians, Arabs and all communities of color in Germany.

For Palestinians, the difference between the Zionist movement and Jewish people is quite clear. Our struggle has never been a religious conflict. It is not Palestinians who should be questioned by German officials about anti-Semitism. However, this is an important fight – in the real sense – because it can also help to deepen the unity between Jewish progressive forces and Palestinians and Arabs confronting racism, anti-Semitism and oppression in Germany, which also means confronting Zionism.

This struggle is one in which we can come together to build a united front, far from leading to tension and divisions. However, the state is not interested in confronting the threat presented by fascists; instead, we see this drive to shift responsibility for the historical crimes and legacy of Nazism and the Holocaust and blame Palestinians instead.

It should not even need to be said, but opposing Israel is not anti-Semitic. Opposing Zionism is not anti-Semitic. As I mentioned, progressive Jews also come under attack in Germany under the same banner. Jews and Palestinians have been put on trial for interrupting a member of the Knesset. The bank account of Jewish Voices for a Just Peace was shut down, the first time this was done to a Jewish group in Germany since the Nazi era.

These officially-backed attempts to discipline and suppress progressive Jews who challenge Zionism are in and of themselves anti-Semitic, as is the equation of Jewish people and Judaism with Zionism, occupation and oppression – something being done by the German supporters of apartheid and racism in Israel.

S: They also say that it is unacceptable that you do not “recognize Israel’s right to exist,” which they appear to want to create as a precondition for any Palestinian speech or political expression. What is your response to this?

KB: For Palestinians, to recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is not just treason but erasure of our truth, our history and our struggle. It is a justification of the Nakba and the crimes against our people.

States do not possess a “right to exist.” Only people possess that right. People have the right to live, but not states, not political systems and especially not colonial projects and apartheid regimes. What this also suggests is that it is impossible to consider an alternative to Israel. And what we say is that the alternative to Israel is indeed possible: a democratic Palestine, a democratic, secular society.

We fight to build our society, a liberated society, and not the state. We fight for the human. That is at the core of our cause. Palestinians will be victorious not only by ending the existence of colonization and apartheid in Palestine, but also by providing a genuine alternative for all people in Palestine, to live on an equal basis regardless of their religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.

S: Do you think the German government is involved in promoting “normalization,” or false dialogue that aims to justify colonialism in Palestine by presenting it as “Arab-Jewish dialogue,” when it is really about supporting Israel?

KB: Yes; they do not want to see a real, meaningful unity between progressive Jews and progressive Arabs in Berlin and throughout Germany. Instead, the German state and the local government in Berlin apparently wish to promote normalization efforts that distort the relationship between Arab and Jewish communities in Germany into one that is primarily about Israel and the defense of colonialism, rather than about confronting racism and oppression together.

We oppose these normalization efforts and have spoken out against them, and this is another reason why we see this latest attack. If you look at, for example, the way that they have used the framework of “interfaith dialogue” in an attempt to bring representatives of Zionist lobby groups to mosques in Berlin, this effort was supported by Berlin officials and representatives of the SPD. These efforts do not benefit our communities; they only aim to undermine Palestinian and Arab organizing and any real movement toward joint struggle.

S: You discussed racism in Germany before. We recently witnessed the horrific racist massacre in Hanau. At the same time, despite all of the condemnations of extreme racist violence, we see German officials, including the Interior Senator in Berlin, repeatedly issuing press releases and conducting a very public spectacle of raiding shisha bars in the Arab community in Berlin, or mainstream media issuing sensationalist stories about “clan crime.” All of this can encourage and normalize racism.

In the document, they say they are doing this to “deter other foreigners” from similar political activity. What do you think the relationship is between this case and racism inside Germany?

KB: When there is a racist attack on Palestinian, Arab, African, Turkish, Kurdish, Iranian and other communities, it is often labeled an isolated incident driven by individual pathologies. There is a real resistance to examining the context of the right-wing movement and far-right violence in Germany. The media is complicit, and the ruling class is complicit. Our communities are discussed as if our existence is a crisis and a problem; the image of a woman wearing hijab is portrayed as exotic or dangerous.

The only forces that benefit from this kind of propaganda are the ruling class and the capitalists who wish to set German workers against migrant communities rather than against the corporations that exploit both, and of course, the regimes that profit from racism. We would like to see a stronger society in Germany based on mutual solidarity and aid, especially at this time of crisis. In reality, the German state must recognize its own responsibility in the crimes against our people that have forced them to flee and seek safety.

Germany, the U.K., the European Union, Canada, the U.S., all of these want to avoid any scrutiny of their ongoing wars and occupations directed against the people of the region and the devastating effects of their militarization of our region. Imperialist forces do not want to address their dirty games and their devastating attacks that have forced our people to migrate.

It is Germany that benefits from the knowledge, culture and creativity of migrant and refugee populations that enrich German society despite the vast damage the German state and other imperialist powers have done to their home countries.

S: In this document, they also talk about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine quite frequently. They admit that they cannot document your alleged role in the Front and that the PFLP is not banned in Germany, but they still say that it is “dangerous” that you express the positions of the Front because it is on the EU list of terrorist organizations. What do you think about these types of “terror lists”?

KB: The Popular Front is not an illegal organization in Germany. It is the largest Palestinian left party, that has a rich history of progressive, revolutionary struggle. The sympathizers of the Front number in the thousands – in Germany and in Europe alone. They are sympathetic to the Front because they believe in equality and in a democratic Palestine and because they oppose racism and all forms of oppression.

The so-called “terror list” of the EU and others, such as the U.S., is a means of political blackmail against popular struggles and revolutionary forces. It is a form of “the carrot and the stick.” It is used in an effort to attempt to extract concessions from these organizations. If they provide these concessions, they can be removed from the list. If they become traitors to their people and agents for imperialism, they can clear themselves from the list.

There is also an attempt to mislead the public. They list revolutionary organizations and liberation movements alongside criminal groups in a mish-mash, and then say that these are all the same. In the end, such lists are a failure; they will never change people’s political commitment and stands, nor stop oppressed peoples from struggling for their liberation.

The other objective of such terror lists is to frighten people, to say that if you have any kind of relationship, even a political relationship with Hamas, the PFLP, the FARC, the Communist Party of the Philippines, Turkish or Kurdish organizations, then you could be prosecuted. They are attempting to narrow the space of political activity in their own countries and frighten people into silence due to the fear that they could face persecution for speaking about these movements. In all cases, they are failing to redefine the fundamental goals and politics of the Palestinian people – or other peoples struggling for liberation – through these kinds of repressive measures.

S: What about Israel? What is the Israeli state’s role in all of this? The document seems to parrot claims made by Israeli propaganda agencies.

KB: Israel is losing the international battle with supporters of Palestine. There is growing support for BDS and for bringing Israeli impunity for war crimes to an end. And so, Israel is running to its backers and allies, the imperialist powers, for support: Germany, France, the UK, the United States. Imperialism is in a strategic alliance with Israel and Zionism, so it is no surprise that the parties of the ruling class in these countries go along with this imperative to denounce Palestinian liberation and defend apartheid by all means.

The racist, right-wing Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, is fighting this losing battle and also acting to justify the tens of millions of dollars spent on the budget of his ministry for shoddy propaganda. Erdan’s ministry has purchased its fawning news coverage in the Jerusalem Post.  Posting this type of content has become a paid job for some Israelis.

Now, of course, Erdan is also the Minister of Public Security, which means he is in charge of the ongoing violations and crimes against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of these attacks have focused on organizations defending Palestinian prisoners, including both human rights organizations inside Palestine and international activist groups like Samidoun. Palestinian prisoners are facing a vicious attack inside Zionist prisons, and this is a further attempt to isolate the prisoners.

There is a connection between the oppression of Palestinians back home, especially the prisoners, and the targeting of Palestinians and their supporters around the world, including the BDS movement. They go hand in hand.

Israel views the international struggle as a threat. They cannot round up activists in New York, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago or Malmo and put them in administrative detention for six months as they do to their brothers and sisters inside occupied Palestine. So the dirty role belongs to the governments of the imperialist states, Belgium, Germany, the U.S., France and others, to repress the movement for Palestine.

The Palestinian prisoners who are today facing intense threats – including coronavirus, especially because we know how little Israel cares for the health and lives of Palestinian prisoners – they are the cream of the crop. They are the leaders of the Palestinian resistance and the solid core of our liberation struggle. This is why it is so crucial for the solidarity movement as a whole to place the struggle for their freedom as one of its main pillars, especially if we really want to fight back against the attacks of Erdan and his racist ministry.

S: Why do you think it is important to challenge these measures?

KB: We are challenging this legally and politically because we want to make it clear that we will not be silenced in the face of intimidation and that we will not back down. We are going to use all of the legal channels open to us to continue this struggle. It is necessary for us to fight back so that we do not make it easier for them to do this in the future.

If we do not challenge these attacks, claim our rights and say “no,” what will happen? They will oppress more people and attempt to intimidate more people. We must raise consciousness about the oppression our people face for being involved in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.

Of course, they want to distract us from our primary goals, create obstacles, and make that path of liberation exceedingly difficult. But we can also turn this into an opportunity to inform the public about the reality of Israel and the Palestinian cause, not to mention racism and the struggle of immigrants, refugees and people of color in Germany and throughout Europe.

It is important for people to support not just my case, but to support the underlying principles, including our right to freedom of expression. Such precedents are not limited only to Palestinians and Arabs; they reflect an intention to silence voices for justice that poses a threat to the entire society.

Palestinians in the diaspora, especially the younger generation, must reclaim their role in the struggle. Palestinian women, in particular, must restore their leading and central role in the movement, roles that have been stripped away by Oslo and its aftermath. The Palestinian popular classes must rise up against all conditions of liquidation of our cause and our identity.

The only way that we can do this is by bringing our people together and by ensuring that Palestinians in the shatat assume their responsibility to themselves and to Palestine. Our Palestinian communities in North America, Europe and Latin America have strategic tasks to play in supporting each other, supporting the refugee camps, supporting our people back home and create a new dynamic in which we overcome the stage of Oslo in which we have been mired for over 25 years. An entire Palestinian generation has been born since the devastation of Oslo, with the potential to chart a new and revived path of struggle.

What are the tasks of the current stage for Palestinians in general and Palestinians outside? This is the question that the colonizers do not wish us to answer, collectively. That is why they try to distract us and attempt to create obstacles through lawfare and similar attacks.

For Palestinians, we know that this is a long path of struggle and resistance. We do not expect that we will liberate Palestine tomorrow. We know that we confront very powerful forces. But we do know with a deep certainty that we will liberate Palestine one day.