Palestinians have it much worse than water-logged Bavarians
Palestinians flee from the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza after an Israeli ground and air defense on Monday, January 29, 2024. Associated Press photographers have captured what six months of devastating war have brought for Israel and Palestinians. At its six-month mark, it is not clear what direction the war will now take. Weeks of mediation by the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar for a longer ceasefire have so far been unable to make a breakthrough. | Fatima Shbair/AP

BERLIN – For people in southern Germany, there was not much to be happy about this springtime; many were hit by the worst flooding in living history. Not a few lost the results of a life’s work.

Some were aware that the major perpetrators had known – decades ago – what cardinal sins they were committing but had preferred to lie and deceive the world, gloating over soaring bank accounts rather than bothering their brains about retreating icecaps, glaciers, and forests.

But, far from water-logged Bavaria, immensely worse destruction was bloodily wrecking two million lives, and with Germany, though so distant, deeply involved. Of course, I mean Palestine, especially Gaza. For decades the media has distorted or ignored what was happening there. After October 7th ignoring it was no longer possible, here or anywhere. But in Germany, there were some differences.

Ever since the West German government was founded in 1949 it held tight to two basic strategies for winning a seat at the table of Western market-oriented respectability. One was to loudly proclaim democracy and freedom: free elections, free press, free speech, a free refuge for the persecuted of the world.

The second strategy embraced unquestioning support for Israel’s rulers in their every word and deed, thus demonstrating to the world its total regret for Hitler’s 12-year terror and mass murder of the Jews of Germany and Europe. These two strategies, aimed primarily at Western public opinion, largely achieved their goal. But critics who delved somewhat deeper found faults in both.

Below the surface

Below the surface of speeches, proclamations, and editorials, and after the most infamous, best-known Nazi leaders were removed or had gone underground, often in South America, all the other ex-Nazis retained an amazing degree of control in West Germany; in schools and universities, courts and police departments, journalism, the diplomatic corps, at all levels of government from small town mayors up to at least one chancellor, one president, and a large number of cabinet ministers.

More important, the main sources of power, the companies which managed World War I, sponsored and financed the Nazis, raked in millions from companies stolen in countries they occupied and from hundreds of thousands of forced laborers, concentration camp inmates, and POWs forced to toil in arms industries, including Auschwitz.

The same companies – often the same men, after a few easy-going prison years in a few especially horrendous cases (before soon being amnestied) – amended their methods but seldom their views or their ambitions for higher stacks of wealth and for expansion – to regain “Germany’s place in the sun.” Though this time, if necessary, as partners with powerful rulers in the USA and Israel, whose goals were not so very different.

Indeed, they were to become very similar. Within weeks of Roosevelt’s death and Hitler’s defeat, Truman, like most of his successors and their backers, was already aiming in a contrary direction. Two symbols were Hiroshima and, even more, Nagasaki.

Both contained implicit threats. In Europe, Truman & Co. supported the rebuilding of German economic strength and, after a short pause, its military power as well. Here, too, there were symbols.

The top generals in the new West German army were the bloodiest of war criminals. The head of the new Federal Intelligence Service (like the CIA in charge of anti-Soviet espionage) was General Reinhard Gehlen, who had headed the Foreign Armies East section of the Nazi German general staff counter-intelligence service.

In domestic matters, Adenauer’s closest aide and “second most powerful man in Germany” was Dr. Hans Globke, a major administrator of the Holocaust against the Jews of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. During the Eichmann trial a deal was made with the Israeli government: Don’t let the Eichmann-Globke connection be mentioned and Germany will recompense you with billions in military aid. So much for the sincerity of fighting anti-Semitism!

After the “unification” of East and West Germany (in the East often called ”annexation” or “colonization”), those two strategy pillars remained constant and were no longer weakened by East Germany’s exposés of old fascists like Globke or hampered by its role as a barrier against neo-Nazi movements.

And since they were fundamental pillars, any doubts about them meant challenging the whole structure. Any questions as to the nature of Germany’s “free democratic constitutional rule”? Then you were most likely “an extremist of the right or of the left”! Any questions about Israeli rulers’ repression? Then you were obviously “anti-Semitic” (or, if possibly Jewish, a “self-hater”). And the controls in the media were tight, with pink slips painfully available!

Then came the Gaza tragedy. Of course, the shock at the terrible events on October 7th filled the media, with all the horrible details, the true ones and those later found to be untrue (like the “beheaded babies”).

But the fierce invasion of Gaza which immediately followed, with the expressed goal to annihilate all “sub-humans” there, to deny them food, water, fuel, gas, and electricity, with the destruction of almost every building, school, mosque, theater and, worst of all, hospital, shocked millions and led to angry demonstrations, biggest in Britain but also all around the USA and in many places in Germany, where the anger threatened to challenge those basic pillars, thus frightening the powers-that-be like never before (or since the 1980s).

Could the actions in the months that followed be seen as counter-measures to such threats? Starting suddenly in January, following a strange exposé of a small off-beat right-wing meeting two months earlier, there was a series of giant, extremely well-organized rallies in cities and towns everywhere, directed against the fascistic Alternative for Germany party (AfD), with hundreds of thousands rejecting its xenophobic hatred of anyone considered foreign, un-German, “different.”

Lacked major criticism

But these rallies, often with governing politicians, lacked any basic criticism of the status quo or of policies which helped cause the right-wing surge. Organizers In some places even prevented Arabic protesters from taking part. Were these anti-AfD rallies possibly expected to head off more intensive or fundamental protests?

The same might be asked about a big media campaign against anti-Semitism. There were certainly enough traces of this filthy, age-old infection of German society, always lurking beneath the surface but, since reunification, marching ostentatiously down the streets and giving concerts with the worst Nazi texts and salutes.

Then, too, it was hardly surprising that some Arab ex-pats, including Palestinians with families in Gaza, tragically often victims, occasionally shouted anti-Israel slogans (or, very rarely, anti-Jewish ones as well). Not every single person recognized the difference between armed Jewish soldiers looting and killing in Gaza and ordinary Jewish people in Germany, especially if their organizations unreservedly supported the soldiers, bombers, and drones. (And yes, sadly, but luckily quite rarely, there are some who consider themselves leftists but cannot grasp that for every Goldman Sachs bank, there is a Bank of America, a Chase, Wells Fargo, or Citibank. And for every Theodor Herzl or Jabotinsky, there was a Karl Marx, a Rosa Luxemburg, and a multitude of Jewish anti-fascist heroes and heroines. But anti-Semitism in Germany is not nearly as widespread as anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab prejudice – or as violent. A one-sided media constantly worsened the matter.

Such top-led campaigns failed to silence all the protests. The next Gaza action planned was a three-day conference in mid-April, aimed at opposing Germany’s role as a major supplier of weapons to Netanyahu. Predictably, it ran into trouble from the start; Berlin mayor Kai Wegner found it “intolerable” that it was to take place in Berlin. But he could not forbid it. Or could he?

Less than two hours after it began hundreds of policemen, uniformed or plain-clothed, stormed in, cut livestream video and even electricity, dispersed the 250 people taking part, and roughly arrested one Jewish participant who dared to talk back.

The police offered an explanation: “There is a risk that a speaker will be shown via video who in the past made anti-Semitic remarks and glorified violence. For this reason, the gathering was ended and banned on Saturday and Sunday as well.” It seems that the exiled Palestinian writer Salman Abu Sitta, scheduled to appear by video link, had earlier stated that the men from Gaza who conducted the raid on October 7th had “broken through a siege.”

Another planned speaker, the Palestinian-British surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah (who is the Rector of Glasgow University, elected by the students), was held for three and a half hours by federal police at Berlin airport and then prevented from entering Germany (or, soon after, any EU territory).

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had also been scheduled to address the congress via video; the organization he founded in 2016, Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), with members including Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and Julian Assange, was a major sponsor of the congress. Reacting angrily to the raid and ban, Varoufakis wrote that what “Germany’s police has just done is proof that fascists no longer need to be in government to be in power.”

Terminating the conference was certainly a clear warning to keep quiet. But with Gaza still being reduced to ruins, as bad or worse than those I saw in Dresden in 1952, with the number of children killed, maimed, or starved still increasing, the protests did not cease.

It was then that the students, inspired by those at Columbia, UCLA, Harvard, and Yale, also demonstrated and camped out at colleges and universities all across Germany. The police, also copying the methods of their American colleagues, broke up the camps and arrested students, despite angry responses by many professors and other staff members. At the moment, as in the USA, college presidents are under attack.

But the pillar protectors of German “law and order” have also taken some hard body blows.

Days of hearings

In January, in two days of public hearings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Peace Palace in The Hague, South Africa alleged that Israel had committed and was committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, and it included Israel’s 75-year apartheid, 56-year occupation, and 16-year blockade of the Strip. South Africa called for an immediate end to any acts contrary to the 1948 Genocide Convention, while also expressing concern about the fate of the Israeli hostages in Gaza. In March the court ordered new emergency measures to ensure basic food supplies, as Gazans face famine and starvation. In May, by a vote of 13 votes to 2, it ordered an immediate halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive.

Then came the next blow. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) considers cases that involve countries and nations. The unrelated International Criminal Court (ICC), also confusingly located in The Hague, brings cases against individuals for war crimes or crimes against humanity. It was created by the Rome Statute and is independent of the UN. 124 countries are members, but not Israel, the USA, India or Russia. But if the court issues arrest warrants, all member countries, including Germany and Britain, are obliged to arrest those accused and extradite them to The Hague.

It was, therefore, a giant sensation when the British barrister Karim Khan, currently chief prosecutor for this Criminal Court, applied for arrest warrants for Binyamin Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant, and three leaders of Hamas, because of “reasonable grounds” to believe they are responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including Israel’s “use of starvation as a weapon of war.”

Of course, a storm of outrage from the Israeli leaders followed immediately, especially at being placed on the same level as its mortal Hamas enemy. They got even angrier when other “Western” countries supported South Africa and, to top it off, Norway, Spain, and Ireland joined many countries from other continents in recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state.

Where did this leave the German pillar-defenders? In a very embarrassing situation. The free speech pillar had been damaged enough at the banned conference and college protests. But until now all main German parties, still returning to what they call their Holocaust obligations, have supported every move by Israeli leaders, never condemning even the nastiest settlement land-robbery, child arrests, shooting of journalists, or erecting a Wall higher than that one in Berlin. Perhaps the loudest pro-Bibi voice of all, interestingly, is the extremely rightist Alternative for Germany (AfD)!

But in an era of social media, despite constant stress on the one-day October 7 horror, it has become impossible to ignore the month-long, immensely worse genocide within Gaza – now with official condemnation by so much of the world. The protests in Germany will undoubtedly continue.

But other issues again intruded – or distracted. One was the legitimization of marijuana, with strict rules on age, location, and amount (which will inevitably be broken).

More urgent: Because of the economic woes connected with barring less expensive Russian gas and oil and with a contested national debt limit, and bad policies in general, we are facing a growing collapse of the public health system, with clinics and small hospitals closing down for lack of money and personnel, or take-overs by money-hungry privateers.

The education system is troubled by a major lack of teachers. The rightist coalition member, the Free Democrats (FDP), wants to raise the age of pensioning but cut taxes on the wealthy. The immigration question, with the rightist AfD pushing against a “foreign take-over of Germany and its cultural heritage,” is always a nasty issue even though the demographic situation demands more new young people and children.

But after a crime or two involving “asylum-seekers” – this time the killing of a policeman – nearly all the parties are joining the cry to “keep the baddies out” or, if already here, to throw them out. Even that pillar sector weakens when asylum-seekers are not “escaping Communist oppression.” (Like “Cubans welcome, Haitians go home!”)

Looming over all these questions is the war in Ukraine, with even the few slightly cooler heads, like see-sawing Chancellor Olaf Scholz now bowing to pressure from within and outside Germany to give Zelensky, salami slice after slice, whatever he demands for his clearly illusionary goal of “beating the Russians” – in total disregard of where this policy can lead in an atomic-armed world.

But the drums of war are beating incessantly, ever louder, in the German media and in politicians’ speeches, now with renewed demands to revive military service for young men – and maybe women. Some headlines could make you think that Russian tanks, planes, and warships are waiting trigger-happy along German borders (instead of what is the exact opposite, now with a German brigade in Lithuania, frighteningly reminiscent of tragic events 80-odd years ago.

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Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.