Palestinian surgeon demands answers over ban from German anti-Israel rally

Ghassan Abu Sitta detained en route to Palestine Congress, which Berlin police shut down over anti-Semitism fears

British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta says he was detained and denied entry at a Berlin airport. AP
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Lawyers plan to challenge a British-Palestinian surgeon’s ban from entering Germany to speak at an anti-Israel rally that was broken up by more than 800 police over anti-Semitism fears.

Ghassan Abu Sitta says he was detained at a Berlin airport and “forcibly prevented” from entering the country for the duration of the planned three-day Palestine Congress.

Police cut off power to the event after a video message was played from Salman Abu Sitta, the surgeon’s uncle, who was banned from political activity in Germany and has expressed sympathy for Hamas.

The rally was then shut down because of a risk of anti-Semitism and glorification of violence, said Berlin police, with further bans handed out to guests including former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Leading politicians praised the police intervention, which Dr Abu Sitta described as an attempt to “silence the voices of witnesses” to the war fought in Gaza by Germany’s ally Israel.

Dr Abu Sitta, the student-elected rector of Britain’s University of Glasgow, flew to London where his UK lawyers said Germany had made no claim of impropriety against him.

“As his lawyers, we will be taking up his removal from Germany with the authorities and will expect a full explanation for the manner in which he was treated,” said solicitor Tayab Ali of Bindmans law firm.

In a speech last week on taking office as Glasgow’s rector, Dr Abu Sitta accused Germany and western allies including the US and Britain of being part of an “axis of genocide” in Gaza.

His appointment caused controversy after pro-Israeli lawyers accused him of celebrating terrorists. He quoted Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands in his speech.

He says he planned to give the Berlin congress a first-hand account of working in Gaza hospitals during the six-month conflict, in which Israel says it is fighting Hamas and denies the claim of genocide.

Working in Gaza hospitals, he gained online prominence in the early days of the Israel-Gaza war with first-hand accounts of injuries, bombings and grief on the front line.

Germany also denies being complicit in genocide, saying it is trying to do right by both Israelis and Palestinians in a complex situation.

Activists say pro-Palestinian voices are being silenced in a largely pro-Israel environment in Germany, shaped by remorse for the Holocaust.

A pro-Palestinian “lawyers’ collective” in Berlin said police had gone too far by shutting down the rally without evidence of crimes being committed.

They said police had “torpedoed” offers to continue the rally peacefully without the offending live stream, raising suspicions they acted “under political pressure”.

Berlin’s mayor Kai Wegner had described the planned congress as “intolerable” and subsequently praised police for their intervention, after 850 officers were deployed from around Germany to enforce the ban.

“We have made clear that hatred towards Israel has no place in Berlin,” Mr Wegner said. "Anyone who does not abide by that will feel the consequences."

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said authorities would go after “anyone who spreads Islamist propaganda and hatred against Jews”.

The lawyers said organisers of the Palestine Congress were unaware of the ban concerning Salman Abu Sitta, the speaker whose live stream was cut off.

Mr Abu Sitta, a cartographer whose maps leave out Israel, had planned to give a speech on the “right of return to free Palestine”.

His speech would have described Gaza as a “concentration camp” and accused Israel of an “unprecedented genocide”, according to the text he published in Egyptian media.

Israel’s “single mission is to free 150 Israeli hostages held in Gaza”, it says. “Did anybody tell you about the other hostages, much larger in number, and much longer in captivity? They are the Palestinians, held hostages for 76 years.”

In an article in January, Mr Abu Sitta had hailed the "determination and courage" of militants who attacked Israel on October 7, saying he might have been one of them if he was younger.

Mr Varoufakis said he was issued a ban on political activity that covered both events in Germany and online appearances by Zoom.

In his own planned speech to the congress, he wrote he would happily attend a Jewish solidarity congress if he felt Israelis were being subjected to the same fate as Palestinians.

Organisers of the Palestine Congress issued a resolution late on Sunday that called for Germany to cut off support for Israel and pay reparations to Palestinians.

They called for “strikes, blockades, occupations or civil disobedience” in Germany to fight against “support for genocide in any form”.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 2:29 PM