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Germany divided over 'Israeli apartheid' speech at Berlinale

Germany divided over criticism of Israel's Gaza war, apartheid at Berlinale
3 min read
26 February, 2024
During the Berlin film festival's awards ceremony, many filmmakers denounced Israel over the bombing of Gaza.
Abraham condemned onstage the apartheid conditions being endured by Palestinians in "aparthied Israel" [Gett]

Germany has been divided after artists at the Berlin Film Festival criticised Israel's war on Gaza, where over 29,700 people have been killed - mostly women and children.

At the awards ceremony concluding the Berlinale on Saturday, saw Palestinian Basel Adra criticise Israel's war on Gaza in his acceptance speech after his film 'No Other Land' won the top documentary prize.

"It is very hard for me to celebrate when there are tens of thousands of my people being slaughtered and massacred by Israel in Gaza," said Adra, whose film 'No Other Land' depicts the Israeli settler displacement of Palestinians in villages in the West Bank.

The film, which was an Israeli-Palestinian production, saw Adra and Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham sharing director credits

Abraham also condemned onstage the apartheid conditions being endured by Palestinians in "aparthied Israel".

"In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal," Abraham said. "I am living under civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel is not having voting rights.

"I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end."

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After the ceremony, footage of the speech went viral on social media with Abraham saying he had received death threats over the remarks.

While different people called for a ceasefire in Gaza, perhaps the speech that prompted the strongest criticism from several German politicians came from US filmmaker Ben Russell, who accepted his award wearing the Palestinian scarf, the keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

"Of course, we also stand for life here and we stand against genocide and for a cease-fire in solidarity with all our comrades," said Russell, supported by cheers in the audience.

German officials vowed to probe how criticism of Israel's onslaught in Gaza was made on stage.

"It is unacceptable that... the attack by Hamas on 7 October was not mentioned," government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told a press briefing in Berlin on Monday.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz "agrees that such a one-sided stance cannot be allowed to stand", she said.

"In any debate on this topic, it is of course important to keep in mind the event that triggered this renewed escalation of the Middle East conflict - namely the Hamas attack on 7 October," she said.

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The culture minister and the Berlin mayor will review what happened and hold talks with the festival's incoming director to ensure it does not happen in future, she said.

Culture Minister Claudia Roth and Mayor Kai Wegner have also found themselves in hot water over the ceremony.

A report in top tabloid Bild carried a picture it said showed the pair applauding Adra's remarks.

On Sunday after the ceremony, Wegner posted on social media that the anti-Israel remarks were "unacceptable", adding that "there is no place for anti-Semitism in Berlin".

Israel's onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip has brought to the forefront debates on freedom of expression in Germany, with several arts institutions cancelling exhibitions due to expressions made by featured artists - particularly on social media - that were deemed "anti-semitic".

Almost 6,000 artists, including Wolfgang Tillmans, Agnieszka Polska and Candice Breitz, signed an open letter "for the preservation of the freedom of art and the freedom of expression".