A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of settler coloniality.
I define settler coloniality as the settler colonization of land and people, which includes the transfer of carceral, surveillance, policing, and military technologies used in the process of the settler colonization of land and people, to other countries. This entails policing structures among law enforcement and civil society, racializing policies, and the production of high-value technology for the purpose of capital accumulation in imperial times. Settler coloniality thus embodies the relational economic and social aspects that transcend settler colonialism’s national/territorial confinement through time and space. I argue that it is settler coloniality’s features of capturing, conquering, surveilling, and securing land and people that brings home to roost the very techniques developed by Europeans to control populations in the colonies. Hence, it is not colonialism but settler colonialism that comes home to roost as fascism, to paraphrase and think with Aime Césaire. Settler coloniality includes the dynamic to rhetorically invert structural power binaries to define white (settler) society as a victim under threat: such inversions turn the native into an “illegal” intruder and turn the terrorizing structures of settler colonialism into structures of peace. Finally, settler coloniality is a transnational form to organize and manage societies socially, culturally, extra-/legally, and politically, informed by the transfer of technologies of power (e.g. AI, weapons, agribusiness) to control land and people in the service of white supremacist political-economic structures.
Framing the Debate: IHRA, Geopolitics, and Racialized Discourses
This essay details the settler coloniality of Berlin’s policing structures with regard to Palestine demonstrations that were planned in commemoration of the Nakba in May 2023. All Palestinian demonstrations were eventually prohibited by the Berlin Police department, including dancing Dabkeh in public. Additionally, many of the rationalizations and policies deployed in Berlin either mirrored Israeli tactics, based on police and intelligence exchanges between the two states, or else are older modalities of European settler coloniality generally.
The documents framed the Palestinian activist into a potentially dangerous “intruder-figure” for a German/European political landscape. Its figure is portrayed as disturbing peace and coexistence through terrorism, Islamism, antisemitism, or simply by expressing pro-Palestinian politics. It positions said figure as seemingly violating understandings of justice, social peace, and belonging, and presents it as disturbing, if not even outright endangering, the political economy of the country. Settler coloniality’s grip on land and people turns the Palestinian native into an intruder and a threat to German national cohesion as well as a danger for border politics way beyond Israel.
In that vein, it is not only Germany that has made a name for itself when it comes to anti-Palestinian racism, since race operates on an ever-adapting manner on a “local and planetary level in service of white supremacy”. France, for instance, Germany’s direct neighbor has banned pro-Palestine demonstrations regularly since 2014. Additionally, it is a tendency within the European Union to crack down on politically undesirable movements writ large. This includes anti-colonial, ecological, and climate activists, and anti-capitalist movements that move their analysis and politics beyond European borders. The new “anti-boycott-bill” that was just recently proposed in the UK speaks volumes to that trend. Palestine as figurative landscape and their material bodies become the vessels through which to transport this seemingly “new”, but indeed quite “old”, imperial politics, which today positions itself as being post-racial and post-settler colonialism.
In Germany, police bans reached new levels in 2021 and 2022. While Germany’s government endorsed IHRA-WDA in 2017 and condemned BDS in a public motion in 2019, the institutionalized policing of Palestinians as a terrorist-antisemitic threat to democracy has far exceeded these landmarks. Many observers often attribute the IHRA-WDA definition - established in 2016 - for the institutionalization of undemocratic principles. I would argue that IHRA’s institutionalization rather signals a growing structural manifestation of settler coloniality technologies into law and policy across Germany and Europe, which happens in the wake of “undemocratic” principles being pushed further.
This article will first provide a short overview of racializing policies over the past twenty years in Germany. The goal is to disrupt easy binaries between unnuanced statements of “Israel influences Germany” or “Germany influences Israel” as both takes are incomplete, historically as well as politically. Instead, it shows how countries generally learn from each other and how race is constructed between geopolitical regions through time and space, fueled by concrete capitalist and nationalist interests, which find their roots historically in Europe. The article will then delve into the details of the Nakba-police bans and how they were “rationalized” with a transnational logic of securitization and threats of political danger, positing figurations of Palestine as an inherent threat to Germany’s national and social peace. The latter echoes today’s political arrangements from North America, to Europe, to Asia, and beyond and is thus not something unique to Germany. The essay will detail the logics and workings of settler coloniality globally and will use Palestine police repression in Germany as its case study.
The Spectrum of Palestinian Racialization: From Islamist Terrorist-Intruder to Antisemitic Neo-Nazi-Intruder
Settler coloniality turns the political category of the “Native” into the political category of an “Intruder/Invader” and thus inverts political-economic and historical realities. The bodies set up to be “space invaders” are then also seen as a dangerous and potentially terrorist Others, seeking revenge upon an otherwise “innocent” and “indigenized” (settler) community. In Europe, the “badge of terror” has been doubled up by marking the figure of the Palestinian (immigrant) reminiscent of Nazism and a novel Nazi take-over from the outside/inside.
Since 2000, this kind of racialization of Palestinians in Germany has become increasingly normalized. Its institutionalization started via discourses around a new citizenship law (in 1999/2000, the first amendment since 1913), which evolved quickly into more racial anxieties about who legitimately belongs to Germany and who does not. These state- and identity-making narratives of institutions and politicians to define “Germanness” were linked to fighting antisemitism and to supporting the “Global War on Terror.” The “War on Antisemitism” built upon the racializing technologies of the War on Terror and is also named as a global war by Israeli policy commentators. All the while, German administrations and policies firmly started viewing ‘Israel’s Right to Exist’ as an indisputable fact that ought not to be discussed or questioned. Additionally, antisemitism was added to the long list of inter-/national intolerable politics that Europe seemingly wants to evict from its political realm – at least symbolically. And Palestinians became stand-ins for accusations of Nazi-Antisemitism in Germany via a settler-colonial discourse that has already compared them to intruders and antisemitic haters of Jews. In that vein, the police argued its bans of the (demo) slogan “From the River to the Sea – Palestine will be Free” as unconstitutional via the application of § 86a of the German Criminal Code, in 2023. The latter came into existence as a defense against Neo-Nazis organizations and symbols and is predominantly used against them – and now against Palestinians.
In the first decade after 9/11 and Germany’s new citizenship law, which eased immigration for people without direct blood relationship to Germany, fears of an increasing level antisemitism took root in German society. This seeming increase in a “New Antisemitism” was articulated and explained by teachers, politicians, as well as civil society organizations with the beginning of the Second Intifada, the War on Terror, the BDS movement as well as Durban’s UN anti-Racism conference which were all believed to be supporting a wave of New Antisemitism coming home to roost in Europe. These new incitements to fight Antisemitism were accompanied by parallel neo-liberal policies to surveil, securitize and monitor what was considered illegitimate and anti-democratic worldviews, theories (e.g., CRT, Post-Colonial Studies), public intellectuals, and movements.
In 2006, a newly developed citizenship test in the German federal state of Hessen demanded applicants to “Explain the notion of the unconditional right of Israel to exist” with one answer being the right one: “It means that people living in the state of Israel can live without fear, terror or violence in their internationally acknowledged borders”. Palestinians are only mentioned in a sub-question of the test as the terrorist perpetrators of the Munich Olympic games’ kidnapping in 1972.
Today, an amendment to the citizenship law is envisioned to be implemented in summer 2023. In that proposal, the following sentence is added:
Anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic or other inhumane acts are incompatible with the human dignity guarantee of the Basic Law for the of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and violate the free democratic against the free democratic basic order within the meaning of this law.
According to EU law, the regulation of the acquisition and loss of nationality falls within the jurisdiction of the Member States as long as it doesn’t violate EU law – said legal proof of danger could be executed through a collaboration of intelligence and police records across countries. Since most Palestinian political expressions are by now labeled antisemitic in Germany, and security and police coordination between the EU, Israel, and the United States are common, it seems likely to assume that anyone who was convicted or fined (such as in 2022) for an otherwise labeled antisemitic crime according to the IHRA-definition, will not be granted citizenship rights. Such legislation and policies demand Palestinians to erase themselves as historical and political subjects, or else it would turn refugeedom into a “Palestinian human constant” also in Germany and Europe.
While Palestinians and their supporters face public silencing in Germany, including the killing of their own family members, defunding and misinformation campaigns, secret files, and job losses, it might be safe to attest that the overall premise of these incitements to silence people lie in the foreclosure of their political participation in society. While those still occupying positions of intellectual or political power want to discuss memory and history as a not-so-dangerous metaphor for what is going wrong today, Palestinians want to discuss abolition, war, settler colonialism, police/war violence, dispossession, and surveillance. In Germany, much like in former South Africa, there is a tendency of white liberalism and (white supremacist) apartheid supporters to control the narrative by deciding which Palestinians are worthy of being invited/spoken with (good Palestinians) and who is only invited behind closed doors or not all (bad Palestinians). How a colonial-liberal white worldview transpired into police and judicial reports in Germany prohibiting Palestine demonstrations, any expressions of public expressions of opinion, as well as, dancing Dabkeh in public, will be detailed below through the examples of two police bans of Palestinian demonstrations and assemblies (May 11th and May 12th, 2023).
The Police Bans
During Ramadan, tens of thousands of Muslims are expected in Jerusalem's Old City for Friday prayers, significantly increasing the underlying tension between Israelis and Palestinians. (Page 2)
The first demonstration, originally titled “Solidarity with the Palestinian people,” was prohibited on 11 May 2023. The police ban started its argumentation by stating that basic laws such as “the right to public assembly” (Art. 8, GG), as well as its attendant paragraph “(1) protects the freedom to come together publicly with other persons for the purpose of a collective discussion or demonstration aimed at participating in the formation of public opinion.” Yet, the police argued these laws can be restricted given the “immediate threat to public safety” (§ 14 Abs. 1 VersFG BE).
Tellingly, the justification for the demonstration ban starts with a reference to Israel while alluding to the fact that a similar political situation can be found in Berlin (see below). In the following pages of the ban, the police then detail first the situation in the “Near East” by repeating an Israeli narrative regarding clashes on Al-Aqsa (4-6 April 2023), stating that Israeli security forces arrested 350 Palestinians in Jerusalem, while the Red Crescent reported 40 injured Palestinians. The next paragraphs depict Palestinians as hindering their own people from leaving the mosque. While injuring six Palestinians, Israeli forces are depicted as protecting Palestinians from Palestinians. The statement then moves on to Gaza, detailing how Israeli forces retaliated due to seemingly unjustified rockets fired from Gaza.
The ban then mentions the ramming attack in Tel Aviv on 7 April 2023 and leaves unmentioned the many incidents of settler or military violence against Palestinian villages, families, and individuals. It also briefly mentions Khader Adnan’s hunger strike and his seeming connection to Islamist terrorism while not mentioning his being tied to his bed in Israeli detention for extended periods of time amounting to torture according to international law. The one-sidedness continues by depicting the prisoner’s network Samidoun and the chant “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic and endangering German social peace.
The subchapter finally concludes that the increasing intensity of the situation in Israel/Palestine also leads to a “high emotionality” of Palestinians in Germany - why that is the case and why that only afflicts Palestinians, and not Israelis or Germans, for instance, was not mentioned. Instead, it appears as though Palestinians transport a similar situation as in Israel to Germany, thus also positioning Germany as comparable to Israel. Given this narrative style, it is reasonable to assume that these depictions are meant to pathologize Palestinians as emotional, irrational, and racist across borders, while victimizing German and Israeli society. This projection not only throws all social ills onto Palestinian identity and thought, but also understands racism - at least in this police document - as stemming from over-emotionality and irrationality on behalf of the racialized Other. This interpretation entirely erases the feature of racism as a systemic structure based on power hierarchies in the service of white supremacy, within which Palestinians have little to no power to influence world politics, let alone orchestrate some sort of genocide.
“Comparable assembly situations in Berlin” (Page 4)
In the next subchapter, the ban draws direct parallels between assemblies in the Middle East and Berlin. While omitting the context of Israel’s eleven-day bombardment of Gaza in May 2021, which led to massive demonstrations worldwide, the police ban stated: “On this weekend in May 2021, pro-Palestinian rallies occurred across Germany and Europe, some with significant anti-Semitic overtones.” For the state and the police, those antisemitic overtones included chants such as “From the River to the Sea”, “Israel child murderer”, and “Boycott Israel”. In referencing another demonstration in Berlin taking place on May 19th, they double up on anti-Palestinian racism with anti-Muslim racism, stating that “the gathering had a distinctly militant appearance to outsiders due to aggressive 'Allahu Akbar' chants.”
The police then go on to discuss the demonstrations that took place in Berlin in more detail: It stated that participants violated the “minimum hygienic distance” orders and that instead of 150 participants, 500 appeared. The increase of participants for the demonstration on 19 May 2021 (registered with 500 people, while 3,000 eventually joined) and others was cited as a violation of the initial registration with fewer people.
“...a significant number of people … gathered… at the protective fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip” (Page 6)
In a next subchapter then, the police ban describes the Nakba Day by citing and linking a Wikipedia.de article. It also details the “Great March of Return” by giving false data of Palestinian deaths, maimed bodies, or the role of the IDF in intentionally maiming and killing protesters from the other side of the fence. While the German police stated that 50 Palestinians were killed and 7,000 injured, it was indeed 217 people killed and more than 36,000 maimed and injured. Following these false depictions, the ban states:
“Your gathering in thematic connection with the historic 'Al-Nakba Day' is likely to lead to a massive intensification of the already existing considerable emotionalization within the Palestinian diaspora against the background of the unabated conflict and military confrontations in connection with the current events in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.” (p. 6)
“...a considerable emotionalization within the Palestinian diaspora” (Page 7)
The next subchapter details the “findings on the present assembly” and attests that given the transnational emotionalization of Palestinians in the Middle East as well as in Berlin, the assembly could result in “unbridled violence” (p. 7), making Palestinians and their emotions responsible for said violence. The report goes on to cite organizations such as Samidoun, the left-wing PFLP, along with HAMAS, Young Struggle (YS), and other groups propagating an “anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-imperial” worldview as potential harbingers for such “unbridled violence” (the PFLP and HAMAS are also cited as listed on the EU’s terrorism list).
The report eventually concludes this subchapter as a planned demonstration potentially endangering the safety of the police officers, due to assumed possible attacks: “Even a high degree of emotionalization of the participants of a meeting, however, does not provide a justification to act violently against the sovereign in the exercise of its original duties.” (p. 10)
“Disturbance of public peace” … “This cannot be tolerated under the cloak of freedom of assembly” (Page 10)
One of the final subchapters deals with the right to dissolve public meetings in a possible event of public danger. The first paragraph invokes that any demonstration or assembly can be prohibited, if incitements against a particular ethnic group are present, or if parts of (German) society are willingly insulted or slandered. As usual, the latter does not apply to Palestinians in Germany being insulted, misrepresented, or slandered in public.
“In addition, a meeting ...may be prohibited if, ...it is likely or intended to incite violence and thereby have an intimidating effect, or if it seriously offends the moral sensibilities of citizens and fundamental social or ethnic views.” (p. 10)
In order to delineate what these fundamental and moral sensibilities of citizens are, the ban goes on to cite the IHRA-WDA definition as well as the “Independent Expert Group on Anti-Semitism” (2017, a report that went for the first 3-4 years without any Jewish person on its writing or board committee). And while the report continuously cites the deaths and injured victims of Palestinians, and not of Israelis, as a response to Palestinian violence, the report states: “Propagation of the non-existence and annihilation of the state of Israel in words and pictures is, according to all common definitions of antisemitism, to be considered the most concise expression of hostility towards Jews.” (p. 11)
“The prohibition of your announced assembly is therefore inevitable” (Page 13)
Not only do we witness the embrace of a definition of what constitutes antisemitism from the police as demanded by the IHRA-WDA, but we also witness something else: What is coined “Israel-related or Anti-Zionist Antisemitism” (p. 11) becomes the definitional guideline for the Criminal Legal Code dealing with said incidents - at least for the police and judges. The report states that “Annihilationist Anti-Zionism” is a subcategory of “Annihilationist Antisemitism” (p. 11). “Annihilationist Anti-Zionism” is a relatively new concept that reads Palestinian resistance to settler-colonialism through the lens of white supremacist Nazi fascism. This concept used by the police essentially equates Palestinian indigenous resistance to settler colonial erasure with the planning of a genocide against Jews qua Nazi fascism. The report then concludes, “The prohibition of your announced assembly is therefore inevitable” (p. 13).
While Naftali Bennett makes Palestinians during the Great March of Return (2018) responsible for committing “self-genocide” against themselves in Germany, Palestinians are accused of committing genocide against Jewish Israelis. All the while, it is Palestinians that are dying en masse without their deaths being rightfully represented in these German police reports.
Conclusion: “The assessment of danger is justified by the temporal connection to Nakba-Day”
Today, the interpretation of the Berlin Police and Berlin Court has to be understood within a rising climate of anti-Palestinian racism, white supremacy, and support for settler colonial rule that views the worldview of those it discriminates as inherently threatening and “intruding”. When the demonstrators tried to appeal the police ban, the Berlin Administrative Court ruled in favor of the police ban stating, that the “assessment of danger is justified by the temporal connection to Nakba-Day.”
To top things off, Dabkeh was defined as “rhythmic singing and jumping, raised fists” (sic) in the police ban (p. 6). And although it was not prohibited in the actual police ban, the police took it into their own hands to decide, on 13 March 2023 that Dabkeh was too dangerous to be performed at a Palestinian cultural community event on Hermanplatz, Neukölln, Berlin. While patrolling the space the police stopped the young men who started forming a dancing group, that dancing is a form of “political expression” as well and thus prohibited. This left the selling of cultural crafts, books, ice cream, food, and knafeh to be the only things permitted for Palestinians to do or sell.
The second police ban (12 May 2023) was essentially a copy-and-paste undertaking, with only minor changes in some paragraphs. Its copy-and-paste-manner factually violates the “case-by-case decision” (Einzelfallentscheidung) as ingrained in German law and thus resembles a blanket and general prohibition. Additionally, the bans were issued either a day before or on the same day of the event - making it impossible for people to appeal the ban in due time.
Overall, settler coloniality and its policing ideology where everyone - including civilians and the police - takes on the role of police. While an ever-growing number of scholars and historians hold that Nazism brought German colonialism home to roost, it might be reasonable to fine-tune our colonial literacy even more and hone in on the productive economy of settler colonialism across borders. It might then be stated that settler coloniality and not colonialism came home to roost with its policing and eliminatory logics.
If our citizenship law in Germany changes this summer, intelligence, and police records about antisemitic crimes, even if only being fined, can be exchanged between countries in order to better guide local German authorities in their decision to grant citizenship or not. Our criminal, civil, and public law might thus soon be interpreted like that in other settler colonies. With said possible changes, it is likely that Israeli jurisprudence will be influential in Germany and maybe even other EU countries’ decision-making processes when it comes to deciding which immigrant to allow and whom to refuse.
In Germany, some activists and intellectuals on the liberal left argue that these brutal onslaughts on democratic principles are “contradictions” of capitalism or liberal democracy. They, therefore, appeal to the “democratic” principles of “freedom of speech”, “freedom of assembly”, or even “freedom of movement”. In capitalism, however, these are not contradictions that threaten its existence: they are the very contradictions that produced the (global) system we are subjects and agents of today. It is precisely here that we need conjunctoral analyses that allow us to understand police cooperation between Jerusalem, Washington, and Berlin and link them with the War on Terror and the War on Antisemitism globally.
Such “anti-democratic” onslaughts also demand conjunctural analyses of extractive anti-racist policies of states that refurbish their own public image with state-sanctioned racism dressed up as anti-racism politics, while further entrenching racializing security projects globally. All the while the state “establishes legitimacy precisely because it violently dominates certain people and thereby defines them (and makes them visible to others) as the sort of people who should be pushed around”. In this vein, anti-racism politics, here specifically anti-antisemitism politics, were commodified and turned into a state tool for policing Palestinians and other racialized non-/citizens. Said policies also play a major role in patrolling or re-/defining state borders, inclusion into citizenship, and what Germanness or Europeanness might mean even across European borders. This very political economy henceforth also controls the boundaries of political capital and those allowed to participate in its national reproduction.
In this vein, race is embedded in structures controlling labor, law, and politics and not the other way around. Today, this control produces Palestinians and many others as surplus populations that are not needed for any political and/or the economic project, but instead appear as legal liabilities. Eventually, these political developments will bring home to roost in Europe the very tendencies it has shielded its white or/and metropolitan inhabitants from for some time: colonialism, settler coloniality, and fascism.
 Furthermore, in a UN report on the Great March of Return, one international reporter described the scene as: “What was notable was the amount of injured people. And the slow, methodical shooting. Every few minutes... you would hear a shot ring out and you would see someone fall. And then another shot and another person fell. It went on for hours... The number of wounded was astonishing. I couldn’t say how many people I saw who were shot because it was so high. I have covered wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya. I have never seen anything like this. The slow methodical shooting. It was just shocking…” (UN Report, p. 11.)