©2024 Sul Nowroz

Hamburg is seventy miles inland and yet it is a city on water, squeezed amongst inlets and tributaries, with the river Elbe shredding through its middle – west to east – leaving a generous streak of blue in its wake. Fly over the city, look out of the window and you see an archipelago of neighbourhoods, each veined with waterways.

Hamburg is a pleasant place to move around. Wide roads and ordered traffic make car horns redundant. Pedestrians walk quietly down pavements and wait patiently at crossings, while cyclists happily pedal around, many without helmets. In the north of the city there is construction, turning grey streets fluorescent orange as plastic cones and bollards are lavishly scattered around. Opposite Dammtor train station, with its imposing entrance, a different type of construction is underway consisting of tents, flags and banners. 

Oh Rafah, aching Rafah*

          Source: Twitter Abdallah Alatter

Tal al-Sultan is a small district in the southern city of Rafah, Ghazzah, and was hardly known outside of the few who lived there. When Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) began their murderous campaign in northern Ghazzah, they declared Tal al-Sultan a safe zone and its population quickly swelled to tens of thousands. Unable to find accommodation many sought shelter in tents provided by aid agencies. Others built cover from disused cardboard and plastic sheets.

Israel lied. By early May they were regularly bombing Rafah, and on May 6th IOF entered Rafah by tank and on foot. Israel’s state sponsors looked on, shipped weapons to IOF, and Palestinians died.  

On May 24th the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive. Presiding judge Nawaf Salam said “Israel must immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate.” Israel said it would ignore the order to halt the offensive. Israel’s state sponsors looked on, shipped more weapons to IOF, and more Palestinians died. 

In the early hours of May 26th Israel intensified its attack, dropping seven 900kg (2,000lbs) bombs on the hamlet of Tal al-Sultan. The force used was absurd and psychotic. Al Jazeera’s Sanad Verification Agency determined the bombs dropped were produced by US firm Boeing. A fireball lit up the night sky and engulfed several tents. At least forty-five were massacred in the attack; some were killed instantly by the bombing, many burned to death.

(* Taken from Rachel Corrie’s poem by the same name)

Monday 27th May

©2024 Sul Nowroz

Mönckebergstraße is a clean street, about 800 metres long with brick pavements and neat trees. High end shops line both sides and there is an underground station at its mid-point. Most Monday evenings it is quiet with little traffic and few pedestrians. This Monday it is noisy and packed.  

Viva, Viva Palestina”

First you hear the chants. There are a lot of people, perhaps a thousand. The crowd is loud and vocal and nonstop. Palestinian flags, the flag Israel is attempting to erase, dance above their heads, soaring and swirling like colourful kites. There is an energy about the place, a defiant and uncompromising force. The people, men and women in equal numbers, are mostly young.

Then you see the police vans – eight of them, lined up, empty. Move further forward and you see the police. They have formed a human barricade fifty metres in front of the crowd. They are dressed in riot gear: helmets with visors and neck protectors, face coverings, padded jumpsuits, and shin pads. Some have plastic boot coverings, most wear gloves with knuckle guards. This is oppressive policing.

Standing between the police and the crowd is a lone man, short, middle aged and casually dressed in jeans, a jacket and baseball cap. He is facing the police waving a large Palestinian flag fixed to what resembles a fishing rod that extends ten feet into the air.

There is a tension about the place.

©2024 Sul Nowroz

“There have been multiple hospital massacres, a flour massacre and now a tent massacre. When is the world going to do the right thing? How is this allowed to happen?”

I speak with protestors. At first, they are guarded, suspicious even. They politely ask me not to take photos of their faces. We continue talking and they tell me of their distrust and suspicion of the police. They recount stories of unprovoked brutality, excessive use of force and nonsensical restrictions.

“Hamburg is better than other cities. Berlin is worse.”

“Sometimes they isolate one person [protestor] and surround them. Maybe ten or fifteen police for one person who has not done anything, not caused any trouble.” 

Another elaborates: “We are angry, but we protest peacefully.”

I feel the anger. I am speaking with young adults, who are smart, who can fluently converse in three or sometimes four languages, who can effortlessly traverse cultures and have a moral code that is applied universally, not selectively. To them, what’s happening in Ghazzah is unacceptable, as is their government’s collusion with Israel in committing genocide. Their assessment is piercingly straightforward and at odds with Germany’s contorted national psyche.  

This is a generation of Germans whose family histories and cultures extend beyond Germany, beyond Europe, and those ties heighten their alarm for Palestinian suffering. And for that they are bizarrely singled out.

In listening to them I sense a vulnerability. They are raising their voices, using their bodies to critique an immoral government policy that is in equal measure driven by guilt towards the oppressor and discrimination towards the oppressed. By being on the streets they are a mirror for the nation to look at, and the reflection is disturbing. Here is a generation who practise care and concern for all, but they live in a country that remains politely exclusionary and discretely inequitable. In defending the basic right for Palestinians to live, to just stay alive, this vanguard realises their own rights for justice and equality are not givens but need to be continually claimed and asserted. The power of this group, the palpable energy of this evening is comradeship, and for that they are targeted by the state and its apparatus in ways other German citizens are not.

Silent Onlookers

After much discussion and re-shuffling of police lines, there is agreement. The crowd will be allowed to march the two miles to the park opposite Dammtor station. It will be escorted all the way, down a corridor manned by police. Any deviation will come at a high cost.

Just after 8pm the march moves forward. The man with the flag first, then a van from which a woman with a microphone shouts: “End the occupation.” The crowd cheer and move forward. We reach the end of Mönckebergstraße and turn right. Onlookers stare. None wish to speak with me. On a skinny trunk of a small tree someone has placed a lone sticker: Free Palestine. Stop the genocide. It is perfectly straight.

The speaker system is now playing Bigsam’s If Only Once. It’s an Arab song with biting lyrics: 

My Gaza, I am with you in spirit
And even if the world betrays you, it’s paradise
Your sea doesn’t hurt us, oh soul of souls
We are hurt by ourselves
We fall if you fall
And we will not fall, as long as
We remain
Like a youth, stubborn as a torrent of rage

©2024 Sul Nowroz

Police regularly push the crowd, narrowing the corridor. It’s hard to tell if they are being overly cautious or antagonistic. Either way, it’s unpleasant and reminds us all we are being tolerated. Onlookers appear bewildered by the sounds and sights of a group they struggle to identify with. To them this is just a spectacle. The politics of collective humanity is absent, and we are simply the ‘other.’    

All we asked for was the freedom to live
But all we got in return was death and displacement

The soundtrack has changed to Rajieen, or return in English. It is a haunting melody sung by twenty-five artists and draws on key moments in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, including the 2000 assassination of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah. 

We approach a flyover which can be easily accessed to our right. Above, on the railings there is commotion. A dozen or so protestors are quickly dropping banners and hoisting flags. Others wave keffiyehs. The crowd react with cheers, some perform zaghrouta, a wavering, high-pitched trill most closely referred to as ululation in English.

©2024 Sul Nowroz

Within minutes additional police appear. They are different: dressed from head to foot in menacing black, with thick ribbed vests and plastic protectors on elbows, knees, and shins. Their helmets have solid chin guards that extend upwards covering their mouths. Face coverings under the helmets conceal everything but their eyes. This group looks more cyborg than human. Now, I realise the personal risk the crowd are taking by being here.

For a few moments the flyover is a liberated space, then it is cleared: banners gone, flags gone, keffiyehs gone.   

The Camp

©2024 Sul Nowroz

Opposite Dammtor train station is a tree line, behind which is a small green space. It’s not large, about an acre of trimmed grass, a few paved pathways and a couple of benches. People generally use the space as a thoroughfare to the university campus that sits on its edge.

It’s a permitted camp” I’m told by one of the student activists. “It first opened on May 6th and luckily our permit keeps getting extended. We are acting in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

The camp is home to half a dozen tents, including a large white one that acts as a central storage area and kitchen. Dried goods are stacked on wooden pallets and trestle tables provide prep space.  Boxes of fruit and crates of drinking water are piled towards the rear.

The space becomes crowded as protestors from the march begin pouring in. There is a communal feel – many appear to know each other. What start as small groups grow into larger clusters. There is discussion, debate, and even dance as a few perform the dabka, the traditional dance of Palestinians. All the while the police set up a cordon at the park perimeter.

I ask if the university participate in any way – after all, the department for African and Asian studies (an intellectually lazy and culturally incoherent grouping if ever there was one) is only a few hundred metres from here.

“Officially, no. But we have had some faculty privately express solidarity.” 

I ask about others, not affiliated to the university.

“We have people stopping by.  We have had people from various countries who were visiting Hamburg join us for a few hours. We have also had other movements drop in, such as socialist movements and BLM.”

By 10:30pm the space starts emptying, leaving a small group. They will sleep the night there, ready to hand over to the next shift tomorrow.

We always have a dozen or so in the camp.”

Tues 28th May

I wake to hear that the Kuwait Specialised Hospital in Rafah was bombed by IOF overnight, along with several homes and outdoor shelters. Rafah has always been terrorised – first psychologically, and now physically.  And through it all the world looks on.

But there is this space, a small green space complete with tents and flags and keffiyehs, that is filled with conversations about what a post-colonial world looks like – not just for the colonialised, but also for the colonialist. For those who dare to peer in, this camp reminds us that none of us are truly free until we are all free.

Germany is the second biggest arms exporter to Israel, accounting for 30% of imports between 2019 and 2023, according to SIPRI.

Tal Al-Sultan continues to be bombed. To date no western government has sanctioned Israel, nor suspended arms shipments. Palestinians continue to be slaughtered.

©2024 Sul Nowroz