Germany, France, & the UK: European Governments Curtailing Voices

Germany, France, & the UK: European Governments Curtailing Voices
Photo by Hugo Breyer /via Unsplash


Naira ElTonsy

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The suffering of Gaza’s civilians, entangled in ceaseless bombardment, forced displacement, and deprivation of basic necessities like electricity, food, and clean water, has incited outrage in the Arab world and prompted demonstrations in numerous Western cities. [1] Ironically, the Western governments that claim to protect democracy and freedom of speech as the basis of their political regimes are the exact governments that have claimed the ban of those very same principles in the context of Gaza. 

In Brussels, the European Commission and Parliament’s leaders held a moment of silence for the victims of Hamas, while abstaining from mentioning anything about Palestinian civilians killed by Israel. [2] Several landmarks in Europe have lit up with the colours of the Israeli flag, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Bulgarian Parliament, and the Brandenburg gate in Berlin. [3]

Germany and France are home to Europe’s most vibrant Muslim and Jewish communities. Even so, they have publicly demanded the prohibition of any demonstrations in support of Palestine, with the notion that they promote ‘public disorder’ and ‘antisemitism’. [4] Palestinian supporters feel that their freedom of speech and expression has been betrayed, as they fear the risk of putting their freedom, employment, or immigration status at jeopardy if they take part in the peaceful protests. [5] 

The ban by French police in Paris entails “a ban on the presence and circulation of people that present themselves as pro-Palestinian”. [6] At least 24 protestors have been arrested, while France’s minister of the interior, Gérald Darmanin, voiced that anyone guilty of ‘anti-semitic acts’ must have their residence permit ‘systematically withdrawn without delay’ from France. [7]

German police have harassed individuals wearing a Keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf, while its ban on protests violates the right to assembly under Article 8 of its basic law and article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights [8] The EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen at this time has displayed complete hypocrisy. During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she had claimed that ‘attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes. Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming - these acts are of pure terror, and we have to call it as such’. [9] But, evidently when it comes to Gaza’s civilians it is seen as Israel’s right to self defence, and classified differently.   

As well as Germany and France, the British government is attempting to sideline and stifle opposing viewpoints by singling out protest movements expressing support for the Palestinian cause. [10] Britain has expressed its support for Israel, denying anyone with an opposing view the right to protest by asking them to stay at home. [11] UK’s foreign secretary James Cleverly stated the reasons behind this is that they might ‘indicate support for Hamas’, ‘are intended to glorify acts of terrorism’, ‘should be understood as an expression of violent desire to see Israel erased from the world’, and therefore, a ‘racially aggravated crime’. [12] 

In light of all of the above, let me ask you this: how are protests supporting the innocent civilians being killed, with no access to any humanitarian aid seen as supporting terrorism? Or is it just because they do not align with the so-called government's foreign policy and views? Are you really saying protests are expressing the desire to see Israel erased from the world, whilst Israel’s tactic of ethnic cleansing the Palestanians is not? How will the voices of the marginalised and the less-powerful be heard? Where is the freedom of expression and democracy that all Germany, France and the UK constantly praise themselves for?

Sources and further reading

[1] Sabra Mansar, France24, (2023, October 19), ‘ ‘I refuse to be associated with Hamas’: Gazans in Paris lament ban on pro-Palestinian protests’ <‘I refuse to be associated with Hamas’: Gazans in Paris lament ban on pro-Palestinian protests> accessed 20 October 2023

[2] DemocracyNOW, (2023 October 12), ‘Europe shows support for Israel while cracking down on pro-Palestinian portests. <Europe Shows Support for Israel While Cracking Down on Pro-Palestinian Protests | Democracy Now!> accessed 20 October 2023

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rihan Alkousaa, Thomas Escritt, Layli Foroudi, Reuters, (2023, October 19), ‘In France and Germany, Palestinian supporters say they struggle to be heard’ <In France and Germany, Palestinian supporters say they struggle to be heard | Reuters> accessed 20 October 2023 

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ahramonline, (2023, October 12), ‘France bans pro-Palestinian protests after Israel declares war on Gaza’ <France bans pro-Palestinian protests after Israel declares war on Gaza - International - World - Ahram Online>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Nathaniel Flakin, LeftVoice, (2023, October 17), Berlin bans all solidarity with Palestine’ <Berlin Bans All Solidarity with Palestine - Left Voice> accessed 20 October 2023

[9] Ibid.

[10] Benny Hunter, openDemocracy, (2023, October 16), ‘The UK establishment is using war to attack protest at home’ <UK establishment using Israel Palestine to attack protest rights | openDemocracy> accessed 20 October 2023 

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.