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German Palestinians in the Cross-fire

As the violence between Arabs and Israelis continues unabated, Palestinians in Germany are finding it increasingly necessary to defend themselves against accusations of terrorism and show they are on the side of peace.


Young Palestinians turn out in large numbers for a demonstration in Berlin last month

Khaled al-Khahtib is a Palestinian living in Germany. Five years ago the 27-year old came to Berlin from Bethlehem to study political science. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Khaled is concerned about the escalating violence in his homeland and the growing prejudice directed against Arabs in Germany.

Since September 11, the situation of Arabs living in Germany has become much worse, Khaled says. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, people of Arab origin were often looked at skeptically and lumped together with the terrorists. There were wide-scale investigations at the universities, and Arab students were called into the police department for questioning. Many Palestinian and Arab children were even called names and sworn at, recalls Khaled, who volunteers at a Berlin youth club called "The Kiosk".

Khaled spends most of his afternoons helping to run the club, which is primarily visited by children of Arab origin. He and the other members of the youth organization try to give the children positive reinforcement to deal with the daily pressures of growing up Arab in a western country. Khaled says he likes being able to help others and feel like he’s contributing something positive to society. He says he’s upset that his countrymen are generally regarded as terrorists.

Violent image

The current violence in the Middle East certainly does not help matters. The prejudice against Arabs continues to grow especially as the Palestinian-Israeli tensions spill over into Europe. The death of 11 German tourists in Djerba, Tunisia earlier this month and the arrest of eight members of the Palestinian Islamic extremist group Al-Tawhid last week solidify the violent image of Arabs in Germany.

But Khaled says this image is biased. He criticizes the German and international media for not sufficiently and accurately covering the crisis in the Middle East. "We don’t get enough news from Germany and from international broadcasters. They’re very limited, very unobjective... It’s important for us to be able to see on-the-spot news and comprehensive reports", he explains.

News and up-to-date coverage of the situation is critical for Khaled. He’s worried about his family. His parents live in the besieged town of Bethlehem, and some of his sisters are located in refugee camps. As with many of the Arabs living in Germany, Khaled relies mainly on Arab-language newspapers to find out what is happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Occasionally he meets up with other Palestinian friends who receive news from the Arab satellite broadcaster al-Jazeera.

No matter what he reads or sees, the stories and pictures are distressing. And when coupled with e-mails from home, it’s enough to make one lose hope.

Germany’s role

Khaled says he’s disappointed with Germany’s Middle East policy, and he wishes Germany would take a more active role in supporting the Palestinians. "So far, it’s played a very timid, very pro-Israeli role. And we see this every day in the press, in statements by Herr Fischer [foreign minister] and sometimes even from Herr Schröder [chancellor]. I think that a certain amount of neutrality should be displayed in this regard", he says critically.

But Khaled is not one to sit around and wait for a change to take place. He’s actively involved in the political lobbying process. As a committee member of the German-Palestinian society, Khaled is working to convince the German government to support an end to the Israeli occupation. "It’s very important to keep on emphasizing that occupation and, in this case, colonialism has no future", he says.

Along with his German colleague Rainer Zimmer-Winkel, Khaled also thinks that it’s important to denounce the violence against Palestinians in Israel. At the same time though, he stresses the need to avoid extremism of any kind. "If I see a side that is 100 percent pro-Palestinian, then I’d simply take a rather skeptical view of it," Khaled says. "It’s always important to show critical solidarity, no matter for which side, no matter in which direction."

When asked about the negative view many Germans have of his countrymen, Khaled gives a passionate plea for looking at all sides. "In spite of all these pictures, in spite of all of these experiences that we’ve been through, it’s important sometimes to show the human aspect. We’re not fighting machines, we’re not people who only live for politics. We’re not victims."

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