Demonstrators met this weekend at the former site of the Berlin Wall to protest against the security fence in Israel. Among the organizers were representatives of a new Jewish group that criticizes Israeli policy.
Prostesters erected the temporary wall at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie.
It was almost a feeling of déjà vu. In the center of Berlin, at the site of the old Check Point Charlie, part of the notorious wall was back up, and, to judge by the noise, more was being rebuilt.
A group of demonstrators were gathered there with signs proclaiming slogans such as “this wall is a crime” and “stop the building of the apartheid wall.” As some protesters held up grey Styrofoam blocks meant to symbolize the old barrier, others operated the sound system which produced the excruciatingly loud noises of bulldozers at work.
A Palestinian couple walks through the fence Israel is building to separate Israel and the Palestinian territories.
But the numerous Palestinian flags waving above the crowd made it clear that this was not a re-enactment of scenes from a bygone age of the divided city. The wall in question was a representation of the so-called “security fence” (photo) currently being erected in Israel, and the protestors themselves had gathered to call for a halt to that particular divisive construction.
Symbols of seperation
One of the organizers of the protest was Dr. Fanny-Michaela Reisin. "For us the parallel with the Berlin wall is symbolic," she told Deutsche Welle. "Separation walls, no matter where, break up people, they break up families, they break up communication, and they break up communities."
Similarities have been drawn between the Berlin Wall and Israel's security fence.
Reisin explained that unlike the Berlin Wall, however, which ran along a state border, the wall which is being built by Israel runs deep into Palestinian territory, literally separating school children from schools, patients and doctors from hospitals, and villagers from their olive groves. In other words, she said, it cuts off people from places and things that are essential to their survival.
The leading activist is a founding member of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, a Berlin-based group which is critical of both the “security fence” and the policies of the Ariel Sharon government. The group advocates Israel’s return to its 1967 borders, and supports the Geneva Initiative as a way to a peaceful two-state solution.
Members of a wider movement
The Jewish Voice, which was formed last November, only consists of between 30 and 40 members thus far, but it's part of a larger umbrella organization. European Jews for a Just Peace brings together 18 groups from nine countries and has between 3,000 and 5,000 members, according to Richard Kuper, general secretary of the organization's executive committee.
Last week, Berlin’s Jewish Voice made headlines by holding a press conference with Kuper and others, and by sending an open letter to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, encouraging him to speak out against the security fence.
"One of the group’s main objectives is to make it clear that critique of Israeli politics cannot be equated with anti-Semitism," Kuper said. In his speech last week, Kuper charged the Israeli government with dismissing serious criticism from inside and outside the Jewish community as anti-Semitic attacks.
Claims of anti-Semitism refuted
Reisin organized the protest at the weekend together with members of German non-Jewish and Palestinian groups such as the Friends of Palestine in Berlin-Brandenburg and the German-Palestinian Society. She refuted any suggestion that the protest might give voice to anti-Semitic sentiments.
"As people of Jewish origin in Germany, you can rest assured that we are both very alert and very sensitive to anti-Semitism," she said.
"The Sharon government has interpreted every criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitic, simply because it is criticism of the Jewish state," Reisin added. "We want to distance ourselves from this rhetoric. We are passionate opponents of anti-Semitism in general. We are against racism and against displacement. For precisely these reasons, we also oppose the displacement of the Palestinians from the Palestinian territories."
While no more than 100 protesters participated in the rally at the weekend, both Reisin and Kuper expressed hope that the self-described “stop the wall movement” will pick up momentum with actions similar to the symbolic wall building and make the voices of the security fence’s Jewish opponents heard here, as well as in Israel.