German police crack down on pro-Palestine rallies, raising alarm

Early-afternoon on Saturday in central Berlin, officers led an elderly German woman away to a police van so her sign could be checked.

She was preparing to attend a march calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Her banner, which said she was ashamed to be German and that there was a “genocide” taking place in the densely populated Palestinian enclave being bombarded by Israel.

Police let her and her sign go, and she joined the march.

Later, as the rally got under way, a group of officers in riot gear readied themselves in front of a crowd of chanting protesters.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people marched in the German capital. About 1,000 police were deployed in part to prevent any anti-Semitic speeches or signage.

Until recently, most pro-Palestinian demonstrations were banned in Berlin because local authorities feared an outburst of violence or anti-Semitism. But the decision was criticised as breaching the democratic right to freedom of assembly.

In the past two weeks, several protests have been permitted, including Saturday’s march.

At about 4pm, police pushed into the crowd and, to calls of “shame, shame”, pulled Monika Kalinowska out.

Her sign, written in red, read, “Israel is a terrorist state.”

After she was frisked and her identification checked, she was told there was nothing wrong with her sign – even though it was confiscated – and she was allowed to leave. She could pick up the sign the next day, police said.

“But the thing that made me really mad was when the policeman asked me if I identified as a woman,” she said. “I was not saying anything illegal and, I mean, if you don’t respect my freedom of speech, how are you going to respect whether I identify as a man or a woman?”

The officer who briefly removed Kalinowska from the protest told Al Jazeera that there was no formal list or any particular guidelines to follow.

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