From the heart of oppression, liberation will come: Interview with "Palestine Speaks" organizer

September went to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) Palestine solidarity encampment to meet with Leila, a long-time activist, and co-founder of Munich’s chapter of ‘Palästina Spricht’, a movement for the rights of Palestinians and against racism in Germany. We discussed the situation in Palestine and Israel, the current state of the Palestinian solidarity movement, the role of the international institutions in the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, and the repression Palestinian and Jewish anti-zionist activists currently face in Germany.

On the cover: Palestinian solidarity encampment at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Photo:

September (S): Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role in the Palestinian solidarity movement here, in Munich?

Leila (L): My name is Leila and I'm from Palestine. My mom is from Jerusalem, while my dad is from a small village in the West Bank. I came to Germany several years ago to study psychology and now I work as a psychologist with refugees. I engaged with the Palestine movement from my first day in Germany, but we were doing it as students back then. We organized small protests together with our community, keeping the Palestine issue visible. Now I'm a member and a co-founder of the ‘Palästina Spricht’ (‘Palestine Speaks’) Munich chapter, which we formed in 2021, almost three years ago. The original concept behind ‘Palestine Spricht’ was giving Palestinians their own voice. Because what we've noticed in Europe in general and especially here in Germany is that — due to the history of Nazism in the country — you're not allowed to speak politically here as a Palestinian unless you have the ‘blessing’ of a Jewish person. We always had to depend on European voices to express our views and were not able to speak on behalf of ourselves. So we decided that we don't want this situation to continue anymore. We refuse to appeal to the sympathy of the listener in order to be heard. We made the decision to express ourselves in our own way.

S: Are you allowed to travel back to Palestine, or Israel? How does it go for you?

L: No, I’ve never received any official decision that would ban entry. Usually, it doesn't work like that in Palestine. I haven't tried to go there since the 7th of October, but I visited after we established ‘Palestine Speaks’ in 2021 and it worked out okay. Maybe because my work here is in the background, I'm not doing speeches or anything like that. We are well aware of this problem in our group. We are only giving the microphone, or delegating the task of giving public interviews, to people who have a German or other European passport. But now, after the 7th of October, I'm a bit hesitant to go back home, because I'm still waiting for my German passport. I don't have it yet, so the risk is there. What usually happens is that you go through Jordan, and from Jordan, you have Israeli border control. While you are there, they can take you for questioning without any reason — just for a Facebook post or because you looked at them in a way that they don't like.

S: And then what happens? Interrogation? Or they can, for example, prevent you from entering the country?

L: That didn't happen but they make sure that you get ‘really well’ interrogated — speaking ironically, of course. And there's also something that's called ‘administrative detention’ which means that the Israeli state is allowed to keep a person in detention for 18 months without opening a case against them, just on the grounds that you're suspected of being ‘a threat to the state's safety’. And this is how most of our people, the young people especially, who are active, have been imprisoned.

S: You said that part of your family is from the West Bank. Have they experienced any kind of direct violence from the Israeli state after the 7th of October? Because there were numerous reports about pogroms in the West Bank, done by settlers.

L: Of course. I would like to highlight that our daily life as Palestinians is affected by the existence of the State of Israel because for us it's a colonial apartheid state. But after the 7th of October, it has been escalating. My cousin was detained on the 12th of October. We don't know anything about his fate. We haven't heard anything from him in those months. They're not allowing the lawyer to go in. We just know that he's alive. That's the only information we have. My father is also an ex-prisoner so his movement is restricted because you don't know what's going to happen if you go through a checkpoint. I come from a village, which is surrounded by three settlements. Now, it is daily attacked by those Zionist settlers. It involves hitting, swearing, burning something. They are throwing Molotovs, and breaking glass everywhere. It's hell, basically. But nothing can be compared to what's happening in Gaza right now. And this is what Israel is trying to achieve. They are trying to get to the point where the Palestinian society is distorted because the people can't even express their oppression — because there's always someone who is more oppressed.

But if you talk to the people in Gaza, they say, we give you our solidarity — you're facing police repression in Germany. So Israel hasn't succeeded in distorting the Palestinian society: despite the borders and the differences, we are still saying — ‘Our situation is always better than that of other Palestinians and we are always in solidarity with each other’. We understand that we are facing the same enemy and the same kind of oppression but with different tools.

S: Do you have a direct connection, a lifeline to people in Gaza at the moment? It is probably very difficult, especially with the blackouts.

L: We always find a way like when they cut off the network. People in the diaspora managed to get SIM cards for people in Gaza that can function through the Internet and we can pay for them from the outside. As for the lifeline, it has been really difficult to get anything in but we have managed to find someone in Gaza who has a good amount of cash [to provide for others] and we are gathering the donations and we will give them the cash back once the borders are open. Sometimes Western Union functions, but that happens rarely. We try to use these opportunities but of course not from Germany, mostly from Turkey. Because in Germany you would be directly questioned on suspicion that you send money to Hamas.

S: Maybe you can give us the most important message from Gaza? What should the rest of the world hear? We see the atrocities committed by the IDF almost every day, but maybe something is missing from the public discourse that you think should be said.

L: There is one message I can deliver: don't let the blood go in vain. There is the blood of more than 40,000 people who have been martyred only from the 7th of October, and we also shouldn't forget almost 300 people martyred in the West Bank since then. As Palestinians, we urge everyone to be active, to organize themselves, to say something about it, and not only say, but also do something about it, because today it is Palestine, but tomorrow it could happen somewhere else. And we stay in solidarity with all oppressed people — we do believe that from the heart of oppression, liberation will come.

S: The next question concerns the existing international order and everything happening on this level. Take, for example, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued arrest warrants for Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where South Africa appealed for the plight of the Palestinian people. UN Security Council as well, where the US vetoed almost all the propositions to put pressure on Israel, and the General Assembly, where Israel often outright mocks the international institutions or accuses them of terrorism. The whole process of erosion of international law seems to be rapidly escalating. What's the role of the international institutions in the struggle of the Palestinian people for their statehood and against apartheid and genocide?

L: We have been in this struggle for 76 years and what it has shown so far is that we live in a world where Israel has a green card to do whatever they want because it serves the imperialist interests of all these governments, and as long as these imperialist interests exist Israel will have this green card. So, there is nothing that can stop it right now at the international level. And unfortunately, the ICJ verdict, for example, was a big fail in my opinion because they said there is only plausible evidence of genocide and they didn’t manage to impose a ceasefire or any kind of sanctions against Israel or even any kind of red line. We have lost faith in international law because if there was an international law none of this would have happened in the first place, let alone for 7 months or more. I do not believe that international law will bring us anything. Only the people themselves can mobilize and change something.

S: But is it still important to continue the pressure through these institutions or these efforts are better to be redirected somewhere else?

L: Of course, we are trying to knock on all doors but I really do think that this can scatter our efforts and we should keep our work focused on direct action. Countless times during these 76 years, we tried to appeal to the international community and international institutions and nothing has happened other than distortion and weakening of the Palestinian cause. Maybe the only thing that this has brought us is more awareness. And of course, this is the first step, but now the whole world knows, and it's not just about being aware anymore. Now we have to move into the next step of our activism which is organized action.

S: Certainly, the Palestinian solidarity movement has been growing like a snowball in the last half a year: with university encampments — like this one — and millions of people on the streets in most of the cities in the Global North demanding their respective educational institutions and governments to divest from Israel. Is this what you mean by direct action?

L: I am referring to all of that of course, because we are talking about a more aware generation and this generation is now mobilising. But we have to be careful: a lot of people are mobilizing and this is an eruption as you described it, but I really fear for the future of this movement. I fear that an unorganized movement would only lead to more problems regarding the Palestinian cause. And I do think this eruption was not only the result of the 7th of October or the genocide that is happening now in Gaza. I believe that the economic situation in the imperialistic countries, and the repression the minorities are facing, are the main reasons for this eruption. And then the Palestinian cause emerged. And I'm just afraid, although I don't want to be pessimistic, that we were only the ‘cherry on the top’ of the overall crisis.

This is why I think there should be permanent organizations that would continue their plight for the Palestinian cause in different directions. There has to be a specific ideology behind each organization that is engaging itself in the struggle. Contrary to the current situation, where the whole movement is just focusing on the international law aspect and is ignoring all other forms of resistance. Now the narrative is slightly changing and I hope it is changing in a way that would allow the Palestinian movement to become more effective.

S: You say that people should organize themselves according to a specific ideology. What do you mean by that?

L: When we are talking about the Palestinian cause, we are talking of a wide spectrum of solidarity, of gaining solidarity. We are talking about the left-to-right spectrum, from conservatives to socialists, communists, or anarchists. This means that we have to think, we have to have an ideology and articulate it. We can't engage ourselves in the liberation of Palestine without having an end goal or an end vision of how Palestine is going to be after the liberation. Otherwise, we're just... sedating ourselves until Palestine is free and then we will eat each other. The Islamists, the leftists, the conservatives, the progressives, the liberals, the national bourgeoisie, etc. And this is why we have to have an ideology that gives the movement a certain direction.

This brings us back to the question of international law. I should say this is partly the PLO's fault, but we have been always focusing on the humanitarian aspect and, thus, oppressing our resistance ourselves. This whole time we have been trying to prove that we are human beings, so ‘please, help us’. This is exactly what our so-called president Mahmoud Abbas has been doing when addressing the public in the UN General Assembly. He was saying ‘protect us’, ‘help us’ — and this kind of sympathy-seeking has only made it more difficult for us to defend our means of resistance which are very humble in comparison to our oppressor. Now, if you are a Palestinian in Europe and specifically here, in Germany, you have to condemn Hamas first, and only then you would be allowed to say something about yourself as a Palestinian. This playground of human rights is evidently not enough — it’s a very vague and individualistic lens. You can't build a movement, that is, organize the masses of people all over the world, only using this individualistic approach.

S: Going back to the question of ideology, do you have something specific in mind? Maybe you can outline your vision, or the vision of the ‘Palestine Speaks’, in very broad strokes?

L: We — including myself — tend to identify with the left spectrum but as ‘Palestine Speaks’ we still don't have any definite ideology or political vision. There is a very important opportunity right now — and all the leftist organizations should use this chance — to get together, get their shit together, and organize together to create this vision. We've been working with the different left organizations for the last six months and now, at the camp, we have a very big achievement with all the leftist groups in Munich engaging in a very effective conversation and discussions. I do believe that the Palestinian cause can unite all these left organizations.

S: And if we take a look at Germany, just how the circumstances of the Palestinian solidarity movement have changed compared to the situation before the 7th of October and Israel’s genocidal military operation in Gaza? It seems like the efforts of the German state to suppress the movement have doubled or even tripled.

L: Yes, Germany is in a very shameful position now. Despite the special pride the country takes in its Erinnerungskultur (Culture of Remembrance), Germany learned absolutely nothing from its history. The Holocaust survivors themselves describe what is happening now as a genocide. But Germany is still refusing to admit that. And it’s not only the German government. We have seen a lot of German people today at our Infostand, who only came there to talk about terminology: “I wouldn't use the word ‘genocide’, it’s such a strong term. That's only for the Holocaust.” Neither of them heard anything about Namibia of course. There is this constant projection of guilt on the Palestinians. The topic of Palestine has always been a taboo here to some extent but now what made it worse is that the Palestinians have taken the steering wheel of their movement. This is upsetting some of the public and the German government. The conclusion here is that there are zero lessons learned and zero processing happening of the history of the German state.

This implies a very big gap in the German schooling system and university system that is trying to depoliticize, decontextualize, and dehistorize the Holocaust, with it being presented as an event outside of history, an absolute monstrosity beyond comprehension and rationality. In a sense that no one can do such a horrible thing anymore in this world. And this reasoning is partly behind Germany’s support for everything that Israel does now. “They have the right to do it and we have to support them”. That's for the German public.

But regarding the German government, I don't think they care about their history or about the antisemitism problem that is still present here. Overwise, the Palestinians wouldn’t be pressured into taking the guilt for antisemitism, while the nationalists and the fascists are allowed to walk around freely. The main concern of the German government is the presence of Israel in its geopolitical role in the Middle East, which is in many aspects beneficial for Germany.

S: So this is what you think is behind the story with the Staatsräson?

L: Yes, at least partially. It’s also proved to be a useful tool for bashing the left here. They use it to smear and suppress the people. I don't want to use strong words, but I do feel that what is happening in Germany right now is absolutely absurd. And it is also facilitating the comeback of the right, of fascism. Because Germany didn’t fully process the antisemitism and racism problems that came to life as a result of fascism. The long process of coming to terms with the history of fascism in the country mainly resulted in a guilt complex, which is now being passed through the generations. Some people in Germany are projecting this guilt complex onto the Palestinians to make them take this guilt away from German society. Take for example the huge rally which took place in Munich in January, with over 200,000 people mobilizing against the AfD, the extreme right party. We as ‘Palestina Spricht’ were the only POC block at the demonstration and we were hit and attacked by the people who call themselves Antifa.

S: The Antideutsche movement, right?

L: Exactly. But not only the Antideutsche, we are also talking about civil citizens, bürgerliche Leute, who clearly did not accept the fact that the Palestinians were there believing this narrative about ‘the Arabs against the Jews’ that has been spread for centuries in Europe and the US. This is a great problem. And here comes the responsibility of the civil citizens to read, open their minds, and engage in discussions with the Palestinians. Here is another example: ‘Palestine Speaks’ were described as fascists by the Verdi, Germany’s second-largest trade union. We worked together in a Frauenbündnis (Women’s Alliance). And the delegation of the ‘Verdi Frauen’ described the ‘Palestine Speaks’ group as fascists. So, yes, there are zero lessons learned. Because how can you describe the people who are oppressed as fascists? But they don't believe that we are oppressed, they tell us that we are the real oppressors.

S: At the beginning of our conversation, you said that previously, the Palestinians would only be given a platform to speak in the German public space only after recognition from Jewish activists. And that you wanted to change that, to speak for yourself. What is the situation now, do Jewish activist groups participate in the Palestinian solidarity movement?

L: Yes, and some of them are very active, for example, Jüdische Stimme. They are great allies and they're not talking on behalf of us. They are giving us the space to speak from a personal experience. And they are fighting their own fight against antisemitism here. I have big respect for them because they don't use antisemitism as a tool or instrumentalize or suppress another cause that has nothing to do with antisemitism. I stand in solidarity with them as they are now facing repression in Berlin. Here we have a comrade, she's Jewish and comes from a Holocaust survivor family. She gave a speech at one of our demonstrations and the police filed a case against her for ‘relativization of the Holocaust’.

S: And the last question: do you see any connection between the Russian imperial aggression against Ukraine and the imperial aggression and genocide that Israel is waging in Palestine?

L: Of course. It's also a form of oppression. And we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. But we also stand in solidarity with the people of Russia who have been sanctioned and boycotted all over the world. The issue with Ukraine and Russia has only shown the double morals and the double standards of this world. The powers that be tend to sympathize with white people only. That's the first narrative. And second, they have been using Russia as this embodiment of communism to demonize communism in general. Unfortunately, this worked very well, especially in Germany after the DDR. Now, the Palestinians are being compared to Russia, which we find very false. Some Russian officials have also acted as populists, standing with Palestine and using the Palestinian struggle as a tool for their imperialistic gain. But the fact is that imperialistic states will stay imperialistic states and they don't give a fuck about the oppression of the people. We as Palestinians should be aware of that. It’s not only Russia but also Turkey and Erdogan, the biggest populist ever. And the list goes on, with China, etc. Because we are talking about a conflict between imperialistic states.

As oppressed people, we should always be aware of that. And I find it sad that while we have been passing by many Ukrainian protests during these months, some people from Ukraine attacked us. I don’t understand why they can't see that we are both oppressed. Is it only because Israel offered to give shelter to some of the refugees from Ukraine? And even they have been mistreated due to the racial structure of Israeli society. So, I want to call all oppressed people of the world to stand together; this is our only way to liberation from those imperialistic states and powers.