Germany Is Complicit in Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

Even as mass atrocities pile up in Gaza, Germany has banned pro-Palestine protests and offered unqualified support to the Israeli siege. With few exceptions, Germany’s media-political sphere isn’t just silent about Israel’s crimes — it actively supports them.

Smoke rises as the Israeli attacks continue in Rafah, Gaza, on October 19, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib / Anadolu via Getty Images)

The news pouring out of Gaza through an unremitting barrage of videos, voice notes, UN statements, and statistics in recent days, are — Israeli genocide and Holocaust researcher Raz Segal writes — “a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.” Palestinians both inside and outside of Gaza have desperately tried to raise awareness of Israel’s “genocidal campaign” for days. Almost eight hundred scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies, and genocide studies have signed a letter warning of the possibility of a genocide in Gaza.

And yet, the German government and media landscape have stayed eerily silent on Israel’s merciless bombardment of Gaza’s populations. Germany is not just silent on Israel’s ever-growing list of war crimes, it is complicit. Under the guise of “Israel’s right to self-defense” (a concept that is in itself legally murky), German politicians from across the political spectrum and nearly all media outlets have advocated unqualified support for Israel, taking Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians for granted. Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared that Germany stands by Israel’s side, while members of the Bundestag unanimously pledged to give Israel “full solidarity and all support” without any mentions of conditions with regards to human rights or international law.

Germany’s unconditional support for Israel is engrained in its raison d’état: as the perpetrator of the Holocaust, Germany sees its role as the guarantor of Israel’s security. Wieland Hoban, chairman of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, views this critically: “The idea of taking responsibility for the Holocaust was intertwined with geopolitical concerns from the start. In more recent times, support for Israel — whether material or political — has been relentlessly promoted as a German obligation,” he tells Jacobin. As a result, the German government, including oppositional parties, consistently reaffirm “Israel’s right to self-defense.” A right that became especially pronounced following the October 7 attack by Hamas militants that left over fourteen hundred Israelis dead.

Yet what is currently happening in Gaza has nothing to do with self-defense. Instead, the German government unconditionally supports Israel as it inexorably violates the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the laws applicable in international armed conflicts. When it comes to Israel, Germany is eager to reaffirm that it has “forgotten nothing” about its Nazi past. But when it comes to the Palestinians, the case looks quite different — international law and human rights blatantly remain a case of “don’t hear, don’t see, don’t speak.”

A case in point is Germany’s pledge to provide two Heron TP combat drones to the Israeli air forces, the very same air forces that have already killed over one thousand children in Gaza and left even more with horrendous burns, mortar wounds, and lost limbs. Public TV channels openly allow for calls to exterminate Gaza. And the same German newspapers that have been silent on Israeli genocidal policies in the past, are now defending Israel’s slaughtering of Palestinian civilians — all in the name of Israel’s unquestionable “right to self-defense.” Articles in leading media outlets like Die Zeit, FAZ, Tagesschau, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Der Spiegel all either support Israeli war crimes, diminish them, or ignore that they have already happened.

At the same time, the German police banned all pro-Palestinian protests, even the ones organized by Jews. As Hebh Jamal writes, demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza have been banned, criminalized, and met with riot police. Instances of police brutality against demonstrators and mass detainment are widespread. The blanket ban on protests went so far that Amnesty Deutschland had to issue a statement reminding the government of the people’s freedom of assembly.

Ironically, while the Ministry of Interior claims to “prioritize the visibility of Jewish life,” it is working hard to suppress those Jewish views that do not align with its raison d’état. Hoban says: “Politicians are thus complicit at the highest level, and their complicity extends to the street level when they order police to arrest demonstrators arbitrarily and violently. The fact that Jews might be on the same side as Palestinians in this matter is incomprehensible to them.”

Unlike what German news segments might suggest, hardly anybody who has been following the news on Israel and Palestine over the past years has been entirely surprised by Hamas’s attack on October 7. Shocked about the deaths and kidnappings, yes. Surprised that Israel’s status quo would backfire, no. For Israel to expect that two million people will be quietly locked up, placed under siege and bombarded every few years for more than a decade without paying a horrible price for it is, as veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes, a product of “Israeli arrogance.”

While many in Germany and abroad describe the events as “Israel’s 9/11,” Palestinians have been experiencing their 9/11 since 1948. There is nothing new about either the scale of the civilian death toll or the cruel indiscriminate use of force. Since 2008 alone, Israel has killed thousands of innocent civilians in five wars it’s waged on Gaza. In each war, it has indiscriminately targeted civilian areas.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights defenders and academics have long decried Israel’s genocidal policies, embedded in its apartheid regime. Yet, Germany did not listen. When Palestinians protested nonviolently every Friday in Gaza only to get shot and maimed in the thousands by Israeli soldiers, the German government and media maintained near-total silence. When the Israeli army killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and assaulted mourners at her funeral, Germany did not have a word to say. Right after, Berlin even banned all protests to commemorate Nakba Day. When Israel brutally repressed the residents of Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah district, Germany looked the other way.

Ultimately, it is a special kind of arrogance to blame the current humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza solely on Hamas, as the German Foreign Office does. It means ignoring reports by Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations — and even Israel’s own biggest human rights organization, B’Tselem — that blame Israel’s blockade on Gaza for the disastrous situation.

A different response to Hamas’s offensive would have been possible. At a bare minimum, Germany could have put its full diplomatic weight behind a cease-fire or a prisoner exchange, thus focusing its efforts on the welfare of the kidnapped Israelis. Contrary to Germany’s raison d’état, the current blanket bombardment of the Gaza Strip does not promise Israelis more security, either. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are safe unless everyone is safe.

Meanwhile, Israeli journalist Amira Hass has found clear words for Germany’s actions. As she wrote in Haaretz, “You Germans have long since betrayed your responsibility . . . arising from the Holocaust . . . you betrayed it by your unreserved support for an Israel that occupies, colonizes, deprives people of water, steals land, imprisons two million Gazans in a crowded cage, demolishes homes, expels entire communities from their homes and encourages settler violence.” Rather than fight these crimes, Germany is complicit in them.