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Court overturns German ban on surgeon who witnessed Gaza war crimes

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Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta speaks at a protest at the German embassy in London, after he was deported by German authorities when he traveled to Berlin to speak at a conference on Palestine, 12 April. German police violently shut down the conference.


Raşid Necati Aslım
Anadolu Images

A court in Germany has overturned a Europe-wide travel ban imposed by German authorities on Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, the British Palestinian surgeon who spent weeks saving lives in Gaza at the beginning of Israel’s ongoing genocide.

In recent weeks, Abu Sitta has been barred from entering France and the Netherlands in order to speak about the Israeli war crimes he witnessed during his 43 days working as a doctor under Israel’s savage and indiscriminate bombardment.

Both countries are part of a common visa regime with Germany known as the Schengen area.

Encompassing most European Union states, the Schengen area also includes several non-EU countries such as supposedly neutral Switzerland. There are no border controls within the Schengen area.

The draconian German ban constituted “a serious breach of freedom of movement and expression in Europe and now a judge has ruled that the travel ban should be overturned,” said the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and European Legal Support Centre (ELSC), which assisted in the case.

“This is a significant victory for freedom of speech and a significant turning point in challenging the chilling environment that many Palestinian human rights advocates have to operate in,” the two civil rights groups added.

The ban on Abu Sitta had also drawn criticism from Human Rights Watch, which asserted that the “attempts to prevent him from sharing his experience treating patients in Gaza risks undermining Germany’s commitment to protect and facilitate freedom of expression and assembly and to nondiscrimination.”

Violent crackdown

The ban initially came to light when Abu Sitta attempted to enter Germany from the UK in April for a conference on Palestine in Berlin.

The conference got underway on the morning of 12 April, but was violently raided and shut down by German police within about an hour of its opening.

A day earlier, Abu Sitta was inaugurated as rector of the University of Glasgow, a position to which he was elected by students with 80 percent of the vote and a record turnout.

According to German media, several other Palestinian participants faced actual or potential bans by Germany.

On the day of the conference, Stern revealed that, “the authorities issued entry bans against several of the planned speakers, according to information from Stern. Accordingly, the bans affect Salman Abu Sitta and Ghassan Abu Sitta.”

The report added that “Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian American journalist, is currently being considered for an entry ban. Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian news site and a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign.”

However since neither Salman Abu Sitta, a noted Palestinian historian and Nakba survivor, nor this writer attempted to travel to Germany, it is unclear whether an entry ban was or is in force.

Germany also imposed an entry ban on Yanis Varoufakis, the left-wing politician and former finance minister of Greece who had also been due to address the Palestine conference in Berlin.

Even more shocking, Berlin banned Varoufakis, an EU citizen, from conducting any political activity in the country, potentially blocking him from campaigning for his Europe-wide MERA25 party in European Parliament elections set for next month.

According to Varoufakis, German authorities have cited “national security” as a reason for refusing to provide his lawyers with an explanation of the scope or legal authority for the ban.

Varoufakis is suing the German government to overturn the ban.

Escalating repression

Germany has in recent months escalated its repression against Palestinians and their supporters as it continues to back Israel’s genocide in Gaza, even criminalizing the use of the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a call to end Israel’s German-backed and German-armed system of occupation, settler-colonialism, apartheid and genocide that affects Palestinians in every part of their historic homeland.

For its support of the ongoing genocide, Germany is also the subject of an ongoing case at the International Court of Justice brought by Nicaragua.

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