BERLIN (JTA) — Demonstrators shouted "death to Israel" and raised their arms in salute to Hamas and Hezbollah at rallies in Berlin.
Police estimated 6,000 people took part in two demonstrations Saturday in Germany’s capital. Though registered as anti-war protests, they included calls for "victory for Palestine" and an end to Israel’s "60-year occupation."
Saturday’s marches were held against the backdrop of renewed efforts to ban Hamas in Germany. Berlin’s Minister of the Interior Ehrhart Körting vowed to push for the ban after Berlin courts on Friday decided to allow the display of Hamas symbols at the demonstration. Körting told reporters he sympathized with people whose relatives are suffering in Gaza. But support for Hamas, which wants to destroy Israel, is "sickening," he said.
Demonstrators along Unter den Linden Avenue, including thousands of Arab, Turkish and German background, held signs saying that Palestine had been "occupied for 60 years." Some chanted for an "end to the war," followed by "Palestine, to victory." Among the thousands of marchers, about a dozen people carried banners identifying themselves as the "other Jewish voices."
Some demonstrators burned an Israeli flag at the rear of the march.
Twelve people reportedly were taken into police custody on charges ranging from having partially covered their faces to incitement of hate. One arrested demonstrator was carrying a flag of the Islamist-extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which is banned in Germany.
Körting had argued that Hamas flags, signs and clothing be banned, partly based on the fact that the European Union had put the group on its list of terrorist organizations, "particularly for the permanent rocket attacks on Israeli citizens since September 2003."
But Berlin’s administrative appeals court decided Friday to allow the marchers to openly support Hamas at the rally as long they did not endorse suicide attacks, rocket attacks on Israel or calls by Hamas leaders for killing Israeli children.
Körting called the decision — based on protecting freedom of expression — "false liberalism," and vowed to press the federal government to ban Hamas as an "anti-constitutional and anti-Semitic organization." The Berlin police appealed the court decision, and Körting also appealed openly to Berliners to avoid taking part in the rally.
"The support of Hamas at demonstrations in Germany aims at justifying rocket attacks on Israeli citizens and encourages Hamas to continue with these attacks," he said, adding that this is not in keeping with the preservation of the peace in Germany.