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Lawsuit Accuses German Leaders of Complicity in Gaza Genocide

"This lawsuit sends a clear message to German officials: You cannot continue to remain accomplices of such crime without consequences."

By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams

Lawyers in Germany representing Palestinian families announced Friday that they are suing senior German officials, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for "aiding and abetting" Israel's genocide in Gaza.

The criminal complaint, filed Thursday with federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, accuses Scholz, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, and Economy Minister Robert Habeck of "complicity in the genocide in Gaza" by approving the export of approximately $350 million worth of military aid to Israel.

The suit also lists the German government's diplomatic support for Israel and its suspension of payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East—even as Israeli forces have killed and maimed over 100,000 Palestinians, forcibly displaced around 90% of the besieged strip's 2.3 million people, obliterated the territory's infrastructure, and pushed hundreds of thousands of Gazans to the brink of starvation.

"Our governments in Europe have a legal obligation not to provide Israel any support in perpetrating the current genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. This has to stop and this is what we hope to achieve by going to court," Nadija Samour, a Palestinian German lawyer who co-filed the suit, said Friday at a Berlin press conference.

"This lawsuit sends a clear message to German officials: You cannot continue to remain accomplices of such crime without consequences," she added. "We want accountability."

Last month, a provisional International Court of Justice ruling that found Israel is "plausibly" perpetrating genocide in Gaza and ordering the country's government and military to "take all measures within its power" to prevent genocidal acts.

Noting that German law requires initial suspicion for such lawsuits to proceed, Samour said that the ICJ's interim ruling "clearly showed that there is such ground for initial suspicion when it comes to the crime of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza."

Germany staunchly opposes the South Africa-led ICJ case. Berlin's stance has infuriated much of the Global South, including Namibia, which was colonized by Germans who perpetrated the 20th century's first genocide in the African nation.

Namibian President Hage Geingob, who died earlier this month, said in January that "Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza."

Legal experts, genocide scholars, human rights campaigners, world leaders, and others have accused Israel of genocide in Gaza. Raz Segal, one of Israel's leading Holocaust scholars, has repeatedly said his country is perpetrating a "textbook case of genocide" against the people of Gaza.

Nora Ragab, a Palestinian German migration scholar and plaintiff in the lawsuit whose uncle was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza, said in a statement that "we Palestinians in the diaspora will not stand by and watch a genocide being committed against our families and our people."

"We will use all means at our disposal... to hold the German government accountable for its complicity in the genocide in Gaza," she added.

Advocacy groups supporting the German lawsuit include the European Legal Support Center (ELSC), the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, and Law for Palestine.

Germany "is one of the countries that has shown some of the strongest political and material support to Israel in its assault on the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians, with many German officials also inciting to genocide in their statements," ELSC said in a statement.

German arms export approvals to Israel soared last year, especially after the October 7 Hamas-led attacks. Reuters reported in November that 2023 military export authorizations through the first week of that month rose tenfold from 2022 levels, with the majority of export permits issued after October 7. German weapons and support sales to Israel totaled over $320 million last year.

Although that amount pales in comparison to the billions of dollars in annual armed aid and sales the United States provides to Israel, it does not affect the legality of such transfers. On Friday, a group of United Nations experts asserted that "any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately."

Earlier this month, a Dutch court blocked the proposed export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, finding a "clear risk" that those parts would be used to commit war crimes.

Many observers contend that Germany's actions are driven by historical guilt over the Holocaust. Numerous critics claim the German government is weaponizing that guilt in order to demonize Palestinians and their defenders.

"Since October 7, 2023, the Palestinian community in Germany, especially in Berlin, has been subjected to intense suppression of their protests, cultural symbols, voices, and narratives," Ragab wrote last week. "This crackdown has significantly hindered their ability to publicly express grief and outrage against the state of Israel's bombardment of Gaza."

Ragab called bans or restrictions on pro-Palestine demonstrations—sometimes enforced through police violence—"notably severe."

"By banning protests, the German state not only negates Palestinians their right to free expression and peaceful assembly, but also seeks to control the public narrative and visibility of Palestine and Palestinian life in Germany," she wrote. "Although the intensity of this suppression escalated on October 7, it is part of a historical politics of erasure, diminishing, and eradicating the collective existence and identity of Palestinians in Germany, through repression, censorship, and discrimination."

Dave Braneck, a freelance journalist in Berlin, called Germany's stance on the Gaza genocide "truly repugnant."

"You don't need a Ph.D in Middle East studies to acknowledge that children in Gaza are human," Braneck asserted. "Yet Germans fail to see the sickening irony of sanctioning the mass death of innocents and leveling of entire communities as a necessary act of atonement for the Holocaust."

He added that "if Germany had real interest in learning lessons from its appalling history, it would recognize that categorizing entire nations of people as inhuman and unworthy of sympathy or safety must be made untenable—regardless of who it's happening to."

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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