- Words / Photography © Manny Santiago / Magnesium
It had been ten years since I was last in Berlin and was marveling from the top of the Reichstag’s large viewing terrace at the immense facelift the city has undergone when I heard the collective voices of hundreds chanting screeds alongside the cries of an indecipherable (Ich spreche kein Deutsch) man using a bullhorn coming from the nearby Brandenburg Gate, the border between the old East / West Berlin. Curious, I left the tourists behind me at the refurbished Reichstag and approached the Pariser Platz as the crowd’s chanting crescendoed, erupting into cheers when I passed beneath the gate’s statue of Nike, the Greek Goddess of victory.
Not understanding what they were saying, and despite not having any clear idea what was actually happening, it was quickly clear that a great number of Palestinians, Turks, Syrians (identifiable by their flags) and others were extremely unhappy. I immediately began snapping photos and realized that I was more accepted within the surging Muslim crowd dressed in hijabs and kuffiyehs, felt more at home with the protesters, given free reign to shoot as I pleased by them than the stoic and disapproving police covered head to toe in riot gear lining the perimeter of the square.
Asking a Syrian woman boasting her birth country’s flag, I quickly got the details:
“These hundreds of people are gathered here in Pariser Platz beneath Brandenburg Gate today (Friday, June 4th 2010) to protest the Israeli raid on six ships comprising the the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla, carrying more than 600 hundred passengers. They killed nineteen people and injured hundreds. This is unacceptable. They must be stopped!”
The attack, which occurred approximately 65 kilometers of the Gaza coast in international waters, has been condemned worldwide and has brought well-deserved attention to what some call at minimum an illegal blockade, yet one that the Likud government spokesman Mark Regev maintains “was totally within its rights under international law to intercept the ship and to take it to the port of Ashdod”. Much more than just another “incident” within controversial areas many are unwilling to wade into, the use of what the majority of the protesters deem to be unnecessarily deadly force against boatloads of international journalists and writers as well as the death of nine Turkish activists, has gotten the attention of Turkey, Israel’s biggest trading partner and up to now, most trustworthy regional ally.
Turkey, which has seemed to usurp the role of Mideast leader of late, may have the power to apply unseen pressure on their their Mediterranean neighbor, possibly more so than U.S. president Barack Obama’s so far unheeded advice to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade against the Palestinians. They meet in Washington on July 6th.
None of the people here were willing to sit down at the nearby Starbucks to discus Israel’s claims to homeland security after the unilateral action by its military, which many of its own citizens condemned as overly harsh.
Just as soon as I had seen a fraction of the new Berlin (without the hundreds of cranes towering above last century’s skyline), where the multi-ethnic citizens use of freedom of speech seemed to equal or greater to anything I had ever experienced, I realized that more than just the usual protest, something massive was being stirred, an immense stand was being taken, with a greater number of countries involved than ever before, one from which we don’t emerge unaffected nor unscathed. I had a train to catch, an article to write and negatives to develop, but more than more of the same supposed unbiased reportage, I had to look deep to see that there was no clear understanding, no simple cut and dried answer, no unaffected people. The problem is growing and more and more people are becoming involved everyday, some violently, even fatally so. I have to ask myself if the answer really lies in more walls, borders and flags.
- Manny Santiago is a photographer / journalist currently circumnavigating the globe. For information on licensing these and other images please contact Magnesium Photos