The 13th Conference of Palestinians in Europe kicked off on Saturday (April 25) in Berlin, with thousands of participants expected to flock to the German capital for a full day of discussions, workshops and lectures on Palestinian culture and politics.
The situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria and the drafting of a declaration on Palestinian rights, such as the right of return, will top the agenda at the one-day gathering, organized by the Palestinian Community of Germany and the British-based consultancy firm Palestinian Return Center.
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted and marched towards the Treptow Arena, where the conference is being held. One participant said Europe needed to do more to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people.
One of the demonstrators, Hisham Kanan, said Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting each other over land since 1967.
The pre-1967 borders, which refers to the lines that existed before the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, is considered key to sealing any deal today.
"What the Palestinians have done since '67, is to fight against violence and occupation. Europe should highlight these topics, and make clear to the Israelis, the American and the world that what we are talking about here is occupation," Hisham Kanan said.
Meanwhile, police said some 50 anti-Hamas protesters staged a peaceful counter-rally, organized by a coalition of Jewish and pro-Israel groups going under the name Berlin Against Hamas.
They came with banners reading "Make Peace Not War" and "Free Gaza from Hamas" and held a picket line as conference attendees and demonstrators walked by.
Local media reported the venue management had released a statement saying it had no information about "explicit connections" between the conference organizers and members of Hamas.
Yet at least one of the organizations associated with the conference has reportedly tangible links to the Palestinian Islamist group ruling the beleaguered coastal enclave.
The Berlin Senate's interior agency classified the Palestinian Community of Germany organizations (PGD), as a group harboring Hamas supporters.Speaking to the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Professor Gerald Steinberg
of the Jerusalem based NGO Monitor, also tied items on the conference's agenda, such as ramping up support for the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, to Hamas.
According to Steinberg, “This is a direct pro-Hamas and anti-peace event, with the participation of hard-core Palestinian, British, and German supporters of rejectionism and incitement against Israel.”
Groups in Germany opposed to the conference echoed these and similar assertions but insisted that they were not against the expression of Palestinian rights.
"We have organized this event to oppose pro-Hamas organizations which are against Israel. Palestinians and Israelis can only live together in security and freedom when they recognize each others' rights," said Volker Beck, a lawmaker and chair of the German-Israeli parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
Separately, Beck also told the Post
on Tuesday that “this conference serves neither peace in Middle East nor the legitimate interests of the Palestinians and Israelis toward peace and security. Quite the contrary: Prejudices will be stoked [at the conference] and possibly,in the worst cases, terrorism and violence of Hamas will be legitimized or glorified.”
The Palestinian group Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a brief civil war with Fatah, which is led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israel-Gaza border has been largely quiet since a 50-day conflict last summer, in which local health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed.
Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
The Islamist faction is designated as a terror organization by most Western countries.