At an event held at a high school in Rostock, Germany, on 16 July, Chancellor Angela Merkel brought a Palestinian student to tears in a discussion about Germany’s refugee asylum policy. In the televised discussion, Reem Sahwil, a fourteen-year-old Palestinian refugee, told Merkel that her family was facing deportation from Germany, where they had been living for four years. The chancellor’s response to Sahwil, including an attempt to console her, went viral under the Twitter hashtag #MerkelStreichelt.
The Guardian released a video of the incident, with English subtitles. It shows Sahwil explaining how the threatened deportation has affected her aspirations to attend university in Germany. “I have goals like anyone else. I want to study like them . . . it’s very unpleasant to see how others can enjoy life, and I can’t,” she told Merkel.
Visibly uncomfortable, the chancellor responded, “I understand what you are saying, nonetheless politics is hard sometimes. There are thousands and thousands more in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. And if we say ‘you can all come here,’ ‘you can all come over from Africa,’ we can’t cope with that.” This brought Sahwil to tears. Attempting to comfort her, the German chancellor stroked Sahwil’s shoulder, saying “You were great . . . I know it’s difficult for you and you presented extremely well the situation that many others find themselves in.”
Following the incident, Twitter users posted the hashtag #MerkelStreichelt alongside satirical photos and cartoons of the chancellor, criticizing her stance on refugees and German foreign policy. As journalist Ali Abunimah sarcastically remarked on Twitter: “Merkel doesn’t want Palestinian refugees in Germany and won’t support their return home to Palestine. I guess Sie können zur Hölle gehen [they can go to hell]!”
The criticism was especially stinging given the timing of Merkel’s discussion with the high school students. Titled “Good Life in Germany,” the event was held the same day as new data was published on Germany’s struggle to accommodate the recent influx of refugees. According to the Guardian, Germany has already received over 450,000 asylum applications this year.
Many argue that the foreign policies of Western countries such as Germany have created the conditions for conflicts that increase the numbers of refugees worldwide.
This section strives to capture the tenor and content of popular conversations related to the Palestinians and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Increasingly, these conversations are held on new and dynamic platforms unbound by traditional media. Therefore, items presented in this section are from a variety of sources, and have been selected because they either have gone viral or represent a significant cultural moment or trend.
Choice selections are also published in the Journal of Palestine Studies.