Police Violence in Pro-Palestine Demos in Italy

For the last fifteen years, people had forgotten to prepare for clashes when going to demonstrations. Yet, for some months now, police have started charging demonstrators again.

According to Osservatorio Repressione, which collects all cases of physical, economic, or psychological political repression in Italy, the first case of police using batons at a protest in the last two years was on 13th October 2024, shortly after the escalation of the war in Palestine.

It is no coincidence that it was a protest for Palestine that was attacked. These demonstrations are promoted by non-violent pacifist organisations and, although they are very heartfelt, they are nevertheless categorised as ‘peaceful protests’ since no one on these occasions has ever done violence against people or objects. Usually families with strollers, dogs, elderly, and small children take part too.

This police attitude, famous well before 2024, is part of a broader context of pro-Israeli censorship that has also affected artists.

During the Italian music festival in Sanremo, two young singers, Ghali and Dargen D’Amico, used the stage of the most awaited and important Italian event of the year to sing and talk about peace and non-violence. The event seemed to have gone unnoticed by most – Sanremo Festival has always been a stage for the artists’ political arguments.

But in fact, the day after the end of the festival, which is transmitted by the national public broadcasting company RAI, the company’s CEO Roberto Sergio sent a statement in support of the Jewish community and Israel.

The statement condemned what the artists said – even if they never mentioned Israel or the Jewish community (which, let us remember, are not the same thing). The statement was read by the anchorwoman of one of the company’s most popular shows. The singer Ghali was present and a group of journalists, as per the show’s format, asked him questions.

All the questions were intended to counter what the statement said and to make the singer express himself on the war in Palestine. The questions were so many and so targeted that in the off-air the anchorwoman can be heard telling the journalists: ‘don’t put me on the spot, please’.

Although the debate did not proceed on television, on social media these events went viral, so much that Ghali was invited to speak on another channel’s show, which promised publicly that there would be no censorship.

It is worth noting that this other show, had been cancelled from RAI by Giorgia Meloni’s neo-fascist government, because the two presenters were openly left-wing (a fate that befell many historical figures on RAI), and it’s now on-air, just as it was on RAI, on the channel of a private broadcasting company.

Even in this show, however, the word ‘genocide’ was covered by a broader discourse on war, and while the singer tried to say ‘stop genocide’, the anchorman generalised it into ‘stop all wars’.

The other singer, Dargen D’Amico, was hosted at a notoriously left-wing broadcasting company, to talk about his view of the events and comment on the invitation of many politicians to ‘only deal with music and stay out of politics’.

The interview also commented on a more concrete act: a law proposal by the Lega (extreme right-wing party headed by Matteo Salvini) proposing ‘a sort of Daspo’ against artists who want to express themselves on political issues.

A leading parliamentarian, with functions very close to the Prime Minister, justified the proposal as follows: ‘The artists should get on stage, do their performance and leave. For future editions it would be useful to think of a sort of Daspo [i.e., ban from the events] for those who use that stage for purposes other than music. Not only for Sanremo but for all RAI stages.”

During the countless protests for Palestine that have taken place in Italy since 13th October 2023, police presence has always been pressive, unjustified, and aggressive. Police always show up in anti-riot gear. They stop peaceful demonstrators in authorised demos to take their information and register them on their system.

The trumped-up justifications of those who try to rationally explain this violence are, first, the risk of terrorism and, second, the infiltration of anti-Semitic groups into the marches. No official explanation for this has ever been given (the Italian Home Secretary Matteo Piantedosi, the person who gave these directives, stated that he didn’t know anything about these events at all), but many prominent Italian figures have claimed that these repressive directives came straight from Israel.

Moreover, these demonstrations are organised by mainly left-wing movements, which historically – at least in Italy – are the ones that helped Jews escape from anti-Semites, often at the cost of their own lives. Those who persecuted the Jews have only been Fascists and Nazis, who are now governing.

It is the exact same people now running the country, who in the 1980s protested for the liberation of Palestine from Zionist occupation because they were anti-Semites. The latest episode of police brutality happened on the 23rd February, simultaneously in three different cities: Catania (Sicily), Florence and Pisa (Tuscany).

In Pisa, students who were peacefully protesting were trapped in the alleys of the city, in front of a university, surrounded by police and then beaten. Videos from different angles show protesters raising their hands in sign of non-violence, just to avoid being attacked, and the police hitting them.

In these police attacks, the Italian government bears much more responsibility than some claim. The other demonstrations that were repressed (also after 13th October) were those organised in opposition to Giorgia Meloni or other members of her party or other allied parties.

At University of Rome “La Sapienza”, police – who have a station in the campus – violently repressed students demonstrating in front of a building where members of Giorgia Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, were presenting.

It was the same situation as the UCD Student Union’s protest at the Bernie Sanders book presentation, except that in Italy police showed up in anti-riot gear and beat up the students.

Regarding protests directly aimed at Giorgia Meloni’s presence, following police attacks that sent a young boy to the ICU, the premier commented ‘they [police officers] did well’.

Lastly, at the vigil for Navalny’s death, police intervened in Rome to suppress protests at the arrival of Lega representatives (before 2022, the leader of the party, Matteo Salvini, was a well-known supporter of Putin). In Milan, at the same time, the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS, which works with sensitive cases of terrorism and organised crime) identified all the people who went to leave a flower for Navalny.

I am sadly convinced that these episodes are only the beginning of a long series of repressions at demonstrations. As many people as possible must know what is happening in Italy, because it is unacceptable that people cannot protest for peace or against a genocide, and humanity should have less and less repressive governments, not more. Even more, it is unacceptable that political opponents are being repressed with baton’s violence.

Published on 25th February 2024

Photo credits: metronews.it