Giovanni Giacalone
Eyes everywhere

Violent nature of Milan pro-Palestinian demonstration exposed

Mihael Melnic's sign exposed from the window, as provided by Melnic for this article

It took one simple cardboard sign saying “free Gaza from Hamas” to show the violent nature of a pro-Palestinian demostration, with the crowd yelling insults and threats, but let’s start from the beginning.

On January 27th 2024, the Holocaust Memorial Day, a pro-Palestinian unauthorized demonstration was held in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, precisely via Padova, a street with a high presence of Muslims.

In theory, the demonstration was not supposed to take place, since the authorities had requested the organizers to postpone it to the following day, Sunday the 28th, to avoid having it on the Holocaust Memorial.

Despite the authorities’ request to postpone it, around 1,200 demonstrators belonging to Giovani Palestinesi (Young Palestinians) and far-left groups such as Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) and the International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean (Comite Internacional de America Latina y Caribe) decided to take the streets and tried to start a parade that was blocked by anti-riot police. Among the demonstrators, were well-known faces of Palestinian activists in Italy, including Mohammed Hannoun, the president of the Association of Palestinians in Italy who recently glorified Hamas’s bombmaker Yahya Ayyash and jihad on his Facebook account (see full article on Hannoun here).

The parade soon became a static demonstration blocked on two sides by anti-riot police and went on for hours during which the demonstrators accused Israel of “genocide,” of being a “terrorist State” and the Italian government of siding with Israel and forbidding the demonstration.

At a certain point during the demonstration, a young man exposed from the window of his building, right above the demonstrators, a hand-written sign saying “Free Gaza from Hamas” (see video here). The demonstrators did not appreciate the message and had a verbally violent reaction, insulting him, telling him to “come downstairs” and yelling “Now we know where you live”.

The man, 25-year-old Italian citizen Mihael Melnic, surely showed courage and the reaction of the demonstrators is indeed not surprising at all. However, what surely is surprising involves the story that emerged in the aftermath of the demonstration, when it turned out that police agents in plain clothes raided the young man’s flat and attempted to confiscate the sign.

Impressed by this event and by Mihael’s courage, I decided to have a chat with him to better understand what happened on that day.

Mihael, the street where you live, where the demonstration took place, has a large Muslim population and everyone more or less knows each other. What made you take such a courageous but risky action? You put your own safety at stake.

I wanted to express my opinion on a topic about which many of us don’t feel free to say what we think. I live in a multicultural neighborhood and I don’t have any problems with different thoughts and customs, but one thing that I cannot accept is having to fear for sharing an opinion or political view. It’s unacceptable for me to think that in Italy, and in the West in general, someone can feel threatened for sharing his view. This is the reason why I decided to show that sign.

Additionally, your sign was against Hamas, not against the pro-Palestinian demonstration. It said “Free Gaza from Hamas”. The fact that this sign caused a violent reaction with people yelling “We know where you live” and “Come down if you dare” reveals the violent nature of the demonstration and the unwillingness to dissociate from Hamas, which is a terrorist organization blacklisted in the EU. We can say that with a simple sign, you managed to uncover them. What’s your opinion?

It is something that is perceived especially online, because by spending a lot of time in the social world, one often notices the attempt to justify Hamas, both implicitly and explicitly. However, this thing doesn’t come out when we talk openly. The distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people is important but some of these demonstrations lack explicit condemnation of Hamas.

My gesture was not provocative because we could have agreed on the distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people, but as we have seen, this was not the case. Many continue to see Hamas as “resistance” even making comparisons with the partisans of World War 2, but for me it is absurd that in a country like Italy it is risky to say that Hamas is a terrorist organization. We should all condemn it.

Your gesture also sent a very strong signal, that we must not give in to fear and terrorism, correct?

Yes, correct, this is the most important message. As I previously said, people are fearful of expressing their opinions, especially on social networks on this topic. We often hear “free Palestine”, but we cannot get any deeper because Hamas cannot be criticized. Peace is indeed the objective, but how can we get there? What did Hamas, a terrorist organization, do in all these years for the Palestinians? Why can’t we discuss this? This topic should be openly confronted.

One last question, we read on the Italian media that the police raided your apartment while you were showing the sign against Hamas. What happened?

Yes, I was showing the sign and after about 5 minutes I heard the door being violently hit, it sounded like kicks or punches, I don’t know. Then they tried to open the handle. I immediately thought they were protesters who wanted to attack me and I called the police. However, it emerged that it was the plainclothes police who were trying to enter.

At that point, I opened the door and the police immediately entered, without invitation.

We had a conversation of about 15 minutes which ended in a cordial manner. In any case, I won’t deny that the initial approach was rather aggressive and intimidating. The agents tried to take away the anti-Hamas sign from me, but I didn’t give it to them because it belonged to me. They also identified me and asked me a lot of questions.

We debated the legality of my gesture, I said that my gesture was within the limits of the freedoms we have.

You were in your own home, with something that belonged to you, a sign against a proscribed terrorist organization…

Yes, it was a confrontation that ended cordially but was very aggressive and intimidating at the beginning. When they came in, they did not ask for explanations, but started shouting that I was doing something wrong. I had to explain to them that I could do it, that there was nothing wrong with it. They tried to tell me I couldn’t do it but I made them understand that yes, I could.

I understood their need to maintain public order and control a demonstration, which was unauthorized and could lead to violence. I apologized if I made their job more difficult, but this cannot be at the expense of my right to express an opinion, especially if from inside my own home. I think they took my gesture as a provocation towards the protesters. However, the cartel was against Hamas and we should all agree on being against Hamas, against terrorism.

We should thank and support young people like Mihael, who show braveness, tenacity and a strong stance against terrorism. With a simple gesture, Mihael exposed the violent nature of certain pro-Palestinian demonstrations and their sympathy for Hamas; he exposed a serious problem that many are pretending that isn’t there.

There is a lot to ponder about this case, because if expressing our freedom of opinion against a terrorist organization can lead to episodes such as this one, then Europe is in big trouble.

About the Author
Giovanni Giacalone is a senior analyst in Islamist extremism and terrorism at the Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies-Catholic University of Milan, at the Europe desk for the UK-based think tank Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism, and a researcher for Centro Studi Machiavelli. Since 2021 he is the coordinator for the "Latin America group" at the International Institute for the Study of Security-ITSS. In 2023 Giacalone published the book “The Tablighi Jamaat in Europe”.
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