Another pro-Palestinian protest took place in France’s capital Saturday August 2, despite the fact that such protests have been banned. Last weekend over 70 people were arrested after another pro-Palestinian demonstration turned violent in Paris. According to police and organizers, between 4,000 and 10,000 people gathered at Place de la République to demonstrate against Israel’s attack of the Gaza strip, Operation Protective Edge. Young demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Many of those who gathered on July 26 wanted to protest peacefully but by the afternoon were overwhelmed, and police blocked all the streets around the square.
First Pro-Israeli Rallies
In response to the overwhelming numbers of people showing up to rallies for Palestine, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) called for a pro-Israeli rally on Thursday July 31, in front of the Israeli embassy in Paris. Thousands gathered to call for peace, holding signs like “we protest for peace” and “Gaza hostage of Hamas.” The same day, another “pro-Israel event” was held in Lyon, according to France24. Last Sunday, July 27, a pro-Israeli march in Marseille gathered 2,000 protestors, according to police.
The day of the planned pro-Israeli rally in Paris on July 31, the French government announced they are considering banning the Jewish Defense League (JDL), an extremist, right wing Jewish organization. The JDL is already banned in the US and Israel. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government is considering banning “all groups that could be dangerous.” Plans to outlaw the JDL come after reports that members of the group instigated violence during clashes near a synagogue at the pro-Palestinian march on July 13.
The government banned pro-Palestinian rallies in several major cities amid eruptions of violence in the nation’s capital in the last three weeks. Clashes between protestors and police first broke out on July 13 at the end of a pro-Palestine march in central Paris when about 7,000 people took to the streets to protest the Israeli military operation in Gaza. The march started peacefully but turned violent toward the end in Place de la Bastille when protesters clashed with police and attacked a synagogue.
In reaction to the protest, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France, “will not tolerate attempts to – with violence, words or acts – import the Israel-Palestine conflict onto our soil.”
This makes France the first country in the world to have banned marches protesting Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Protestors who break the law will face a 15,000 euro fine and up to a year in prison. Even those posting details of a protest rally on social media, without participating in it, will face the same charges.
The ban was proposed by France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve who argued the rally in Paris highlighted a “threat to public order.”
However, in defiance of the ban, several French political organizations called for another pro-Palestinian rally on July 19, which also ended with violent clashes between police and a small group of protestors. The protestors threw rocks at police, who responded with teargas. Thirty-three people were arrested, according to the Wall Street Journal. During the bigger rally in Paris on July 13, eight people were arrested. Pro-Palestinian marches were also held on July 13 in Bordeaux, Marseille and Lille, all of which ended peacefully. In Nice, between 350-500 people gathered in a local march, despite a ban from the local government at the time.
The government’s decision to enforce the ban has come under fire from some protestors and even members of the Jewish community who say it goes against the democratic principle of free speech.
Protest organizers speaking to Al Jazeera argue the real motivation behind the government’s ban is to uphold the “long-running political disenfranchisement of the nation’s Muslim youth.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Youssef Boussoumah, a member of the political movement the Indigenous of the Republic (PIR), said, ‘This is an absolute outrage, it is a continuation of attempts to muzzle the Palestinian people and to get them and their supporters in France to surrender absolutely to Israel’s oppression.’
France’s Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions officially asked for the banning of such demonstrations. Expressing his shock at the violent turn of events, its representative, Roger Curkierman said, “We are living in the most anti-Semitic climate ever seen.”
The conflict in Gaza has recently escalated to include a ground operation from Israel. More than 1,500 Palestinians and 61 Israeli soldiers, as well as 3 Israeli civilians have been killed since that start of the conflict, with both sides blaming the other for its continuation. France’s official position is neutral – President François Hollande has said his country does not pick sides and has urged for peace and diplomatic talks between Israel and Palestine.