INTERVIEW by CHRIS HUTCHINSON
Over 600 people are dead in Gaza, and millions of workers around the world are speaking out against Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip. Workers everywhere are standing against genocide and apartheid as well as demanding justice for Palestinians living under military occupation. In London one march reported 100,000 participants. The Palestinian struggle has been a source of inspiration for liberation struggles for decades.
On July 18, the French government banned Palestinian solidarity protests because they were deemed a “threat to public order.” For years, the French government has marginalized immigrant communities from Arab countries. The result of the government’s repression has included uprisings by Arab and Muslim youth.
As we go to press, on July 23, governmental authorities have lifted the ban and granted permission for a mass protest march to be held today in Paris. The protest is organized by the National Collective for a Just and Lasting Peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Below is a brief interview that Socialist Action reporter Chris Hutchinson obtained several days earlier with a member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) named Stan. The NPA includes members of the Fourth International (USFI), with which Socialist Action is in fraternal solidarity.
SOCIALIST ACTION: Can you briefly describe the Palestinian solidarity movement in France? How many people have been out protesting in the streets?
STAN: Since the beginning of the air raids on Gaza, there have been many protests in Paris and all over the country, gathering tens of thousands of people. The protests were called by the National Collective for a Just and Lasting Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which groups political parties of the left, unions, community organizations, and pro-Palestinian activists. But most of the protesters do not belong to any organization and are just working people and immigrants expressing their anger against the Israeli aggression and also against the blatant support that our “socialist” president [François Hollande] is offering to the criminal policies of Israel.
SA: In the U.S., we have seen that Palestinian solidarity marches bring out many from the Muslim and Arab communities. What has been the reaction from the Arab and Muslim communities in France? Why have the marches been banned?
STAN: A vast majority of the protesters come indeed from immigrant communities. The government is trying to use this in order to portray the movement as a simple fight between Muslim and Jewish communities, which should not be imported to France but remain in the Middle East.
On Sunday [July 13], at the end of a 30,000-strong protest in Paris, a far-right Jewish group, the League for Jewish Defense, attacked the protest before fleeing into a synagogue and being escorted out later under strong police protection. Some protesters chased them, but even the rabbi himself testified on TV that no worshippers were injured and that there was no fighting within or in front of the synagogue.
The media pundits and politicians used this to say that the protests were anti-Semitic in nature and were troubling public order—and hence should be banned in Paris and a few other cities.
Most of the traditional left tried to fight the ban, but none of them called to protest the ban in the street except the NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) and pro-Palestinian solidarity groups. The turnout was huge, several thousand people at least in Paris. The slogans were clear: “Israel murderer, [French President] Hollande accessory!”
SA: What were the circumstances in which the government responded with violence?
STAN: Last Saturday [July 19], maybe 5000 people or more were gathered at a cross street, and we [NPA] were the only organization with a sound system loaded unto a car and banners, so we tried to organize the protest. This was already a statement of the will of the protesters not to be silenced by the government.
Of course, the protest was quickly surrounded by heavily armed cops. We were trying to figure out a way to continue the protest—maybe cutting through the side streets—but suddenly tear gas canisters started raining down. An older comrade told me she had not seen so many since the 1970s! It was mayhem, some people had fits, also because it is the Ramadan and some people could not drink and it was extremely hot, everybody was crying and spitting, kids, old people.
Fortunately we had a few dozen comrades on a strong security detail, maintaining a line with clenched arms and trying to resist the panic and organize a retreat properly. Many people thanked us during and after the protest, saying that if we weren’t there things could have gone a lot worse.
Then the protest kind of got divided because of the chaos, and some protesters were beaten up and arrested. Last week, one guy took a plea bargain for resisting arrest and was given four months in jail! Saturday night, almost 50 people were in custody. Some were released this morning, and I don’t know more at this point, but we’ll keep an eye on what’s happening.
SA: The French government and others have made accusations that anti-Semitic chants have been heard at recent demonstrations in Paris, and protesters have attacked synagogues and Jewish-owned shops. How does the NPA react to these charges?
STAN: First and foremost, while all left political organizations condemned the ban, the NPA was the only one calling to protest it. There is nothing like an “unlawful” protest to put things more in perspective about how you choose to define yourself in regards to the state.
Also, I think our position derives from our general understanding of the situation: many protests in a period of economic crisis can take religious and nationalistic—if not sometimes racist—undertones, and it can be the case in pro-Palestinian protests as much as in any protests. Recently, there were fights against layoffs in Brittany in the meatpacking industry; not only were bosses taking part in the protests but one of the slogans was: “Keep foreigners from taking our jobs!”
Most of the left and unions boycotted it, but we went there and tried to challenge this nationalism. In this Palestine protest we tried not only to help the protest take place but also put forward our demands and effectively counter the reactionary slogans put forward by radical religious groups. It is not by deserting the protests that we will achieve anything.
(NOTE BY THE INTERVIEWER: In a recent statement the NPA had this to say in response: “The NPA condemns, as it has always done, all anti-Semitic acts and ideas, whether they come from the far-right Front National, people like Soral and Dieudonné, or any other dangerous and irresponsible people who would make a mockery of legitimate solidarity with the Palestinians.)
(“Neither the NPA nor the movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people confuse the Jewish population, here or in Israel, believers and non-believers, with the defense of the colonial policy of the Israeli state. This is in contrast to those who claim that all Jews in France support Israel, such as Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions) or the Ligue de Défense Juive (Jewish Defence League), which is calling for pro-Israel demonstrations in front of synagogues. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious one, it’s an entirely political one.”)
SA: How can the Palestinian solidarity movement both in France and internationally help win freedom for the Palestinian people, especially those in Gaza? In your opinion, what is the way forward for the Palestinian movement in France and around the world?
STAN: The Palestinian solidarity movement both in France and internationally definitely needs to win momentum in order to put pressure on our governments, which are clearly supporting and collaborating with the Israeli criminal state. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign is another tool to raise awareness.
In a general framework, Palestine is not isolated from what is happening in the whole region. From Morocco to Bahrain people are challenging their government and also standing in support of Palestine. However, Arab leaders give lip service to the Palestinian cause but do not really help.
Socialist Action urges all to participate in solidarity actions wherever possible; this includes a “Call in Week” until July 25:
1) Contact President Obama at (202) 456-1111 and the State Department at (202) 647-4000. Demand that they immediately withdraw U.S. military aid from Israel and call on Israel to immediately end its attacks. Tell them to stop supporting Israel’s crimes with our tax dollars.
2) Call the Egyptian Embassy at (202) 895-5400 and demand they open the Rafah border for injured Palestinians in need of urgent medical care. Alternate number: ( 202) 966-6342.
3) Call Boeing. Boeing provides Israel with F-15A fighter jets, Apache AH 64 helicopters, and tungsten or DIME bombs to attack Gaza. Boeing’s headquarters are located in Chicago. Contact Boeing at (312) 544-2140 and demand they stop giving Israel weapons to use against civilians in Gaza.