No Liberté in France as demonstrations are banned

Here in Europe’s capital of human rights, I cannot demonstrate in support of the people of Palestine, that is forbidden throughout France. 

On Saturday, I tried to attend a protest against austerity outside a shopping centre. The square was full of police, and the protest, along with others in other parts of the country, had been banned

This week saw the launch of an international campaign for the Freedom of Abdullah Öcalan that specifically stresses his importance for a peaceful political solution to the hundred-year oppression of Kurds by the Turkish state. Actions took place in 74 countries. However, the organisers of the central four-day event planned for outside the Council of Europe, which was founded to preserve human rights, were told the evening before that permission had been withdrawn. 

On Friday, people who had defied the state ban and protested against the genocide in Gaza were arrested. Among the thirteen people detained in Strasbourg was a member of the Jewish Union for Peace. A protest outside Strasbourg’s commissariat de police on Saturday, in support of the detainees, was itself attacked by the police, who demanded that the protestors disperse and  arrested two anti-fascists, one who was detained again, for half an hour, for taking out his Palestinian flag. 

This all follows a summer of brutality by the French state in response to the mass protests over raising the pension age; brutality that has received international condemnation and that was the subject of criticism just this week in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. What is happening here in France is part of a general rise in authoritarianism across western ‘democracies’, and every loss of freedom in one country makes it easier for other countries to further restrict their citizens, putting basic freedoms in peril everywhere. 

Every happening – including, of course, the war in Israel/Palestine – is used by the state as a pretext to close down dissent, even in areas that are totally unrelated. On Friday, prospects for protest were further reduced when France was put on highest alert after a young Muslim man, originally from Ingushetia, carried out a knife attack in a school in Arras, fatally stabbing a teacher and wounding others. 

The main reason given for cancelling the long-planned Kurdish event – the reason that was highlighted on Twitter by the préfacture, the local representative of the French state – was a claim that one of the organisers had shared something by ‘leaders of the Kurdish movement’ that supported Hamas. Anyone who knows the Kurdish Freedom Movement would know how absurd a suggestion this is. Like other progressive movements, they are supportive of the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom; at the same time, they are resolutely critical of both Hamas’ methods and their intolerant patriarchal Islamism. Hamas is a friend of the Turkish government and praised Turkey’s invasion of Afrîn, the westernmost canton of Rojava, and Palestinian Islamist charities have helped Turkey’s project for demographic change in this former Kurdish region by funding new settlements. To suggest a link with Hamas is not only absurd, it also demonises the Kurdish community.

On the basis of this absurd allegation, hundreds of Kurds who had come to Strasbourg for demonstrations centred around the need for peace and dialogue had all their plans nullified; and speakers brought from around the world – including STUC president Mike Arnott – were restricted to speaking in a small side street. Statements from politicians attending the Parliamentary Assembly were hastily rearranged to take place inside the Council building, where our local deputy from La France Insoumise, Emmanuel Fernandes, described the préfecture’s accusations as outrageous

Fernandes has been kept busy this week. On Friday evening, he exercised his right to visit the detainees from that afternoon’s protest for the people of Palestine. Afterwards, in a video posted on Twitter, he told of his shock at finding seventy-year-old Jewish peace activist, Jean-Claude Meyer, having to sleep on the hard ground without a mattress in overcrowded cells smelling of stale urine. 

We are lucky to have a significant and genuine left party here in France, but most other politicians are on the right or far-right, and the left faces an uphill struggle. The call by La France Insoumise for peace and a political solution for Palestine should be incontrovertible, but when the President of the National Assembly spoke of France’s ‘unconditional support for the State of Israel’, their deputies were alone in refusing to join the standing ovation. The party has consistently called for war crimes to be condemned whoever has committed them – avoiding the term ‘terrorist’ and the false ‘good versus evil’ distinctions it carries. And they have been getting dog’s abuse from establishment politicians and media. They claim that ‘More airtime is devoted to the construction of false controversies against LFI than to the situation in Gaza.’ For their political enemies, this is an opportunity to slander the left as antisemites and apologists for terrorists – which may sound a bit familiar to anyone who observed the strangulation of Corbyn’s Labour Party. Fernandes told me that his party is using every opportunity to denounce the ban on showing support for the Palestinian people and to stop the attack on ‘fundamental rights’, and are coordinating locally with other left parties. 

France has a large alienated Muslim population. Solidarity with the Palestinian people and denunciation of Israel’s war crimes should not depend on religious affiliation, but if the government and mainstream media condemn that solidarity, while Muslim leaders call for it, this will only boost anti-French feeling on one hand, and Islamophobia on the other. This is a country where ‘Islamo-leftist’ has become a favourite term of abuse for anyone who tries to protest mistreatment of Muslim minorities. 

As President Macron should know by now, suppression of protest doesn’t get rid of the underlying anger. Quite the contrary. But there is no guarantee that when that anger does escape it won’t boost the reactionary forces that have been spared the constant negative propaganda aimed at discrediting the left.

Comments (18)

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  1. Derek Williams says:

    Ordnance for Hamas is coming through tunnels from Iran, many built with Israeli concrete donated when it relinquished Gaza in 2005. The Hamas attack is almost certainly being driven from Iran in partnership with their strategic ally Russia, to provoke Israel into over-reaction, thereby justifying the intervention of Hezbollah. 15 rockets were launched from Lebanon last Monday, killing several combatants, foreshadowing a potentially catastrophic escalation that Israel may well lose if other neighbouring countries are drawn into the conflict. To date, not a single neighbouring Arab country have opened their borders to admit refugees fleeing Gaza, one of whose borders is with Egypt.

    In further deceptions, Ukrainian weapons captured by Russian military are being sent to Hamas for deployment against Israel, to make it appear that they’re being corruptly sold on the black market by Ukrainian insiders, in the process undermining Ukraine’s credibility and concomitant support from Western allies.

    Israel would do well to heed advice from their US partners lest it lose the sympathy it at first had following Hamas’ incursions. Make it clear that Hamas, and not Palestinians are their enemy, and desist from all attacks upon civilians. The current Israeli attacks are playing right into Russia’s hands, not only by distracting world attention from its invasion of Ukraine, but by doing exactly the same to Gaza as Russia are doing to Ukraine.

  2. Duncan Sutherland says:

    “Genocide in Gaza”? Woke hysteria.

    Israel is clearly endeavouring to make itself secure in circumstances created by genocidal terrorism emanating from Gaza. This means that the population of that nest of vipers is being pushed south in stages towards the exit into Egypt, which is blocking it, while Hamas continues to use Gazans as a shield, just as it is using Israeli hostages as a shield.

    1. jim ferguson says:

      Israel is already the most heavily armed State in the region. The only State in the locality with nuclear capability. Gaza has been walled-in for almost two decades. There is no freedom of movement in or out of Gaza. Two million people are in that small strip of land, and this ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians by Israel was illegal when it started and still is. The Israeli’s reneged on the 1993 Oslo accords, have been in breach of international law and agreements ever since. There needs to be a political solution. Idiotic name calling and conspiratorial smoke screens don’t help in trying achieve peace.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Can anyone explain this for me? The Israelis say 1400 of their citizens were killed and that they killed 1500 Hamas fighters who came through the fence. They also showed on the BBC this morning a large arsenal (grenades etc.) which they said was only 20% of what Hamas brought with them. The 20% on its own looked more than enough to kill 1400 people. The impression you get from the media is one of Hamas fighters roaming the streets cutting down swathes of Israelis in an almost Rwanda type genocide.

    I’m in no way downplaying the horror of what happened in Ashkelon but how does the way this has been portrayed equate to the fact Hamas killed an average of less than one Israeli each?

    Why was killing the 1500 and bombing the sites the Hamas rockets were being fired from not considered enough? The way the west has reacted to this would suggest they’d have been fine with the UK bombing Dublin in response to the Brighton bombing which is ridiculous. Why is what’s happening in Gaza not?

    1. John Learmonth says:

      The IRA never beheaded babies, nor did they gang rape young girls before dragging their dead bodies down the Falls Road to be spat on and have selfies taken by the residents rejoicing in their deaths.
      Dublin as much as London was against the IRA so why would the UK ever bomb Dublin but there is no moral equilance between the IRA and Hamas so don’t try making one.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I wasn’t attempting to suggest a moral equivalence between the IRA and Hamas, I’m talking about the hypocrisy of western govts.

        Re Dublin, so replace it with South Armagh. On celebration, how about Bloody Sunday known as “Good Sunday” by the loyalists. I’m sure if there had been a desire to show subhuman gloaters the press wouldn’t have had much trouble finding a celebration on the day.

        It would rightly have been considered way out of order for the UK to bomb any part of Ireland under the pretext of hunting out the IRA. Why is it not the same with Gaza? The Israelis have already crossed the line and we’ve still got Sunak “standing with them”.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          And I’m sure there’s plenty of Republicans who still ‘celebrate’ the Omagh bombings.
          Let both sides rot I say.
          But don’t try equating NI with Israel/Palestine.
          As for the article the French have their own concerns about civil stability as 17% of the population are of muslim/Arab descent and the government was warned by their top military that the country risks falling into civil war.
          So not understandably the French government is somewhat wary of allowing demonstrations from their ‘non-indigenous’ peoples.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            I doubt even those who planted the Omagh bomb celebrate it. I didn’t equate NI with Palestine but are you saying if Hamas had blown up a hotel the Israeli ruling party were staying in for a party conference the US & UK would’ve said that was a fair cop and any action taken against anyone other than the perpetrators wasn’t on?

            France’s biggest problem is the right-wing, not the “non-indigenous people”.

        2. John Learmonth says:

          So Tom the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Battaclan theatre were carried out by the French right?
          Maybe, just maybe it was the ‘non-indigenous’ who perpetrated these acts and maybe, just maybe the ‘right’ throughout Europe are on the rise as a consequence?

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            When any section of society is treated like second class citizens you run the risk of a Northern Ireland or a Gaza and who is it that’s usually behind that treatment? Right wing violence is usually borne of hate. Left wing violence is usually borne out of injustice.

            I think if i had came from Afghanistan and had grown men outside my hotel scaring the shit out of my kids, seeing my family spat on and treated like vermin by sick, pathetic thickos I’d become radicalised myself.

        3. John Learmonth says:

          So Islamism is a ‘left wing cause’?
          You do know what these people want?
          An Islamic theocratic state where women have no rights, gays are executed and Jews and other non-belivers (infidels) are considered fair game.
          I Get it that you don’t like Israel/Jews but once they’ve finished with the Saturday people they then come for the Sunday people, it’s what they do.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            “So Islamism is a ‘left wing cause’?”

            You’re confusing right-wing causes with people hitting back against right-wing “causes”. Most people just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace.

            Every monster has its creator.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    This informative historical documentary on the events leading up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the role of competing British and French Empires in the genesis of current existential troubles in Israel‒Palestine asks important questions such as what the British wanted from the Zionists in return, who were motivated to offer something they couldn’t deliver; and what Jews opposing Zionism may have feared:

    1. John says:

      Regardless of background of how badly Israeli governments have treated Palestinians that is no excuse for pogrom of 7th October inflicted by Hamas on Israeli civilians.
      There is no justification for war crimes be they inflicted by terrorist organisations or states.
      Innocent civilians are innocent civilians regardless of nationality.
      The only answer to avoid this situation would appear to be a ceasefire followed by an international aid effort in Palestine. The USA showed a lack of international leadership at UN by blocking the ceasefire motion.
      Then there has to be a longer term political solution which respects both Israel and Palestinian land.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        So you make a reasonable distinction between Hamas attacking Israeli military bases, and civilian targets? There is a difficulty sometimes in a heavily militarised polity like Israel where military conscription is the norm, and the apartheid state appears to arm Jewish settlers who conduct terrorist campaigns against the Palestinian population. I read recently that Israeli settlers were annexing the land of Bedouin herders through such tactics. Of course, NATO troops regularly kill children and non-combatants in their own terrorist campaigns, which are always crimes, and NATO (the greatest evil the world has ever produced) has planned to murder more children than any other.

        Former Israeli government adviser Daniel Levy (Oslo Accords) makes some good points here:
        Why does the US not support a ceasefire in Gaza?

        The deranged ideologies of Abrahamic religions driving followers to welcome and seek to precipitate Armageddon are, in reality as well as fiction, the most likely causes of World War 3 and nuclear holocaust.

        1. John says:

          I read the same article in Guardian yesterday about Israeli settlers on West Bank forcing tribesmen of their land and killing Palestinians. I am aware of the history of how the Palestinian people have been treated badly for many years.
          Many of the victims of 7th October massacre were young people at a rave not West Bank Settlers.
          The point I was making is that the 7th October massacre by Hamas killed many people who were innocent civilians as have the Israeli attacks on the Gaza that have followed.
          I was not making any political point more one about basic humanity.
          Unfortunately it appears that many more innocent civilians in Gaza will be killed as will the innocent hostages unless rage subsides and humanitarian concerns prevail.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @John, I would reflect on USAmerican President Joe Biden’s comparison of today’s Israel with US ‘reaction’ to 9/11, warning (among rather weak words) not to make similar ‘mistakes’. As if rage clouded judgement in the policy planners and warmongers when they attacked Iraq instead of Al Qaeda. The historical evidence is that the USA then put into practice plans that had been drawn up many years before. Similarly, the Israeli plans for ethnically cleansing Gaza have been developed years ago, and its actions are not spur-of-the-moment responses. Daniel Levy mentioned freedom of information requests that revealed that official Israeli policy was to keep the population of Gaza just above starvation level, presumably until they could be dealt with by other means.

            The problem is not so much rage, but the current Israeli government’s plan for a Greater Israel, plans which have been coldly and calculatingly laid long before the recent Hamas attack. In terms of USAmerican public support for warmongering in the Middle East, there are signs of a coming demographic shift as younger people (including Jewish citizens) turn against Israeli settler colonialism, and of a deep split between Republican-leaning Orthodox and other forms of Judaism there. But the most intense support for Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid state seems to come from USAmerican white Christian supremacists, who have disproportionate influence on foreign and domestic policy, and are aligned with Jewish Orthodox groups on patriarchal oppression of women, anti-abortion stances and so forth. The USAmerican site that seems to be most quoted for these views is:
            but I don’t know anything about them, and I restate my caution about opinion polling and its biases.

          2. John says:

            Reply to Sleeping dog.
            I also saw the Daniel Leavy article on Al Jazeera today and found it insightful especially when you understand his background.
            If you read my comments I am critical of US approach and the double standards applied post 9/11 atrocities are writ large in approach of USA post 7th October attrocities.
            Sunack’s ‘we want you to win’ comment to Netanyahu was childish and cringey.
            It would be in everyone’s interest especially civilians of Gaza for an immediate ceasefire to be agreed as UN are calling for.
            Israel may be able to takeout Hamas hardware but at an enormous cost to civilians in Gaza and to their own forces. History shows that this oppression will only serve as a recruiting agent to Hamas in future and further threaten Israel’s security.
            This whole situation could easily spiral out of control and USA & UK are doing little to lower the temperature and appear to backing Israel, regardless of international law, for internal political reasons.

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