A Palestine solidarity rally that Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo had urged police to ban went ahead on Saturday, but under tight restrictions.
A journalist was attacked during the rally by pro-Israel counter demonstrators as police watched and did nothing.
Police placed a “ring of steel” around the normally bustling Place du Châtelet in central Paris, and only let a few hundred Palestine activists in, an individual who observed the events told The Electronic Intifada.
Every approach road was blocked off, and people had to show identity papers.
“I saw many activists who today did not want to deal with the legions of armed riot police just go home,” the observer of the Saturday rally said. “Officers were very aggressive and generally only let elderly – ‘harmless’ – people through.”
“It was absolutely ridiculous – by far the most unpleasant security I have seen since Tel Aviv Plage in 2015,” the observer, who asked not to be named out of concern open criticism of the police could lead to restrictions on access to future events, said.
In August 2015 – a year after Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza – Hidalgo’s administration sparked outrage by partnering with Israel for a propaganda stunt to turn part of the Seine river bank into a “Tel Aviv beach.”
Meanwhile, the observer said that those taking part in a pro-Israel counter demonstration across the street on Saturday “were treated like royalty” even though they were making obscene gestures at those attending the Palestine solidarity rally, as this video shows:
EuroPalestine, the group that organized the rally, is distinct from BDS France, the main coalition that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but it too calls for the boycott of Israel.
EuroPalestine said that the calls from the mayor and the pro-Israel group CRIF to ban the rally had only helped attract media attention.
At one point, pro-Israel demonstrators turned on Hajer M’tiri, a 26-year-old journalist with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, apparently because she wore a headscarf.
M’tiri told The Electronic Intifada she showed her press card to police, who let her approach the pro-Israel demonstrators to take photos. She said that she stayed close to the police and at some distance from the protesters.
Suddenly, she felt someone trying to pull her down to the ground and then felt a slap in the face. M’tiri said a woman continued to strike her and swear at her.
Very quickly she found herself surrounded by an angry mob hurling abuse at her as police watched and did nothing. When she called out that she was a journalist, some of the people shouted abuse including, “shit journalist” and called her a “terrorist” and “Islamist.”
M’tiri said she stayed calm until she heard someone make particularly disgusting comments. Finally, she turned to confront the mob, only to be forcibly pulled away by police, as this video shows:
“Instead of arresting those people, especially the woman who physically attacked me and slapped me in the face, the police were talking to her calmly, and I was the one pulled away,” M’tiri said.
A few minutes later, M’tiri, her producer and camera operator were forcibly removed from the area by police.
A credentialed journalist, M’tiri believes she would not have been treated the way she was if her appearance were different.
“It’s part of my life to be attacked just for being a Muslim woman,” M’tiri said. “All they saw was a hijabi girl and those police officers looked down on me.”
M’tiri later made a formal complaint at the police station and provided photos of those she says attacked her. She also posted the photos on her Facebook page in an effort to identify the suspects.
A video posted by M’tiri on Twitter shows the Palestine solidarity protesters chanting “Palestine vivra! Palestine vaincra!” – Palestine lives, Palestine will be victorious.
Members of the Ligue de Defense Juive – the French branch of the Jewish Defense League – were present at the counter demonstration, but kept a low profile, according to the observer.
The group had tweeted that it would be there:
State of emergency
France has been under a state of emergency declared after attacks in Paris killed 130 people in November 2015. Originally intended to last three months, French lawmakers in December 2016 extended the emergency powers for the fifth time, until July this year.
Human rights organizations have expressed concerns over violations of civil liberties and human rights committed under the cover of the emergency. The government has conducted thousands of searches without warrants and placed hundreds of people under administrative house arrest.
While justified as a way to prevent terrorism, most people see the state of emergency as ineffective.
Last week, nine organizations, including the French judges’ syndicate, Human Rights Watch and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, wrote to Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve criticizing the government’s failure to publish statistics about the actions it has taken using emergency powers.
Among the data the organizations are demanding is the number of demonstrations that have been banned and the number of mosques forced to close.