Palestinian-Israeli conflict comes to the banks of the Seine
Paris - Partygoers were outnumbered by French police and media as Paris hosted an event on the banks of the Seine to celebrate the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, one year after Israel carried out a major military campaign in Gaza and just weeks after a deadly arson attack on a Palestinian village by suspected Jewish extremists resulted in the death of a baby and his father.
The annual Paris-Plages event, run by the Paris City Hall, creates a temporary artificial beach along the Seine. The August 13th event, Tel Aviv sur Seine, celebrated the Israeli city, splitting French public opinion and drawing hundreds of protesters, as well as hundreds of riot police, to keep the peace, and journalists.
While some Parisians sipped cocktails and danced to Israeli music on an artificial beach, protesters established an impromptu “Gaza” beach further along the Seine, dancing the debke, waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israeli slogans. Some protesters wore T-shirts with “Vive la Palestine” on the front and “Boycott Israel” on the back.
The artificial Gaza replica on the Seine included fake dead bodies, trying to remind the French public of the deadly results of the Israeli shelling of the strip in 2014. Wearing shirts smeared with fake blood, three protesters lay in the sand as if dead.
“Tel Aviv sur Seine is souped up as a cultural thing but it’s a way of normalising a state that killed 2,500 people, including 500 children this time last year and has no respect for UN laws,” protester Warda Ben Saada told Britain’s Independent newspaper.
“How can Paris hold a beach party after they killed children on a Gaza beach last year?” she asked.
Those sentiments were repeated by French non-governmental organisation CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, which also protested the event. “This [festival] is part of the Israeli propaganda to show an Israel that is different from the bombs, soldiers, checkpoints, etc,” said group Vice-President Nicolas Shahshahani.
However, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo defended the choice of Tel Aviv, describing the Israeli capital as a “progressive city” and “the chief city of opposition in Israel” in a Le Monde article. She was at pains to differentiate Tel Aviv the city from “the Netanyahu government which we condemn”. France officially recognised Palestinian statehood in December 2014 and the Paris government pushed for a Palestinian statehood resolution at the United Nations in 2015.
Although French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed “total support” for Tel Aviv sur Seine, the event split French political ranks. “We cannot act as if it’s business as usual (in Tel Aviv) 40 minutes away from Jerusalem and the occupied territories and say that Paris will celebrate a certain way of life, some sort of Copacabana-style Tel-Aviv, that would not be decent,” said Eric Coquerel of the Parti de Gauche.
For Patrick Klugman, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of international relations, the French capital remains neutral in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. “At the end of the month, we will be hosting a Palestinian orchestra.
Paris will continue to make gestures in favour of both Israel and Palestine,” he said.