Protesters in France took to the streets in their thousands defiantly. Protesters in France took to the streets in their thousands defiantly. Photo: Counterfire

A protester in France describes how thousands defiantly took the streets of France in solidarity with Palestine despite the initial bans

After two solidarity demonstrations were banned by the French state on 13 and 15 May, two more protests for Palestine took place in France on 22 and 23 May, this time authorised.

Protests have been widespread across the country, but they have not repressed to the same degree as in Paris.

The organisational efforts of the two weeks of protests came from a range of associations, media groups and political organisations, including the Association of Palestinians in the Ile-de-France, FUIQP (United Front for Immigration and Working-Class Neighbourhoods), ATMF (Association for Maghreb Workers France), UJFP (Jewish Union of France for Peace), Action Antifasciste, the trade union CGT, NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) and the French Communist Party.

The main claims being made were for an end to French complicity in aiding and abetting Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and a call for a display of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Watching BFMTV from the telly in the phone shop downstairs from my house with protesters parading in front, a range of images showing the ‘peaceful’ provincial demonstrations and the hell-raising city marches attempted to reinforce the justifications for having banned the demonstrations in the capital. The official reason for the last-minute ban was a precedent in 2014 where antisemitic chants could be heard within a solidarity demonstration.

Antisemitism in France is an undeniable problem, but in this instance, the ban was clearly politically motivated; antisemitism is being mobilised by the state to discredit solidarity action. The same day that Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin prohibited the protest, he also threatened the removal of residency permits for anybody disturbing public order, clearly pointing the finger at those who are and continue to be the object of contempt in the eyes of the state.

Yet with a lot at stake, in banning the protest last weekend, the whole topography of the city changed, and the police had no recourse to a number of traditional tactics (kettling, charging, gassing). Where the roads remained open in order to underline the fact the protest would not take place, the traffic took the side of the protesters. Cars blocked roads so police vans couldn’t pass, preventing the police from charging between dense traffic. Tear gas was deployed, but more sparsely than usual, because while the French police rarely display much concern for collateral damage, the diffused nature of the protest meant they couldn’t fire indiscriminately towards bystanders.

While a water canon was out and deployed by 2.30 pm – half an hour before the protest was even due to begin – dispersal tactics gave way to an obstinately joyous atmosphere, with small groups marching, chanting and coming together all over the north of the city. While some people we spoke to claimed the intimidation tactics of Darmanin had reduced their ranks, with people choosing to stay home at the last minute (for not only did he threaten those with precarious visa statuses, but to participate in a banned protest carries a fine of €135), for many it was the first time they had seen such widespread condemnation of the oppression of Palestinians on the streets of France.

Forty-four arrests were made on 15 May and following the demonstration, Walid Atallah, spokesperson for the Association of Palestinians in the Ile-de-France, was charged with organising a prohibited protest, an accusation that carries a possible sentence of 6 months imprisonment or a fine of €7,500.

But protests went ahead, and the broad support on the streets attests to unprecedented energy behind the Palestinian struggle, in France and beyond.

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