Barbès, Saturday, 13 May, 2021. / Photo : Geoff Van der H (AFP)
Demonstrations were held in many cities in Europe on Saturday, in Germany, Spain, London, and taking in the U.S., as far away as Hawai’i. In Germany authorities conflated demonstrating on behalf of a liberated, open, peaceful Palestine with anti-Semitism. In Paris, demonstrators at Barbès were met with water cannons and tear gas.
No government is sticking their head above the privet fence to declare that things must change. No one dares. They all detest Netanyahu, most except for the Sauds are glad Trump and his son-in-law are gone, but they offer nothing more than words. President Biden is said to be extremely wary of sticking his foot in one of the Middle East’s bottomless sink holes, so he restricts himself to urging caution and calm, which from an Israeli point of view makes him look weak.
Back to Paris. Permits for the demonstration were denied. The mayor, a Socialist, concurred with the ruling Technocrat-Populist-Banker regime of Emmanuel Macron. «In 2014, we experienced an extremely violent demonstration and a very difficult situation. Everything is very tense right now. So I think that this is a wise decision.» Truly the days of meaningful political parties are just about over and done.
People gathered anyway, and predictably they were outnumbered by the police, who were ready to disperse the crowd. Some 44 people were arrested. The treatment was harsh, even vindicative, as you can see from the photograph above. Tear gas is bad enough; water cannons for the crime of protesting takes us right back to the American South in the early ’60s. No French politician says a thing about it. We just gawk at the photos and don’t want to believe.
The day wasn’t over yet. Still one place to go. The natural place, République, a 15 minute walk down Magenta from Barbès and one of the city’s prime places to protest. Nuit Debout was held there during the Hollande years, when young Parisians and those from the country camped out and discussed everything for weeks on end before the police came in to disperse. And so the Palestinians, a terribly young crowd, average age 23 (if that), headed to République; they weren’t going to be denied. If the cops blocked Magenta (which they did) there was a stand-off, the heavily armed police staring at the skinny kids, with their long hair and dark eyes, standing within feet of each other. They went nowhere but others infiltrated the streets alongside, Patin, Maubeurge, Rochechouart and approached République that way.
Still not so many. It was raining heavily and awfully cold for May, enough to dissuade all kinds of people that they’d done their bit. But still they came and soon there were hundreds, maybe a thousand and they climbed all over the statue at Republique, as almost everybody does, waving the Palestinian flag.
(Historical sidelight : the buxom woman in the bunchy gown who presides over République is a replacement. The statue that now sits at Nation, The Triumph of the République, was there first and is much more provocative. Too much so. So they moved that away from the center of town to Nation and came up with this figure who appears to be announcing the third course at a banquet.)
Scene at République, approximately 4 pm. photo : jg.
It kept raining, and they kept coming from Barbès, pressing into République to wild cheers after slipping around the cops. On Rue Albert Thomas, the man driving the garbage truck on its weekend rounds gave them nice sharp toots on the horn as he came down the street the other way. They made it.
No speeches really. The crowd was almost too young and maybe their elders, who are better at that sort of thing, were back home drying off. What you had at République was chanting, singing, hanging around. For it’s worth, I didn’t hear a mean word about Jews. I heard plenty about the state of Israël being an assassin and ‘France complice.’ Maybe the young Palestinians have little experience of them growing up in Paris, the Jews living in fear of perpetual attack, or maybe young Palestinians don’t curse like Qanon nutjobs, who, in all likelihood, have never even met a Jewish person. Worth remembering that many Palestinians are Christians.
So this is the enemy ? The crowd at République up close. 15 v 21, photo : jg.
The chanting went on – a particularly lovely singsong version of Liberté – before drummers showed up and everyone buzzed. Quelle blague. The one drum was out of tune and the guys couldn’t play anyway.
The cops moved in, there was another stand-off, a few short tussles… and we all vanished into the rain, the endless rain.
You can say and do whatever you like about the world’s problems, everybody has an opinion. Politicians like to tell us how they feel about just about everything. Yet there are two issues that catch the world’s governments in the headlights, that render them speechless, that make them hurry along to the next subject, cutting anyone who dares ask off. Obviously, one of those issues is Israël’s subjugation of Palestine, where so much precious time and human life have been wasted. The other is the slow murder of a notorious journalist held in Belmarsh prison. Protestors chant, organizers organize, for writers indict. These are human tragedies and as someone pointed out recently, Assange’s case reminds many of Dreyfus. They remind us that silence, immobility, conformity are necessary for tragedies to take place. Few dare to intervene. The tweeter feed is humming but official silence is overwhelming. Nothing seems to make them budge. Here in Europe, what is the response ? What will it take ? What verdict will history render on these spineless blobs who merely recite clichés we’ve all been listening to for 50 years ?