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Local controversy over Barghouti citizenship

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2009-05-29

The French town of Ivry has granted honorary citizenship to imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, a man who some believe could help relaunch the peace process. The local Jewish community centre has slammed the move.

The ceremony granting jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti honorary citizenship in the French town of Ivry, a suburb of Paris, proceeded almost without incident on Thursday. 


His wife Fadwa represented him at a town hall ceremony where she was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. She was accompanied by the French representative of the Palestinian delegation, Hind Khoury, and the French lawyer and writer Gisele Halimi.


“We were very distressed by the Gaza war, and our decision to give Marwan Barghouti honorary citizenship stems from our desire to do something concrete afterwards," said town councilor Hervé Rivière, whose Green Party suggested giving Barghouti the honour, in an interview with FRANCE 24.


Ivry is not the first French town to grant Barghouti citizenship. Both Valenton and Stains, two towns led by Communist mayors, preceded Ivry in bestowing the honour, underscoring the traditional solidarity between the French Communist Party and the Palestinian people.


For many of those present, Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail, represents one of the only credible negotiators capable of relaunching the peace process in the Middle East.


“Barghouti can catalyze the Palestinians towards peace," says Halimi, who is Barghouti's lawyer. She revealed that she fooled Israeli

authorities twice to see Barghouti in prison. “If the Israeli authorities wanted to make peace, which I don’t think they do, they’d take him out of prison to negotiate with them," she says.


Local politics, international affairs


After several speeches in praise of the former Fatah leader of the West Bank, Ivry town councilors staged a vote that was -- given the town's overwhelming leftist majority -- merely a formality before granting Barghouti citizenship. However, an incident that followed promptly brought the distant Israeli-Palestinian conflict back home.


A representative from the right, Bruno Castelnau, took the floor to read a letter he says he received from the local Jewish community centre, the Cultural Association of Ivry Jews (Association Culturelle des Israelites d’Ivry), which manages the local synagogue.


In the letter, the association said Barghouti was a “murderer” and warned it would no longer take part in activities in partnership with the town council, including Holocaust commemorations. The association also created an online petition against Barghouti’s nomination on their blog. Neither the synagogue nor the association was available for comment.


The letter was followed by a rather uneasy silence and several hushed exclamations. Asked about the incident, Palestinian representative Khoury insisted their struggle was not religious but political, adding that “it must be understood as such”.


Working with the Jewish community


In an interview with FRANCE 24, the mayor’s cabinet director, Laurent Jeannin, admitted that relations with the Jewish community in Ivry had been tense since March, when it was first suggested that Barghouti should be honoured.


“The contradiction is that we get along very well on a local level, but as soon as we discuss the responsibility of Israel in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, there’s a blockage,” says Jeannin, who accompanies the mayor on his visits to the Jewish community.


The Green Party admitted that they had not met with the Jewish community before suggesting Barghouti should be given citizenship. “We sent an invitation, but we’re still waiting for an answer,” Rivière says. 

Date created : 2009-05-29