French Jews speak of growing fear in Paris amid Gaza conflict
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Israel is facing growing international criticism over the its bloody military offensive in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, but the Jewish community in France says it is the victim of growing intimidation.
Pro-Israel slogans echoed in the streets of Paris on Thursday for the first time since the conflict began 23 days ago.
Demonstrators outside the Israeli embassy in the French capital chanted “Israel will live on” and “Hamas - murderers,” in reference to the Islamic movement that controls the impoverished Gaza enclave and has launched thousands of rockets into Israeli territory over the past three weeks.
“The whole world calls Israelis assassins, but I would like to see what they would do if rockets were being fired over their heads,” said Audrey, a 41-year-old woman from the Parisian suburb of Val-de-Marne.
Brandishing a poster showing rockets about to hit the Eiffel Tower, Audrey said she regretted all the Palestinian casualties, but blamed them squarely on Hamas.
“It’s unfortunate, but Hamas is using Palestinian civilians as human shields,” she said in a sentence often repeated by Israeli authorities.
More than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed and over 7,000 wounded, mostly civilians, since the start of the Israeli operation. On the other side, 56 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have died.
Fear in Paris
Audrey was one of the rare protesters who had brought a home-made sign to the rally.
Most of the placards had been distributed by the event organizer, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, or Crif. Slogans included: “Hamas - Terrorists”, “United Against Terrorism”, “Gaza: Hostage to Hamas”, “Israel Legitimate Defense”.
Meanwhile, the White House on Thursday said an attack on a UN school on Wednesday was in all likelihood a "totally indefensible" act by the Israeli army.
Many in the crowd in Paris said they were at the rally to denounce growing anti-Semitism in France.
“I have four children who were born in this country, and I’m here today for them,” said Israeli citizen, 58-year-old Linda Cohen. “Anti-Semitism is above all living in fear.”
“Where we live in Paris, my kids have to conceal their kippas under baseball caps and their Star of David necklaces under their shirt,” Cohen added.
France’s government is desperate to avoid repeats of the violence witnessed between members of the far-right Jewish Defense League and pro-Palestinian activists on the sidelines of a Pro-Palestinian protest march in Paris on July 13.
Jewish store keepers in the French capital say harassment is on the rise and has become a constant feature of pro-Palestinian rallies.
Cohen said that a mounting anti-Jewish atmosphere in Paris was also stifling freedom of expression.
“My kids’ classmates of Arab background can scream their opinions for everyone to hear, but in the current climate it’s impossible for my kids to voice their opinion. They have to keep it hidden,” she lamented.