Paris suburb reels after 'anti-Semitic' robbery, rape
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The Parisian suburb of Créteil made national headlines this week following a brutal anti-Semitic robbery and rape. Residents spoke to FRANCE 24 of their alarm that such an attack could happen in their usually quiet multicultural community.
The large Jewish community that calls Créteil home was in a state of shock days after a horrific anti-Semitic attack on a young couple in broad daylight Monday.
Three armed assailants broke into their apartment around noon and tied up the couple before proceeding to steal bank cards and jewellery. They then raped the 19-year-old woman, who has not been named in the French press.
French authorities and the family’s lawyer have called it an anti-Semitic attack, with the assailants declaring, “you Jews, you have money,” as they forced their way into the couple’s home.
The incident occurred in a peaceful neighbourhood known as the Quartier du Port, right next to a picturesque lake and park.
An otherwise non-descript urban area with medium-sized apartment buildings surrounded by shrubs and an occasional playground, the Quartier du Port is home to a sizeable Jewish community. Synagogues, kosher butchers, bakeries and supermarkets dot this vibrant, multiethnic, middle-class neighbourhood.
No longer safe
Days after the attack, residents were still trying to make sense of the horrific break-in amid lingering questions over whether the attack constituted a hate crime.
At a neighbourhood cafe on Avenue du Général Pierre Billotte, 73-year-old René Meghnagi drains his cup of coffee and greets one of his Muslim neighbours with the traditional Salam Alaikum as he steps out on the sidewalk. “I have found peace in Créteil,” he announces as he surveys the busy thoroughfare.
Meghnagi, a Jewish man who grew up in Tunisia, lives on the same street as the couple that were attacked. He tries to play down the incident. “Those who did this, they’re scum, thugs, but every town has their own,” he states.
Nevertheless, he recognises that there is reason for concern among his fellow Jews: “Among non-Jews, there is this idea that we have lots of money. But there are few rich people here, it’s mostly middle class.”
Esther, 36, works at a nearby kosher supermarket. Unlike Meghnagi, she says the incident has affected her view of the neighbourhood. “Créteil is not what it used to be,” she says. “I don’t feel safe here, especially early in the morning when we open for business, or when it gets dark.”
She says she has asked her husband to stop wearing his kippah (or yarmulke, a traditional Jewish skullcap) out in public and no longer sends her son out to buy bread at the corner.
When asked if she is considering moving, her response is swift: “And go where?” she asks tensely. “The government needs to do more to protect us here.”
Tolerating each other
Sporting a beard and a kippah, Youssef, a 24-year-old student, says Créteil remains a good place to live. "Until now it has been a very quiet town. I’ve heard ‘dirty Jew’ a couple of times, but I’ve never felt physically threatened,” he explains.
“Many ethnic communities live together here. In the summer, everyone gathers around the lake. What happened hurts me,” Youssef admits, referring to the brutal crime. The young man agrees there needs to be more security, but also underscores the importance of educating children about tolerance in schools.
Mohammed, who is in his thirties, enthusiastically joins in the conversation. He claims he knows the young man who was targeted in the assault and expresses his horror at the incident.
However, Mohammed paints a less rosy picture of Créteil. “It’s not like we’re one big family. People know and tolerate each other,” he explains.
Both young men are also quick to point out that the assailants – two of whom were caught and have been charged by the police – were not residents of Créteil, but a neighbouring town.
Albert Elharrar, president of the Jewish community in Créteil, has called on all residents to gather in an open space near the lake on Sunday to condemn the religiously motivated attack. He is asking all Jews, Christians, Muslims and non-believers to attend in a sign of solidarity.
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