Paris, France – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was met by scores of protesters calling for him to be tried as a war criminal on Tuesday at the Paris stop of his tour of European capitals.
“We are here to say hello to Netanyahu and remind him and the world of the dozens of unarmed Palestinians that have been killed by the Israeli army in the last month,” said 19-year-old student Antoine, waving a flag expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The official objective of Netanyahu’s visit was to rally French President Emmanuel Macron’s support against Iran, as well as inaugurate a joint French-Israeli cultural and scientific project.
On the streets, however, the focus was firmly on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people and the Israeli army’s actions at the Gaza border.
“I feel particularly concerned by the inhumane killing of the young medic Razan al-Najjar, which was against international law,” said 20-year-old medicine student Yasmine who attended the protest in medical garb.
The photograph of the 21-year-old Palestinian medic shot dead by an Israeli soldier on June 1 was brandished by dozens of protesters at the rally to the chants of “Israel murderer, Macron accomplice”.
“We are scandalised by Israel’s war crimes, the latest of which is firing on civilians in Gaza with explosive ammunition,” said Jacques, 65, a member of the France Palestine Solidarity Association one of the organisers of the rally.
“Today, Mr Macron and Mr Netanyahu are inaugurating the France-Israel season, which is a scandal because Israel violates France’s values.”
According to its official mission brief the “France-Israel 2018 Season” has an objective “to mark a new step in our [France-Israel] economic relationships and to renew the vision that French people have of Israel and that Israeli people have of France”.
The protest was initially set to take place in front of the Grand Palais exhibition hall where Macron and Netanyahu were scheduled to inaugurate the joint initiative.
However, police denied the organisers the authorisation to do so, and shut down the two nearest metro stations and bridges at the time the rally was scheduled to start forcing protesters to gather on the opposite bank of the Seine river.
“They said it was because of anti-terrorist measures, you’ve seen my face do you think I’m a terrorist?” Jacques asked.
The demonstration was largely peaceful although a small scuffle with police resulted in at least one demonstrator being detained.
Today Mr. Macron and Mr. Netanyahu are inaugurating the France-Israel season, which is a scandal because Israel violates France's values
On Monday, three of France’s top journalist unions also protested Netanyahu’s visit in a joint statement stating that Macron receiving Netanyahu at this time was “unbearable”.
The document denounces the killing of civilians in Gaza and the particular targeting of journalists and asks how it is not “inconceivable that the prime minister’s visit goes on as if nothing had happened, while a number of NGOs and legal experts are talking about war crimes”.
Anger against Israel’s policies has been running high in France as a poll carried out in May 2018 found that 57 percent of French people have a “bad or very bad” image of Israel, 73 percent believe Israel bears “a heavy responsibility for the absence of negotiation with Palestinians” and 57 percent believe that “Israel is a threat to regional stability”.
“I believe this is because of the current government of Israel,” said Jacques, “it is a far-right government such as Israel has never known.”