On Tuesday, 31 May, 150 people gathered in Toulouse to hear Mohammed Khatib of Samidoun Europe and writer Eric Hazan speak in defense of the four Toulouse BDS activists facing criminalization and prosecution for their advocacy for the boycott of Israeli goods.
The meeting, organized by the Comité de Soutien aux inculpéEs BDS toulousains, had earlier been censored by the Mayor of Toulouse, whose refusal to rent the organizers the meeting room was overturned by Toulouse’s administrative court, which labeled the mayor’s action “a grave and manifestly illegal infringement of the fundamental freedom of assembly” and ordered the room to be provided and 1500 EUR paid to the organizers.
Mohammed Khatib of Samidoun Europe began his speech saying, “I am a Palestinian from the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. I would like to affirm that the Palestinian people recognize Georges Abdallah as one of their own, as one of the over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners.” Abdallah, a Lebanese Arab struggler for Palestine, has been imprisoned in France for 32 years despite being eligible for release for over 16 years, in part due to the intervention of US presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current French prime minister and proponent of anti-BDS prosecutions Manuel Valls.
“The BDS call for us, as Palestinians, is not a call to isolate individual Israelis, but a call to isolate the Israeli state as a whole. The Israeli regime is an extreme example of racism and fascism in the world,” said Khatib. He highlighted the so-called “French initiative,” rejected by multiple Palestinian resistance groups and political parties, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as an example of French hypocrisy while prosecuting BDS activists and imprisoning Georges Abdallah, alongside its own lengthy and bloody history of colonialism in the Arab world.
“The French state submits its ‘French initiative,’ supposedly for peace. Who is more poorly placed than the French state – not the people of France – to offer a ‘French initiative’ anywhere in the world? The French government is a colonial and neo-colonial government. The French government has supported Israel for a very long time, and assisted in providing nuclear weapons to this state,” Khatib said. He addressed the alternative to proposed solutions that undermine fundamental Palestinian rights, particularly the right of return: “We, the Palestinian people, have a historic democratic project…for a single democratic Palestine from the sea to the Jordan river…Two states means, for us, apartheid! Two states means, for us, colonialism! Two states means, for us, segregation!”
Eric Hazan, writer and founder of La fabrique editions, denounced French attempts to prosecute and criminalize BDS organizing. “The Israeli government considers that BDS is a ‘strategic threat’ and created a special body designed to combat BDS abroad. There are millions of dollars that have been given by the Israeli government to this body….this intensification of the fight against BDS is a direct consequence of this action,” Hazan said, urging not only defense of persecuted activists but the intensification of boycott work. “We must continue to fight on two fronts – first of all, on a defensive front in solidarity with all those attacked, especially today in Toulouse. The second front is an offensive front – to enlarge and make the boycott more threatening to the fascist and racist regime which is rampant in Israel: the intellectual, cultural and artistic boycott.”
On 30 June, the four accused activists in Toulouse, Bernard, Jean-Pierre, Loic and Yamann will face the court again for distributing leaflets about boycotting Israeli goods in public squares in 2014 and 2015, accused of “obstructing the normal economic activity” of three stores by encouraging customers to not buy Israeli goods there. Activists will rally outside the court at 1:00 pm in Toulouse; in addition, another support event will take place on 18 June at La Chapelle in Toulouse.
Activists across France, including BDS France and the Association France-Palestine Solidarite hailed the successful organizing of the event as a victory for freedom of expression against criminalization in France. The Green group in the Toulouse council also hailed the court decision as a victory for freedom of expression in Toulouse.
Photos by: Ben Art’core