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French Palestine supporters warn Paris protest ban may provoke ‘intifada’

Protest organizers are working toward rallies that will also demand rights for French minorities

France’s recent ban on pro-Palestine demonstrations in Paris and other major cities has only encouraged demonstrators to the streets, protest organizers say – now, not only against Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza but against the political and socioeconomic marginalization of French minorities.

A movement is mounting, says protest organizer Youssef Boussoumah. And if French police stop French Arab youth from organizing, they risk seeing what he called an “intifada,” or uprising, on the streets of Paris.

“That’s not the goal,” he said. But it might be be inevitable, added Boussoumah, because French youth from minority communities increasingly find themselves “without a platform for political expression and are constantly facing police brutality.”

Boussoumah said he and other Palestine protest organizers are hurriedly attempting to build coalitions that will unify French minorities to rally together for a pacifistic call to preserve the democratic rights of all French citizens. But community organizations are fragmented, he explained.

Still, he is hopeful.

“Palestine will serve to unify us all. Palestine has served the function of uniting people and various causes around the world,” he said.

On Saturday, despite a protest ban, demonstrators took to the streets of the French capital as police encircled and charged at protesters with Tasers and tear gas.

“We were attacked,” protester Amelle El Amraoui told Al Jazeera.

Undeterred, Amraoui, 28, said that she will continue to demonstrate.

“Hopefully, fighting for the dignity of Palestinians will wake people up to France’s problems with its immigrants as well,” she said.

Protests continued in predominantly French Arab and black neighborhoods on the outskirts of Paris on Sunday. And Parisian Arabs and other pro-Palestine supporters have organized two demonstrations for Wednesday and Saturday.

“We don't know yet whether they will be banned or not,” a Paris police spokeswoman told Al Jazeera, declining further comment and not providing her name.

Boussoumah said that the demonstrations will take place with or without authorization from the police.

Protests had originally been banned amid reports of demonstrators vandalizing Jewish synagogues and businesses at a July 13 demonstration.

But pro-Palestine protesters allege that they had been attacked by members of the Jewish Defense League, which was classified as a "right-wing terrorist group" by the FBI. Additionally, pro-Palestine protesters say that a large contingent of protesters were from the Union Juive France pour la Paix, a Jewish anti-Zionist organization, which counters Jewish community leaders' allegations that the demonstrations were anti-Jewish. 

Meanwhile, Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), a far-left political party, on Monday issued a statement accusing French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls of exacerbating tensions between French Muslims and Jews by approving of the crackdown on the protests amid support for what the ruling administration has called Israel’s defensive actions in Gaza.

“François Holland and Manuel Valls made the scandalous choice to confuse the fight for rights for the Palestinian people and anti-Semitism,” said an NPA statement. “They are today primarily responsible for whatever actions happen on the margins [of the protests] because of their ban on [pro-Palestine protests].”

Amraoui agreed: “Increasingly, political elites play on the confusion of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”

After acts of violence at the July 13 demonstrations, perpetrated by what police told Al Jazeera were a “minority” of protesters, Valls announced that France “will not tolerate attempts to — with violence, words or acts — import the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto its soil.”

Pro-Israel protests were not banned, and Valls said in a public address Sunday that “attacks on Jews are attacks on the state.”

“The government is attempting to discredit us and marginalize us in the face of the ‘average French person,’” said Amraoui.

Boussoumah said that by not banning pro-Israel rallies after reported attacks on pro-Palestine protesters, and by attacking protesters on Saturday, the French government is trying to provoke a violent response from French Arabs to “further repress and depoliticize them.”

Amraoui, meanwhile, hopes that if France’s pro-Palestine rallies turn into a fight for minority rights in France, that they will inspire movements abroad.

“I admire the black power movement in the United States and the lobby that black Americans have created,” she said. “I would like for our social problems to revitalize and reinforce solidarity between minorities abroad in the United States too.” 

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