Politics & Government

Palestinians decry Paris attacks as assault on their best European friend

The burial Tuesday of four French Jews who died in last week’s Paris terrorist attacks underscores the profoundly different lessons Israelis and Palestinians take from the killings.

For Israelis, the shootings highlight the lack of protection for Jews in France. In Palestinian eyes, the Charlie Hebdo killings have triggered a debate on free speech and served as a reminder of their gratitude for French support at the United Nations.

Thousands of Israelis attended the funerals of the four Jewish victims. But in the Arab eastern half of Jerusalem, Palestinians barely registered the burials. “I didn’t hear that version of events,” said Haya Many, a Palestinian graduate student in architecture at Hebrew University.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza were quick to condemn the attacks in Paris. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called French President François Hollande and marched in Paris on Sunday night alongside dozens of other world leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, issued a statement in French that denounced the attacks and noted that “differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.” Palestinians also held solidarity rallies with France in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip.

France has been Europe’s most outspoken supporter of Palestinian claims in recent months. In November, the French Parliament voted to recognize the state of Palestine. In December, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador, Patrick Maisonnave, to a dressing down after France supported a Palestinian resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would set a deadline for the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The resolution failed, but France’s support is remembered fondly.

Mukhaimar Abusaada, a political scientist at Gaza City’s Al-Azhar University, said, “We hold France on higher ground.”

Another motive for joining in the chorus of support for France was the opportunity to appear at the front lines of a Western cause, said Palestinian journalist and commentator Daoud Kuttab. “Having Abbas treated as a head of state reinforces the eventuality of Palestinian statehood,” he said by phone from Amman, Jordan’s capital.

For the Islamist group Hamas, rejecting a rampage committed in the name of Islam was a way to puncture the claims Netanyahu made in August that the Islamic State and Hamas are “branches of the same poisonous tree.”

In east Jerusalem, bookseller Mahmoud Muna said the killings in Paris had made him think about the principle of freedom of expression. Muna, 31, said that in the last few days he and several friends had held nightly conversations on the topic, something they wouldn’t have raised before the killings.

Muna’s family owns the Educational Bookshop, which stocks European and American magazines along with books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in English, French, German and Spanish. He said no one had asked him for a copy of Charlie Hebdo, but he wouldn’t rule out selling it.

“Of course, I would not put it in the front of the window because I don’t want my window to be smashed,” Muna said. “But if there is a demand for it, I will stock it.”

Carpenter Wael Elsayed, 42, scoffed at the idea of honoring Islam by murdering cartoonists.

“That makes us Muslims look like monsters,” he said. “We love the Prophet Muhammad but he has God to protect him.”

Some Palestinians floated conspiracy theories about the attacks. A cabdriver from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat suggested that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had plotted the Paris assault to foment support for Israel and encourage Jewish immigration. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating his many Israeli customers.

On Salah e-Din Street outside the Institut Français culture and language center of east Jerusalem, writer Faisal Hatib mused that perhaps the shootings were an American conspiracy – considering that al Qaida had its roots in American-trained groups that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The issue of Jewish victims, so prominent in the Israeli media, was notably absent in Palestinian discussions. Far more likely to be discussed, said Abusaada, the Gaza political scientist, was the negative reception Netanyahu received in France to his seeming encouragement for French Jews to move to Israel.

“The issue of how Bibi was insulted was brought up many times,” Abusaada said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But the killing of Jewish people in the supermarket just wasn’t brought up in the main event.”

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