‘Either Them Or Us’
Daniel Ben Simon, Haaretz (Jerusalem), June 9, 2006
Even two weeks later, the Jewish merchants of the Jewish Quarter were still on edge. Some of them still had fearful memories of the band of black youths dressed in black who launched an attack on the Rue des Rosiers, waving heavy baseball bats as they threatened the merchants to crack their skulls. For several long minutes, dozens of members of the Tribu KA marched down the Jewish street, shouting anti-Jewish slogans. The owner of the Jewish bookshop located where the street begins related this week that the youths shouted “Death to the Jews.” The falafel stand owner said that they threatened to “fuck all the Jews.”
Rue des Rosiers is at the very heart of the Jewish neighborhood of Le Marais, which has recently begun to attract members of the city’s homosexual community. Thousands of Jews were forcibly removed from their homes here 60 years ago by the Vichy authorities and were sent to transit camps, from which they were deported to death camps. The memories are still fresh, and the Jewish residents of this neighborhood still carry the scars from that era when the skies of France darkened.
Recently, the neighborhood has reassumed its Jewish character, with synagogues, kosher restaurants, delis, and falafel and shawarma stands, and with many Jews strolling along the street, wearing a skullcap or a fedora. On weekends, this Jewish neighborhood becomes a living museum and crowds of tourists take walks down the narrow streets to bask in the “yiddishkeit” (Jewish ambience) of bygone days.
The Betar Zionist youth movement is particularly active in Le Marais. The members of this movement seem to be unaware of the changes that have taken place in Israel over the past few decades, and many of them still call for a Jewish state on both sides of Jordan and for the expulsion of the Palestinians. In their eyes, all critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semites. A few years ago, the leaders of the French Jewish community were deeply offended when then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to begin his state visit to France in the company of Betarim and only afterward met with the community’s official leadership.
After Ilan Halimi’s murder last February, Betarim “captured” the Jewish streets in Le Marais and called for vengeance, adhering yellow stickers of the Jewish Defense League with that message on every available wall. Tribu KA members picked up the gauntlet dropped by these Jewish fanatics and entered the neighborhood. “Where are the Betarim?” shouted the black cult thugs when they burst onto the Jewish streets. “We’ll kill them and all of you,” they screamed at Le Marais’ alarmed residents.
Sami Gozlan was one of the first to be summoned to the besieged neighborhood. A Jewish police detective who made a name for himself with the Paris police, Gozlan now heads a group that monitors anti-Semitic incidents. “When I saw them, they were on the verge of hysteria,” he recalled the feelings of the residents this week. “An added ingredient, of course, is the natural anxiety of Jews after Halimi’s murder. I immediately notified the police, but then I discovered that they didn’t want to ‘inflate’ this issue. So I called Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy’s assistant and asked him to arrange for outlawing the violent cult.”
The awakening of black immigrants from Africa in France is coinciding with the “rebellion” of immigrants from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).
The blacks demand that France express remorse — and ask forgiveness for — the era of slavery their ancestors endured under French occupation, and now claim that the African victims should receive the same status as Jewish Holocaust survivors.
It is unclear what the cult wants. It has only a few hundred members who observe a cultic lifestyle, maintaining absolute secrecy on their operational methods. Their chief interest today is to beat the daylights out of the Betarim to show “who’s the boss on the block.’“
Last Monday, all of France held its breath. French citizens were very fearful and anxious after it was learned that in a northern Parisian suburb, riots had broken out in confrontations between immigrants and the police.
“At first, I thought we would see a renewal of the riots that broke out in November (and which raised tension to the boiling point in immigrant suburbs throughout France),” Xavier Lemoine, mayor of Montfermeil — an immigrant suburb north of Paris where the riots occurred — told Haaretz. “On one night there were more wounded and more damage than last year’s riots.”
Within minutes, passions began to run high in the tiny, picturesque town, which is adjacent to Clichy-sous-Bois, the suburb where the riots took place last fall. During those riots, the “uprising” of Clichy-sous-Bois’ immigrants, poor and disadvantaged, spread to all immigrant suburbs around Paris until it finally kindled immigrant neighborhoods throughout France. To this day, French citizens still find it hard to forget the sense of utter chaos generated by the violent “insurrection.” That is why hundreds of police personnel were sent to Montfermeil to put down the first signs of rebellion. For several hours, this tiny town of 62,000 inhabitants captured the nation’s headlines.
It all began with an administrative decision by the mayor. A few months ago, he outlawed gatherings of more than four youths in the downtown area. Since January, the number of thefts and robberies had skyrocketed by 600 percent, and the dynamic mayor was seeking solutions that could increase his citizens’ sense of security. On investigating the problem, he discovered that most of the crimes had been committed by gangs numbering more than four members. His decision enraged the city’s youths. Very few French suburbs have this small town’s variegated ethnic mosaic: More than 30 percent of its inhabitants are foreigners from 40 different countries and 80 percent of them are Muslim. Satellite dishes on the balconies and in the windows receive transmissions from Al Jazeera and hundreds of television stations in Arab states.
In the town’s immigrant neighborhood, 50 percent of the residents are under the age of 20. At midday, hundreds of young people can be seen leaning indolently against the railings of homes and shops. Last week, the mayor was again in the headlines after he faced off with a group of youths who had attacked a passenger on a bus. The police arrived and the mayor, who had witnessed the attack, identified the assailants. News of the incident spread like wildfire through the immigrant neighborhood and that same night hundreds of youths gathered in front of City Hall and began hurling Molotov cocktails.
They then proceeded to the mayor’s residence at which they threw stones. By morning, seven people had been wounded. Since then, the mayor’s home is under constant surveillance and police officers are posted at the entrance to City Hall throughout the day. Nonetheless, despite the security measures, the mayor’s wife and sons have been physically attacked and have suffered injuries.
Within only a few months, Lemoine’s life had been completely transformed. The 45-year-old mayor, who belongs to the ruling party in France, found himself in the middle of a chaotic situation threatening to turn this tranquil community into a battleground. His courageous stand against the immigrants made him a hero of the right, especially the extreme right. Even leftists praised him for his heroism, so strongly contrasted by President Jacques Chirac’s weak-kneed policies.
“Look,” he said, standing at the window of his office and pointing at the immigrant neighborhood, “it’s either them or us. If they win, we are dead ducks. I am a proud French Catholic and I have no intention of living as a ‘dhimmi’ (a non-Muslim enjoying protected status in a Muslim country — D.B.S.) in my own country. We are different from them, and these people do not represent France. We are caught in the middle of an Islamic war being fought all over the world — in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Everything that happens over there has reverberations here in France and influences the immigrants.”
Initially, he thought the “rebellion” was being fueled by poverty and problems of integration in a new society. He soon realized that the Muslims were a cultural challenge to his country. One incident, for instance, continues to haunt him.
“It was two months after September 11,” he recalled. “We were holding a festival of drawings in our kindergartens and elementary schools. I was amazed to find that 20 percent of the children, all of them Muslims, had depicted Osama bin Laden as a cultural hero. That discovery still sends shivers down my spine.”
For the past few nights, he has been troubled by a recurring nightmare in which immigrants flee their houses and burn down the city. He is sure the Muslim immigrants have declared war on France with the intention of bringing it to its knees. He considers the Jews allies in this confrontation. “I am pained by the thought that my country is ashamed of its culture and values. When France denies its own history and incessantly apologizes for slavery, for its conquests and for colonialism, is it any wonder that the immigrants are rising up against it and are showing no respect for it? Unfortunately, France has not demanded that they change. It has allowed them to speak Arabic and to cultivate their heritage at the expense of French culture.”
Construction will soon begin in Montfermeil on a mosque with a 12-meter minaret. According to Lemoine, because of a lack of Muslim places of worship, he gave in to pressure and permitted the building of the mosque, which is intended to serve the 25,000 Muslims in the area. He hopes the prayer services and the opening of a place where Muslims can gather will cool passions in their community; however, he has no illusions. “This is a struggle between cultures,” he sighs. “It is a war between Islam and Western culture. France and all of Europe are in danger. If we fail to understand the extent of the Muslim threat, we are in grave peril.”
(Posted on June 16, 2006)
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