Saturday, 24 September 2011

Armed French citizens 'tanning under the sun' in a West Bank settlement [Photo: Jewish Defence League] Two weeks ago, an announcement appeared on a French website, calling for "militants with military experience" to participate in a solidarity trip to Israel between September 19 and 25. "The aim of this expedition is to lend a hand to our brothers facing aggression from the Palestinian occupiers, and to enhance the security of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria," it explained. The dates of the trip coincide with the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. As of yesterday, in response to this call, there were 55 French citizens, both men and women, with military experience, stationed inside the illegal Israeli settlements up and down the West Bank. Organised into five separate groups of 11, their mandate is to "defend the settlements against any attack from Palestinians", and to "aid" in areas where they feel there is a lack of Israeli army personnel or police forces. The website belongs to the French chapter of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a far-right Jewish group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in the United States in 1968. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has refered to the JDL as a "violent extremist organisation". JDL in France "In France, it is a movement made up of French citizens who defend the Jewish community when faced with aggression, and also defends Israel in a more general manner," said Amnon Cohen, a spokesperson for the group. “In terms of ideology, we are Zionists, pro-Israeli, and we share similar ideologies to that of the Ichud Leumi ["National Union"] party in Israel." The National Union advocates the settlement of Jewish people in the entirety of the occupied West Bank, which it calls by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria. “People say we are extreme because we believe in Judea and Samaria, and that this belongs to the Israelis, the Jews, but I don't consider this to be extreme," he told Al Jazeera. Cohen was quick to point out that the JDL, contrary to recent media reports, is not banned in Israel or the US, but in fact, has active chapters across the world, including the US, Canada, the UK and France. “We are active, the authorities are aware of us, and we maintain good relations with them," he said. Numerous examples of targeted attacks on pro-Palestinian entities, movements, and demonstrations across France by individuals associating with the JDL validate Cohen's statements. Nicolas Shahshahani, manager of La Librarie Resistances, a bookstore located in a quiet neighbourhood of Paris, has been the victim of such aggression. The first attack occurred in December 2006 soon after the store's opening, when Shahshahani asked two Jewish authors, the late Tanya Reinhart and Aharon Shabtai to speak, both critics of Israeli policy in the occupied territories. Midway through the event, the bookstore was suddenly filled with tear gas, as a group of six masked people wearing helmets, and armed with iron bars entered and raided the store, shouting obscenities at the attendees. "They broke the windows, and I had to go to the hospital to get treatment for the teargas," Shahshahani told Al Jazeera. "We launched a complaint against the police, but of course there was no investigation." In July 2009 the bookstore was targeted once again. Five people, who identified themselves as members of the JDL, poured litres of cooking oil all over the store and its books. "This is just as efficient as fire, if not more, if you want to damage a bookshop," explained Shahshahani. That time, however, the perpetrators were taken to court, where they admitted guilt, and were given suspended prison terms plus made to pay civil damages. Courts and convictions In another case, about 20 JDL members assaulted four students from Nanterre University. The attack, in which one student had his facial bones broken, took place within the compounds of the Administrative Court of Paris. Only Anthony Attal, reputed to be head of the group at the time, was charged. The spokesperson for the Nanterre student association, AGEN, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal attacks, was present when the beating took place. Forced to do their own investigation into the matter, the students presented the police with their evidence. "We had video footage that identified Attal as the perpetrator," he said, adding that as an association, AGEN - a Palestinian solidarity organisation - was regularly targeted by the JDL. "When you spend many years attending these demonstrations, you start to recognise the faces of those who turn up and commit acts of aggression and intimidation, and then you see the same faces in court. It's not difficult to point out who belongs to the JDL," he said. The court process to convict Attal was unusual, according to Dominique Cochain, the lawyer representing one of the victims. "The aggressor wasn't present in the court, neither was his lawyer, and the judge therefore took it upon himself to interrogate the victim for two hours, trying to make the victim say it was a fight rather than an act of aggression," essentially playing the role of the defence lawyer, she told Al Jazeera. Since his conviction, Attal has been captured on video at several pro-Palestinian demonstrations, as recently as this summer. "It gives the signal to others that there is a possibility to continue with this type of aggression, because it is not dealt with harshly," said Cochain. "In my opinion, there is a certain level of tolerance between the French authorities and this group." Cochain, who has been defending victims of these aggressions since 2004, has also been a victim of intimidation. "I've been verbally abused and menaced because of the cases I do," she said. "They've called me the 'devil lawyer' and taken my photo," adding that she can identify them by the JDL logos they flash at her. 'Protecting the community' Cohen, however, says any association between the attacks and the JDL are false. "These people say whatever they want against us, but it doesn't mean it's us doing it," he said. Trying to connect members officially to the group is difficult to prove, due to the way organisations are structured in France. Registration would force the group to put out a manifesto and officially name members of its board. However, as registration is not obligatory, the JDL can exist without being registered, whereby membership is neither official nor public. Cohen admitted the group was not registered under the name of the JDL, adding that it was registered under different names, "which are not important to know". Some people claim that the police purposefully ignore unlawful acts of aggression purportedly carried out by the JDL. While Cohen denies this, he admits to having good relations with the authorities. "Our adversaries say we work hand in hand with them, but we don't," he said. "We just divide the work. For example, if there is a protest we are involved in, the police secure the streets, and we secure the entrances." "The police know that we are there to protect the community," he added. French authorities referred Al Jazeera to the Ministry of Interior, who did not respond to an interview request. 'Violent youths' The JDL encourages its members to undertake training in Krav Maga [Hebrew: "hand to hand combat"], a form of martial art used by the Israeli forces for close combat in urban warfare. "We give this training to our members, so they are capable of defending themselves," Cohen explained. Military training is also encouraged for its members. "I tell the members that they should do military service, and we encourage this," said Cohen, adding that some JDL members have been enrolled in the French army. But AGEN says each of its demonstrations have been targeted by the JDL. "They hear about pro-Palestinian demonstrations, such as the Gaza flotilla solidarity events we had this summer, and they show up and start abusing people. It's not self-defence when they actively search for the demonstration," he said. "They hide in the streets when demonstrations happen, and attack the tail-end of the protests." "We've asked for the dissolution of the JDL through a petition signed by 30 different associations, as they are an armed militia, which is forbidden in France," he said, but the petition has yet to gain traction with French authorities. Ironically, prominent Jewish lobbies in France dissociate with the JDL, claiming they are groups of violent youth who do not represent the Jewish community. Richard Prasquier, president of the Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), France's main Jewish lobby group, told Al Jazeera: "There are no relations between CRIF and the JDL, and I don't want anything to do with them." Others remain unconvinced. "For years there have been calls for the government to dissolve the JDL, but they have done nothing because of CRIF," said Shahshahani. "On the street, when CRIF holds a public event, it's the JDL that provides the security in coordination with the French police." Cohen confirmed what Shahshahani had said, adding: "Officially CRIF says they are separate from us, but there is the official position, and then there is reality. When there is something going on, they call us." Sammy Ghozlan, a former police officer and president of the Bureau Nationnal de Vigilance Contre le Anti-semitisme (BNVCA), told Al Jazeera that they too "have no particular relationship with the JDL", although he was more understanding to the motives behind such actions. "While the JDL are an extremist group, and not very well tolerated, their actions are a result of the discontent that exists, and this is continuing to grow," said Ghozlan. "Furthermore, the violence from the pro-Palestinian side is increasing, and the Jewish people are in despair." 'Very serious show of solidarity' Referring to the current "mission" to Israel and the West Bank, the call for solidarity is being taken very seriously by the JDL. Cohen refused to give any personal details of his comrades in the settlements, as "it is not a show, but a serious gesture of solidarity. This is a serious trip; we've sent over people who are slightly older, with more experience, between the ages of 24 and 35", including three women. "We know the IDF doesn't need us, but we"re going to show our solidarity. We're going over to make sure all areas are covered, and to defend the settlements," he said. Pro-Palestinian activists such as Shahshahani say the call should be taken seriously. "They are publicly recruiting people with military experience, French citizens with military experience, to serve a foreign country with guns, what is this called?" he said. "We all know of people who were sent to Guantanamo, including French citizens, because of actions like these. What about the ones who aid the Israeli army?" Follow Nour Samaha on Twitter: @Samahanour Source: Al Jazeera Email Article Email Print Article Print Share article Share Send Feedback Send Feedback Topics in this article People Amnon Cohen Nicolas Shahshahani Anthony Attal Dominique Cochain Richard Prasquier Sammy Ghozlan Tanya Reinhart Aharon Shabtai Country France Israel United States Canada United Kingdom City Jews Gaza Nablus Paris Organisation Jewish Defense League Pro-Palestinian AGEN Administrative Court of Paris National Union Israeli army Nanterre University Ministry of Interior French police United Nations IDF Kahane Chai Federal Bureau of Investigation French army Featured on Al Jazeera The men who crashed the world The first of a four-part investigation into a world of greed and recklessness that led to financial collapse. China buys gold, challenges US dollar WikiLeaks cables allege that China is buying gold to weaken the US dollar's supremacy as the world's reserve currency. The humiliation of Barack Obama As he prepares to singularly veto Palestine's statehood bid, he must be thinking to himself: 'This isn't right'. Sick Gulf residents continue to blame BP Many people living near the site of the BP oil spill have reported a long list of similar health problems. Content on this website is for general information purposes only. Your comments are provided by your own free will and you take sole responsibility for any direct or indirect liability. You hereby provide us with an irrevocable, unlimited, and global license for no consideration to use, reuse, delete or publish comments, in accordance with Community Rules & Guidelines and Terms and Conditions. Like Dislike 9 people liked this. Add New Comment Required: Please login below to comment. Image Showing 1-20 of 72 comments Sort by Subscribe by email Subscribe by RSS Real-time updating is enabled. (Pause) Matthew Royer 9 hours ago It's the Jewish Mujahadeen; the West Bank is their "Afghanistan", the Arab "squatters", their "great satan" I cant say I respect it though; the Muslim "holy warriors" actually fought superpowers. Who are these men going to war with? Rock throwing teenagers? Joe Boyum and 81 more liked this 2011Arda 4 hours ago in reply to Matthew Royer well said.. Meditheraces and 7 more liked this SmokeyWest 9 hours ago Why would they want French mercenaries; do they need someone to show them how to surrender? KarlBarks and 61 more liked this omouse 10 minutes ago in reply to SmokeyWest No, they need people experienced in colonial rule to show them how it's done. Fadi Samir Safieddine 9 hours ago I think Abbas taking the Palestine statehood to the UN the best political maneuver any Palestinian politician has done. The US and Israel finally taking him and the Palestinian issue seriously. There is also hidden messages that hardly anyone is talking about "the collapse of the state" is a very powerful message. If he declares after the vote that the state has collapsed then he may call for joining Israel as one state - something Arafat suggested once for Gaza and made Israelis panic: One person one vote...Palestinians in Gaza and West bank, together with Arabs in Israel can hold the Israeli Knesset and even succeed in electing a Muslim prime minister - they want the land they will have to have the people living on it!!! Amir Abdul Reda and 45 more liked this 2011Arda 3 hours ago in reply to Fadi Samir Safieddine The Arab spring and the Turkish PM Erdogan have revitalized and re-energized Abbas. noliesnow and 9 more liked this Andrew Haque 8 hours ago Zionist terrorists. If these foreign fighters were Muslims defending Palestinians, then wouldn't they be considered so? Wouldn't they also be considered as 'non-combatants' and be thrown into Guantanamo as a result? Al Davis and 44 more liked this 2011Arda 3 hours ago in reply to Andrew Haque nothing new.. look up Lehi, Irgun, Stern Gang, Baruch Goldstein, haganah noliesnow and 7 more liked this Israeli 7 hours ago I have very little sympathy to those people. Here in Israel we are busy only the daily basis with the basic economic survival. The salaries here are relatively low and the prices are probably the highest in the world. The middle class people here work extremely hard but still, according to the western standards, live in a misery. Unlike us, those guys live in a rich country. They have everything, including the time for their extremist political ideas. Their parents speculate here with the real estate, inflating prices, so many Israelis ask: “Why me, living in a room with parents and having no chance to earn a place of my own, should serve in army and guard the luxury summer apartment of Colden and Morris from Paris”? So I would say to Morris – come here, work like me and pay taxes like me, and then let us see if you will still have energy for the political activity. Theodore Bonaparte and 20 more liked this hino17 1 hour ago in reply to Israeli why dont you leave Palestine and go live in a place like Switzerland where the median income is 65 Grand? Give us back Palestine and I PROMISE I won't complain that I have to live with my parents. alchemy1 and 1 more liked this OCTheo 7 hours ago It is very disheartening to see this kind of aggression and stupidity occurring among the human family. While Palestinians and Jews speak different languages, RELIGION is the only reason why this inhumane acts occur. The bible has wrought havoc on the world, and the koran has done the same. I have read both books and they are good books. However their claims and their interpretations by self-serving organizations are plain atrocities. It is clear by this report that the French government, just like the American government has been hijacked by Jewish interests. The authorities in these countries no longer serve the interest of the general populations. Jews because of their financial monopoly have become above the law. And the folklore of the Christian bible has established the Jews as special people, making it impossible for the believers to condemn injustice as it should be. RELIGION, is the root of all evils. Until humanity can rid itself of every religion, of all forms, suffering and war will continue to make this world a dangerous place to exist. Religion more than anything will destroy our world. nv and 20 more liked this Triple Beam 6 hours ago "Palestinian occupiers" Wow. Are they really this delusional or are they simply pushing their propaganda? I really want to believe they are just trying to spread propaganda. If they actually believe that then the whole world is in trouble. Meditheraces and 16 more liked this miqdad 5 hours ago If there are genuine supporters, so they masked their face ? May be they fear a kind of retaliation back at home....hm. Meditheraces and 10 more liked this Harrison Leventhal 4 hours ago in reply to miqdad I doubt it, The french along with the British are becoming much more far right, france even more is flooded with Muslims that is upsetting the secular nature of the country, people there might not like jews, but they like muslims even less. Heklp and 1 more liked this Meditheraces 4 hours ago in reply to Harrison Leventhal We are living the same era as our grand-parents: Europe Nazism Zionism, Antisemitic this time toward the Arabs, Semitic People! 3 people liked this. haphaestus 9 hours ago This comment was flagged for review. Fadi Samir Safieddine 9 hours ago in reply to haphaestus when I said there are 'idiots' on both sides...Haphaestus shows up to vindicate me!! susan0120000 and 12 more liked this haphaestus 9 hours ago in reply to Fadi Samir Safieddine come on im just having a little bit of fun with it, dont take a couple dozens french wanabees, in town for a week, so seriously Theodore Bonaparte and 6 more liked this Travellerrr 7 hours ago in reply to haphaestus haphaestus, Alright eventhough I disagreed with you sharply earlier over this same very serious & sad issue/tragedy of Palestine, I do admit your post here cracked me up. Got to give credit where credit is due; right?! If only you would keep an open mind like that when it comes to the actual the truth about the issue. Do me a favour do watch those videos I sent you & read my response to wildjew on the same topic of "The Irvine 11: Islamophobia is alive & alive and well". I promise it's going to be a real eye opener! Meditheraces and 5 more liked this Amir Abdul Reda 7 hours ago in reply to haphaestus lol, that's a good one nv and 3 more liked this 1 2 … 4 Next → Reactions hugomejia2 30 minutes ago From twitter combatientes extranjeros en asentamientos de Israel http://t.co/hcwG4JpZ 1967gs 32 minutes ago From twitter Foreign fighters support Israel's settlements - Features - Al Jazeera English: http://t.co/pEnAEwzk via @AddThis DanF81 56 minutes ago From twitter Foreign fighters support Israel's settlements - Al Jazeera English: http://t.co/bvv0yQF2 #France #Vigilante #Tourism to help the #Occupation mayasdreams 1 hour ago From twitter RT @earthtonadine: The Jewish Defence League has dispatched French "militants" for a "show of solidarity" in illegal West Bank settlements http://t.co/LFhCkxqK 完 白安 1 hour ago From twitter Foreign fighters support Israel's settlements - Features - Al Jazeera English http://t.co/Vss9P19x via @ajenglish Debra V. Wilson 1 hour ago From twitter Foreign fighters support Israel's settlements - Features - Al Jazeera English http://t.co/Zq0rBNjV via @ajenglish Tallha Abdulrazaq 1 hour ago From twitter Can some decent people in #France take the #Jewish Defence League to court over sending militants to #Palestine? http://t.co/To8aOwdy ST McNeil 1 hour ago From twitter Vigilante tourism - French militants tour settlements locked and loaded http://t.co/O79UBMXI via @ajenglish B. 1 hour ago From twitter RT @NaimarhHassan: Some sort of joke, right? This is getting out of hand now - http://t.co/gaEFMhcy ~ shittt. fck. damn. snail-eating cunts Elle est Naimarh 1 hour ago From twitter Some sort of joke, right? 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