After France Condemns Israel’s Killings in Gaza, French Police Obstruct Freedom Flotilla

Human Rights Activist Claude Leostic Accuses Emmanuel Macron’s Government of “Political Harassment”

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Story Transcript

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.

As The Real News reported a few weeks ago, a flotilla of ships has set sail from Copenhagen to the besieged and devastated Gaza Strip. They are carrying human rights activists from around the world, and they are stopping at various European ports as they make their way toward the eastern Mediterranean. Their goal is peaceful: to draw the attention of the world to an unlivable open-air prison in which two million Palestinians, over one half of whom are children are trapped. I will be joining the flotilla this week in Lisbon to cover the expedition for The Real News.

In the interim, we have been speaking periodically to some of the activists who are taking part in this expedition. And today we are joined by one of those activists, Claude Leostic. Claude is president of the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine. She has been active on behalf of Palestinian human rights for many years in France and in Palestine, including as main organizer of the French contingent in the 2011 Stay Human Freedom Flotilla. She has been coordinating the 2018 Right to a Just Future Flotilla in France, and was on board yesterday for the passage of two Freedom Flotilla boats that were traveling up the Seine river through central Paris. She speaks to us today from her home in Brest, in Brittany. Thank you so much for joining us, Claude.

CLAUDE LEOSTIC: Thank you.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Claude, why don’t you start by telling us what happened yesterday when those two boats from the Freedom Flotilla attempted to dock in central Paris.

CLAUDE LEOSTIC: What happened is really appalling, you know. We had arranged to have this meeting near one place that is really symbolic, which is called the Institute of the Arab world in Paris. And leaving from the north of Paris to the Institute we were supposed to be met by personalities, by politicians, and of course a crowd of supporters. And when we left that place we had docked the last, the night before, the, we were stopped by the river police. And you know, like you know, robocops coming to our two little boats. We were stuck in a lock which they had blocked deliberately. And they kept us there for two hours and a half, meaning that we would be late for the meeting we had with the population of Paris and our supporters.

So when finally they let us go they kept around us, you know, you had four of these high-speed police boats, riverboats, getting along us and pushing us along, and pressing on all the time. You know, sometimes getting so close that the boat, our boat, would rock. And it was really getting difficult, and even dangerous. So that went on for a long, long time. And finally they said that we couldn’t have the banners with the Ship to Gaza on the side, and things, that it was forbidden. I mean, it was really harassment, political harassment by the Paris police.

When we finally got close to the place where we were supposed to dock to meet our friends, they stopped us. They had told us they would stop us and we had said we would try to go. I mean, it had been arranged, you know, with the police authorities before. But something changed, and no one is going to say who made the decision. Our politicians are cowards in that respect. And so when we tried to dock, the boats, the police boats came to us, pushed us along, sent us back to the center of the river, to the middle of the river, and pushed us away and away and away from the Seine and from our supporters.

At the same time there were, I would say, about a dozen police cars, you know, with those vans with, with the sirens and the lights flashing on the streets just above the key where our friends were waiting, continuing all the way along with us until we were out of Paris waters. It was really political harassment, political denial of freedom and freedom of expression for us French people, and it is something which is totally unacceptable.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, on May 14, Claude, the international media reported that France’s President Emmanuel Macron condemned the Israeli military shooting of thousands of unarmed protesters in Gaza during the Great March of Return, which began on March 30 of this year. Macron’s government has also opposed the Trump administration’s move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. Both of those decisions were strongly supported by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems quite difficult to reconcile what you’ve just described with the publicly stated positions of the Macron government towards all of these issues. Whose side is Emanuel Macron and his government really on here?

CLAUDE LEOSTIC: Oh, well, Dimitri, I’m not sure. And we, we’re showing-. The contradiction that appears there is something which is really difficult for us solidarity movement to deal with. Because on the one hand, as you said, they take a position that is quite in agreement with international law. On the other hand, they keep criminalizing the solidarity movement. They receive Netanyahu with all the luxury of the Republic at his feet. Kisses and closeness and political, common, excuse me, common political declarations that are really appalling.

So it is extremely difficult to know what this president really wants relating to the Middle East and Palestine-Israel, particularly. We know that he has close connections with Netanyahu. We know that, and that’s probably part also of the problem we had yesterday, the Israeli Embassy in Paris is extremely influential in our political circles at the highest level. And so we are, you know, at a loss to understand and what to do with these people who are supposed to lead a republic to a situation where people are equal, and where freedom is the motto, and who are doing exactly the contrary on the ground. It’s a real challenge for us to deal with that.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: It is well known, Claude, that the French government is hostile to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. That hostility was not, it’s not unique to the Macron government. Certainly the regime of his predecessor, Francois Hollande, was also very hostile to BDS. Could you talk to us about the legal environment for BDS activists in France, and the peculiar challenges they face there in promoting a movement which seeks only to ensure Israel’s respect for international law by means of peaceful economic and political measures.

CLAUDE LEOSTIC: Yes, the-. For a long time. It’s not just, as you said, just this government. The one before, and even the one before, have always been hostile to anything that goes against Israel’s policy. Any criticism of Israel’s policy is considered as an attack on the Jews, which of course is completely wrong and it is, it is a sheer lie on the part of the authorities to say it.

But this is the, that you know, they used to destroy our image in the media, and they tried to do it in public opinion, as well. But we must remember that boycotting is not, absolutely not illegal, and it has been proven in court. But some of our militant groups have been attacked and taken to court by Israel’s friends in France. Some have been lightly condemned, but are taking the case to the European Court of Justice. What we do know is that boycotting Israel is seen as a terrible threat by the extreme right government in power in Tel Aviv, and because of that they are trying everything they can to stop us.

But the BDS movement in France is pretty strong. Of course we support it, and we believe that it is a popular, a peaceful way, of expressing an opinion. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. But this government in France, including the president, last summer are making amalgams that are really, really unacceptable, saying that any criticism of Israel means anti-Semitism. Which is, I mean, it’s an insult to us. We are anything but anti-Semitic. We are for the rights of the Palestinian people, a people under occupation, under blockade in Gaza. The people who have seen rights completely denied for over 70 years.

And in a sort of silence of the international community. I mean, not complete silence, of course. They do speak sometimes, you know, lip service to international law and human rights, but on the ground they do absolutely nothing. And our government does absolutely nothing to support Palestinian rights. Our president still refuses to recognize the state of Palestine, which of course would be highly symbolic. We know it is not going to happen tomorrow to have a state of Palestine on what remains of the territory of Palestine with occupation and everything, and colonization. Still, if they made this decision to proclaim the state of Palestine, because it has to be bilateral, it would be a great help to the Palestinian fight for justice and equality.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Claude Leostic, the president of the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine, about the passage of two vessels from the Freedom Flotilla in the center of Paris. Thank you very much for joining us today, Claude.

CLAUDE LEOSTIC: Thank you.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.