Tensions In the Mideast Reverberate In France

January 20, 2009

Author: Katrin Bennhold

Source: The New York Times


On a giant flat-screen television, the Chabchoubs, a family of Tunisian immigrants, watched as veiled mothers wailed over the bodies of children and fathers cried silently. The piles of rubble, the squirming toddler covered in raw burns — all of this was coming straight from Gaza to their living room in this working-class suburb of Paris.

For the Chabchoubs, like many of the estimated five million Muslims living in France, Gaza feels very close because of Arabic-language channels like Al Jazeera, which had access to the war zone, unlike Western news media.

“It’s good that the fighting has stopped, but that doesn’t mean we will forget,” said Enis Chabchoub, 29, a computer trainer who was watching the news with his parents, siblings and sister-in-law. “This war will be remembered, and not only in Gaza.”

In France, which is home to the largest Jewish and the largest Muslim communities in Western Europe, the conflict between Hamas and Israel has deeply inflamed passions over the past three weeks. The emotions, strongly expressed in demonstrations that drew tens of thousands of people to the streets, were one factor driving diplomatic efforts by French leaders, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, to achieve a lasting cease-fire.

“The emotions of the Middle East are in our streets,” Jean-David Levitte, Mr. Sarkozy’s chief diplomatic adviser, said this week.

Twenty-two days of fighting in Gaza also stirred up old tensions, and in some cases violence, between two communities whose members often live in the same neighborhoods and have endured discrimination.