There is also some kind of competition among solidarity groups. Take the
Nakba commemoration, for example. There are many courageous and much-needed manifestations of support, but each solidarity group sends its invitation separately. Here, I think there is room for us, Palestinians of France, to work together. We must unify these groups and speak with one voice.The stark contrast I have witnessed between French empathy for Lebanon found among all sectors of society and a more reserved approach to Palestine has taught me a lot. It shows the impact of institutional narratives on citizens’ minds and hearts. In the case of Lebanon, the empathy displayed by the media and public officials nurtures collective understanding and support. In contrast, the cautious approach towards Palestine shown by the French media and politicians, who too often resort to “both-sidesism,” leads to the usual phrase, “C’est compliqué.”
A press release by the prefect of Herault banning a demonstration organized by the collective “Against Israeli Apartheid” on Saturday, May 27, 2023 in the city of Montpellier, citing “risk of disturbances to public order.”
Despite the difficulties in penetrating French hearts and minds, there is still hope. I’ve seen it myself. Through several conversations, I have tried to engage with individuals, sharing personal stories and shedding light on Palestinian sufferings. It is through these personal connections that I feel we can overcome the barriers of institutional censorship and challenge the wider misconceptions surrounding Palestine.
I noticed this with the tragic assassination of my dear friend, Shireen Abu Akleh. This event made me realize that there was a significant hollow in the representation of Palestinian stories in the French-speaking world. Fueled by a mix of anger, a heavy heart, and determination, I embarked on a journey of e-activism, using social media as a platform to share (in French) about Shireen as a person. Without thinking of how effective this would be, I also began to use Twitter to share personal anecdotes, genuine reflections, and stories of resilience from my Palestinian family and friends. I soon discovered that my tweets resonated with many who had been yearning for an authentic understanding of the Palestinian narrative in French – including people not from the usual supportive leftist camp. The response was overwhelming: messages of support poured in, and individuals from diverse backgrounds reached out to learn more, to empathize, and to challenge the prevailing narrative of censorship.
With each tweet, I sought to shed light on the realities faced by Palestinians and to dispel misconceptions. I shared stories of everyday life under occupation, of cultural heritage and resilience, and of the aspirations and dreams in our daily struggle for justice and freedom. Stories in 200-character captions that tell of people struggling and who they are. Such stories resonate well with typical Parisians who carry a baguette under their arm at the end of a long day. Why? Because they feel that they can relate to the story of Shireen, the mother of a martyr, or the little boy who lost his home.
At the Eiffel Tower in May 2023.
E-activism has become my way of reclaiming agency and breaking the barriers of self-censorship that have plagued the discourse on Palestine in French society. But there is still so much to do in this digital realm. I used it as a form of consolation when I lost our Shireen. But I now see it as a necessary platform for Palestinian public diplomacy action.
But e-activism is not enough. Education and awareness are crucial in fighting misunderstanding and empowering the existing solidarity groups. By investing in public diplomacy, like engaging with schools, universities, and community organizations, we can help foster a more informed and empathetic French society.
With little support at present, Palestine still needs sustained attention from the current sympathetic French allies. But it deserves to have a presence on larger platforms as well. French influencers can shape opinions in a two-minute video. We saw this when French actresses stood with Iranian women or when French gamers stood in solidarity with Lebanon.
This, along with amplified public diplomacy work, might offer some possibility to shape opinions and spark supportive actions for Palestine. We know that the challenges are immense. But one day, the French person on the street will stop saying “C’est compliqué” and will remember May 15 as our
Nakba day just as they remember August 4 as the day of the Beirut explosion.