Toulouse attacks harm Palestinians in their own name
Charles Glass, The National
It started in France in 1894, when a Viennese journalist covered the Paris treason trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. “In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism,” Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary. “Above all, I recognised the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.” That futility led him to propose an escape from anti-Semitism to a nation-state in Palestine.
Anti-Semitism has returned to France with the murders at a Jewish primary school in Toulouse of a teacher, his two young children and a third child. The killer was a small-time hoodlum-turned-jihadist named Mohamed Merah, who told police during their 32-hour siege of his apartment that he was avenging the killings of Palestinian children by Israelis.
Merah’s crimes were more complicated, as he had in the previous days killed three French paratroopers who, like him, were Muslims of North African origin. Their murders were Merah’s protest against the French military presence in Afghanistan. His other claim to police was that he wanted to bring France “to its knees”.
France has not been brought to its knees, and Merah has done the Palestinians only harm. Few would have predicted in 1895, when Herzl was writing The Jewish State, the lasting harm of his solution to what he called “the Jewish problem”. In 1948, three-quarters of the indigenous population of Palestine were expelled. The refugees still live in the wretched camps of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel banished thousands more in 1967 and, ever since, has demolished houses and seized land to achieve what the Palestinian scholar Edward Said called its goal of “more land, fewer Arabs”.
Herzl’s solution to one problem created another, but the root causes of both were the same: not a “Jewish” problem, but anti-Semitism itself. Where anti-Semitism flourishes, Jewish communities will understandably consider the option of emigration to Israel. The Israeli state offers immigrants subsidised housing and other benefits that make settlement in the occupied West Bank a more attractive option than buying an expensive flat in Tel Aviv.
As a result, Palestinians lose their farmland and livelihoods. This is no secret in Israel, the territories or abroad, where the US taxpayer funds the land-theft and dispossession process. Why, then, do so many who claim to support justice for the Palestinians succumb to the virulent anti-Semitism that is the cause of their woes?
Those who daub swastikas on synagogues, desecrate Jewish graves, taunt Jewish children in schools and exclude Jews from their clubs commit crimes against Jews and Palestinians alike. The demagogues and militants who make Jewish people outside Israel feel insecure force them to consider the option a majority of them have until now rejected: moving to the Jewish state and, possibly, settling on land stolen from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
When Salim Fayyad, the nominal prime minister of the non-state that is Palestine, condemned Merah’s murders, it was in the interests of Palestinians. “It is time for those criminals to stop exploiting the name of Palestine through their terrorist actions.”
A previous Palestinian leader, Haj Amin Husseini, did his people no favours by taking Hitler’s side in the Second World War in the perverse belief that Palestine’s Arabs faced a threat from the Jewish people rather than from the anti-Semitism that drove them out of Europe. Until the mid-20th century, the Muslim world took pride in the Ottoman invitation to the exiled Jews of Reconquista Spain to settle in its Arab dominions. There, they were welcomed and often flourished.
Zionism had never taken root in Baghdad, Yemen, Morocco and the other centres of Judaic culture in the Arab world. After Israel was established in 1948, the Arab regimes, like Merah, took revenge on the blameless by expelling their Jewish citizens. Sephardic and Iraqi Jews gave the new state the demographic ballast it needed to fill the towns and villages emptied of their Palestinian inhabitants. It was an own goal that hurt both the Palestinians and the Arab world’s Jews, who lost their homes and wealth.
In Toulouse’s Place du Capitole last Friday, more than 4,000 people honoured the innocents who were shot by Merah. The participants, like the victims, included French people from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds. Pierre Cohen, the Socialist mayor, told them: “Toulouse, this is not us … because Toulouse is a world of welcome, a world of generosity.”
Unlike in the days of Dreyfus, when Anti-Semitic Leagues formed in France, Merah’s killings have engendered mass support for France’s Jewish population – including from the country’s most prominent Muslim leaders. Things have changed since Herzl’s time, even if killers like Merah make it hard to convince those whose children, fathers and husbands are dead.
With champions like Mohamed Merah, the Palestinians’ enemies can relax.
Charles Glass is the author of several books on the Middle East, including Tribes with Flags and The Northern Front: An Iraq War Diary.
France’s Jihadist Shooter Was No Lone Wolf
Mohamed Merah was practically a prince in violent extremist circles.
By Jytte Klausen, Wall Street Journal
Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman who assassinated three French paratroopers of North African background and then launched a terrible attack on a Jewish school—murdering a teacher, his two young sons and an 8-year-old girl—claimed to act for al Qaeda. Skeptics have dismissed the claim, saying al Qaeda barely functions anymore. But Merah was no “lone wolf” and did indeed bear the imprint of al Qaeda.
Young and alienated, Merah had served two years in a juvenile prison for robbery. Was he rejected by French society because of his Algerian background? “He snapped,” say friends. After prison, he was completely cut off from reality, said his lawyer.
In fact, Merah was practically a prince in French jihadist circles. His mother is married to the father of Sabri Essid, a leading member of the Toulouse radical milieu who was captured in Syria in 2006. Essid and another Frenchman were running an al Qaeda safe house in Syria for fighters going to Iraq. In a 2009 trial that came to be known in the press as “Brothers for Iraq,” they and six others were convicted in France of conspiracy for terrorist purposes. Essid was sentenced in 2009 to five years imprisonment.
Family contacts could have been instrumental in setting up Merah’s jihadist contacts and facilitating his travels to South Asia. Le Monde reports that the Pakistani Taliban and the Uzbek Islamic Movement trained Merah to become a killer. In 2010, he was captured in Afghanistan (reportedly by Afghan forces) and handed over to the French government, yet French media report that he was able to return to Northwest Pakistan in 2011.
The French police have confirmed that Merah was under periodic surveillance in recent months. That he slipped through and was able to carry out his attacks will become a source of criticism and self-recrimination on the part of the generally efficient French police. It certainly suggests that he had help from a network.
In executing his attacks, Merah did everything by the jihadist textbook. He made sure he would die a martyr’s death that would be witnessed on television screens around the world. He murdered with a video camera strapped to his body, making him star and director of his own epic. He told journalists his videos would soon be uploaded. In the attack at the Jewish school Monday morning, Merah held a little girl by her hair while he paused to reload his gun. He then shot her. In a recording found in his apartment he tells another victim, a soldier: “You kill my brothers, I kill you.” This is theater.
The Internet was his friend. “I have changed my life . . . on video,” said one of his last tweets (in French) during the siege. His account ID featured a black knight on a horse holding high the flag of jihad.
He signed that last tweet “Mohamed Merah-Forsane Alizza.” Forsane Alizza, or “Knights of Glory,” is a France-based jihadist media organization that was banned in January by French authorities after they discovered members preparing to train in armed combat. The ban made little difference, as content was uploaded to new sites. A website using the Forsane Alizza alias is still active—and registered with a domain name registrar and Web hosting company based in the state of Washington.
Two hours before the police arrived at his apartment, Merah was calling a French TV station. He appears to have had the media on speed-dial and was an active user not only of Twitter but of Facebook and YouTube. (Authorities took down his online outlets one-by-one on Wednesday.)
Merah’s shootings in Toulouse again shatter the illusion that counterterrorism can be 100% successful. Jihadist terrorism exploits our freedoms and opportunities in a global campaign linking foreign insurgencies and extremist activism in the West. Highly scripted and planned with the assistance of accomplices in and outside of France, Merah did not act in isolation.
Ms. Klausen. a professor of politics at Brandeis University and author of “The Cartoons That Shook the World” (Yale University Press, 2009), is founder of the Western Jihadism Project, which tracks and analyzes the development of jihadi networks in the West.