Unsafe in the 19th (Extract)

Jews in the 19th arrondissement of Paris have become the target of new foes: teenagers from the black African immigrant community, acting under the influence of Arab extremists

September 24, 2008 10:45
Unsafe in the 19th (Extract)

13frogs224. (photo credit: Bernard Edinger)


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Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. "I was punched in the face when five more Arabs and blacks suddenly arrived, outnumbering us ten to three. I ran, but they caught me and beat me unconscious. I had a black eye and have a fractured cheekbone. I've stitches inside my lip and a possible concussion," high school student Dan Nabet, 17, tells The Jerusalem Report. Dan, a good-looking, dark-eyed boy speaks with a distinctive slur, caused by the stitches inside his lower lip. The skin on the left side of his face is still slightly yellowish-green from blows, 10 days after the attack. Recalling the incident in the bunker-like North Paris offices of the Bnei Akiva Zionist youth movement, equipped with steel doors and surveillance cameras, he is angry and frustrated. "David's [Bouaziz] nose was broken. Kevin [Bitan] also had a black eye and his body was black and blue. Police said the traces of blows showed brass knuckles were used to hit him," Nabet says, describing the assault on three Jewish students that took place in Paris's 19th arrondissement on September 6. Throughout France, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has dropped by more than half since the early years of the second intifada, which began in late 2000.This is thought to be due, at least in part, to both effective action by the French police and the relative lull in clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which often sparks attacks by Arabs against Jews overseas. There were 71 physical attacks against Jews in 2007, compared to 112 in 2006 and numbers have continued to drop in 2008. The one exception is the 19th arrondissement, where figures for assaults, together with those for insults and threats, remain level at a few dozen a year. Tens of thousands of people from dozens of different nationalities, religions and ethnic groups usually live in harmony here - except for Muslims and Jews. Tensions have remained high in this North Paris blue-collar neighborhood. The 19th is thought to be the neighborhood with the single largest number of Jews in Europe - an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 - with some 50 synagogues and Jewish prayer halls. Kosher butchers, delicatessens and Jewish schools abound. Black-clad Lubavitcher hasidim are common and many youths wear skullcaps. Nonetheless, they are outnumbered in the district by Muslims, both Arab and black. Totalling some six million, the Muslim community in France is the largest in Europe, and its ranks constantly are swollen by waves of new immigrants, many of them illegal entrants from such poverty-stricken black African states as Mali. In the 19th, there are tens of thousands of Muslims with hundreds of thousands of others in adjacent, even poorer, suburbs outside the nearby city limits. Although no exact figures are available, since French law absolutely forbids the listing by official or private bodies of color, ethnic or religious origin, it is assumed that there are at least two million Muslims in the greater Paris area, most of them of North African origin. The total population of the 19th stands at about 180,000, out of Paris's total population of 2.2 million and the additional 10 million in its suburbs. Now, the Jews have also become the target of new foes: teenagers from the fast-growing black African immigrant community, acting under the influence of Arab extremists. While the immigrant parents, who often risked death to reach Europe on the high seas in leaky small boats, largely stay low and, like many first-generation immigrants everywhere, stay out of legal and social trouble, the teens, whose delinquency rates are soaring, are proving to be a major challenge for the French authorities. Although authorities carefully avoid singling out any specific community for blame, the press was quick to pick up on the recruitment two years ago of a new batch of Muslim chaplains for the French prison system, which said it needed them because between 60 and 70 percent of inmates of French jails were Muslims, most of them young. On September 6, Dan Nabet was one of three Jewish teenagers, one aged 18 and two aged 17, wearing skullcaps, and walking to a regular Shabbat afternoon meeting of the local chapter of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement, where they are counsellors. As they walked along the busy Rue Petite, one of a group of five black and Arab youths fired at them with an air gun, according to both Nabet and the police accounts. Kevin Bitan, a muscular 18-year-old law student, went over to seek an explanation but the discussion instantly escalated. When one of the youths tried to head-butt him, Kevin pushed him to the ground as he parried the blow. This brought over a further five attackers, resulting in the 10-3 odds. The authorities arrested six suspects. The names of the attackers were not released but justice sources said they were all between the ages of 17 and 25. Jewish community sources said they were identified by the victims from police photos of habitual offenders and included both blacks and Arabs from the neighborhood. According to media reports, they denied attacking the Jews out of anti-Semitic motives, saying theirs was "an ordinary street fight. In a bizarre twist, one of the assailants who arrived on the spot after the incident began but participated in the beatings is Jewish. "He's a hoodlum known to police, who consorts with other local hoodlums whatever their origin," says Sammy Ghozlan. a retired Jewish French police captain who heads the "Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l'Antisémitisme," (National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism), a body dedicated to protecting Jews in troubled areas by making sure they report attacks against them and helping them in contacts with police. "The fact that a young and clearly mixed-up Jew was among the assailants does nothing to change the basic motivation for the attack, which is anti-Semitism in an extremely tense situation between communities," CRIF president Richard Prasquier tells The Report. The young man's name was not released by magistrates. Five attackers were finally charged with assault but no extra charge was levelled regarding anti-Semitic motives. Under the "Lellouche Law," named after French Jewish parliamentarian Pierre Lellouche who tabled it in the National Assembly at the height of anti-Semitic attacks here several years ago, penalties for assault can now be doubled if racial motives are involved. "These guys have been in and out of courts and police stations long enough to know the rules and that their sentences may be doubled if the motivation for the attack is proved to have been anti-Semitic. Obviously, they're going to deny it," Ghozlan tells The Report. Prasquier tells The Report that he is unhappy that magistrates had not recognized the anti-Semitic character of the latest incident and attributes this to the presence of the young Jew among the attackers. "When you attack people in the street at random and just happen to pick Jews wearing kippot, that is the result of anti-Semitic stereotypes," he declares and says that he hopes the magistrates will change their stance as the investigation continues. The incident followed an incident in June on the same Rue Petit, when 17-year-old Rudy Haddad was nearly beaten to death after involvement in a fight between half a dozen Jews and 20 or 30 young blacks. Haddad was in a coma for several days and has since recovered. His family says, however, that he has no recollection of the incident in which he nearly died. Two blacks are in prison currently awaiting trial over that attack. The eldest, aged 26, faces a possible life sentence. Traditionally, a working-class bastion of northeast Paris, the 19th arrondissement adjoins Paris's noisy Périphérique ring road, and includes grubby, often rundown municipal housing projects into which the most recent immigrants cram. But there are pockets of lower middle-class housing around the vast greenery of the Buttes Chaumont Park, where large families of religious Sephardi Jews gather at the weekend. Virtually all local Jews were born, or are children of, Jews born in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, who fled the three former French North African territories after they became independent between 1956 and 1962. These often religiously traditionalist Sephardi Jews make up 70 percent of France's estimated 600,000 Jews, the world's third largest group after Israel and the U.S. Half of France's Jews live in or near Paris, but many better-off French Jews, especially the established Ashkenazi bourgeoisie, live in affluent areas where the only immigrants are passing garbage collectors and street sweepers. "There are many different groups in the 19th, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Indians but only the Jews are targeted," says Ghozlan. "The fact that young Muslims, Arab and black, harbor anti-Jewish prejudices results in anti-Semitic hatred. Synagogues and Jewish schools, which were targets of firebomb attacks in 2002-2003, are now police-protected bunkers, so anger is now directed against Jews in the street, be they children walking from school or a rabbi identified by his clothing," says Ghozlan. "Before police cracked down, there were anti-Semitic sermons in mosques. Hatred is provoked by groups calling for solidarity with the Palestinians. They use the Arabic word yehud (Jew) when assailing Israel, thus recalling the low status of the Jews who lived in the Arab world and denying Israel's existence," he says. "But young Jews don't want to lower their heads any longer. Boys who were 7 or 8 when this began were told by rabbis and parents to take off their skullcaps in the street. They took roundabout routes to school to avoid incidents. Now they're 17 or 18 and have had enough. Their pride reappeared and they defend themselves," he says. "I'm going to continue wearing my kippa, and wear it with pride," young assault victim Dan Nabet says. The Jews in the 19th are not merely passive victims. Rudy Haddad, the victim at the center of the June incident, was among half a dozen young Jews who "went looking" for blacks who had harassed Jews in the Buttes Chaumont park the same day and were thought to have stolen a young Jew's motor scooter, according to the Jewish youths who went looking for the suspected thieves. But they were met by at least two dozen opponents who routed them. Haddad was already known to police for involvement in an earlier similar incident. Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.

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