Point of view

Open letter to the President of the French Republic

Open letter to the President of the French Republic

Portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron. Illustration by Joseph El-Hourany

Dear President Macron,

I am writing to you because France is a member of the UN Security Council and the security of the world is under threat. I am writing to you in the name of peace.

The horror that the people of Gaza are currently enduring, with the support of much of the world, is an abomination. It embodies the nameless defeat of our modern history. Yours and ours. Lebanon, Iraq and Syria are in ruins. Palestine is being torn apart, pulled to pieces in line with a glaringly clear plan: its annexation. Just look at the maps.

Hamas’s massacre of hundreds of Israeli civilians on 7 October was not an act of war. It was an atrocity. There are no words to describe its ignominy. If many Arabs or Muslims are slow to denounce its barbarity, it is because their recent history is littered with carnage of all kinds, affecting all faiths, and the overload of humiliation and impotence has finally exhausted their reserves of indignation and immured them in resentment. Their memory is haunted by the massacres, long ignored, committed by Israelis on Palestinian civilians in order to take over their land. I am thinking of Deir Yassin in 1948 and Kafr Qasim in 1956. They are also convinced – and I share this conviction – that Israel’s presence in the region and the brutal means used to ensure its domination and security have largely contributed to the dismemberment and general collapse. Israel’s colonialism, policy of violent repression and apartheid regime are undeniable facts. To persist in denial is to fan the flames in the minds of some and to delude the minds of others. We all know, moreover, that incendiary Islamism has largely fed on this open wound, which is not called “the Holy Land” for nothing. Let me remind you in passing that Hezbollah was born in Lebanon just after the Israeli occupation of 1982, and that the disastrous Gulf Wars gave a fatal boost to religious fanaticism in the region.

It goes without saying that a large proportion of Israelis are still traumatized by the abomination of the Shoah and that this must be taken very seriously into account. It also goes without saying that you are doing your utmost to prevent anti-Semitic acts in France. But the fact that you have reached the point where you no longer hear anything about what is happening elsewhere and in other ways, that you deny one suffering on the pretext of healing another, does not contribute to building peace. It amounts to censoring, dividing and blocking the horizon. How much longer will you and the German authorities continue to draw on the Jewish people’s fear as a remedy for your guilt? It is no longer acceptable to redeem an odious past by passing the burden on to those who have nothing to do with it. Listen instead to the Israeli dissidents who are acting so courageously. Many of them are sending you warnings, from Israel and the USA.

You Europeans must begin by demanding an immediate halt to the bombing of Gaza. You will not weaken Hamas or protect the Israelis by allowing the war to continue. Use your voices not just to demand the creation of humanitarian corridors, echoing US policy, but to call for peace! The suffering endured by the Palestinians, decade after decade, is no longer sustainable. Stop giving carte blanche to an Israeli policy that is driving everyone, including its own citizens, towards a catastrophe. When the United States recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2018, you didn’t bat an eyelid. This was not just an insult to history, it was a devastating blow. Your mission was to defend the common sense advocated by Germaine Tillion: “An international Jerusalem, open to the three monotheistic religions”. That same year, you endorsed the Knesset’s adoption of the fundamental law defining Israel as “the Nation-State of the Jewish people”. Did you give a moment’s thought to the twenty-one percent of Israelis who are not Jewish? The following year, Mr President, you announced that “anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism”. You had come full circle. With one neat formula, you rode roughshod over all nuances. You appeared to forget that many Jewish thinkers, from Isaac Breuer to Albert Einstein, were anti-Zionists. You have denied all those of us who are trying to combat anti-Semitism without abandoning the Palestinians. You ignore the long road that we on the so-called “anti-Zionist” side have travelled, to change our vocabulary, to recognize Israel, to work for a future that revives the rich time when we all lived together. Surely the floods of hatred circulating on social networks, directed at both sides, demand that you, as a leader, be even more vigilant in your choice of words. Speaking of peace, Mr President, we were stunned by the absence of that word from your lips in the aftermath of 7 October. What do we want if not peace at a time when the planet is on the brink of the void?

The Abraham Accords represent the ultimate in contempt, capitalist arrogance and political bad faith. Is it acceptable to reduce Arab and Islamic culture to juicy contracts accompanied – with France’s passive support – by peace agreements managed like real-estate deals? The Zionist project has reached an impasse. Helping the Israelis to find a way out of it requires an immense effort of imagination and empathy that is the opposite of blind complacency. Ensuring the security of the Israeli people means helping them to think about the future and to anticipate it – to look forwards and not backwards. Here in Lebanon, we have failed to ensure that living and living together are one and the same thing. Our fault? In part, yes. But not solely. Far from it. This project was the opposite of the Israeli project, which has constantly manoeuvred to make coexistence impossible, to prove it is a failure, to encourage the fragmentation of communities, creating ghettos. Now that this entire part of the world has reached the very depths of despair, is it not time to decide to do everything differently? Only a radical reinvention of its history can re-establish a future.

In the meantime, the situation is deteriorating by the day: there is no more room for indignant posturing and humanitarian declarations. We want action. A return to the basic rules of international law. Demand that the UN resolutions be applied. Giving formal warnings to the Islamists means giving formal warnings to the Israeli authorities. Stop supporting religious nationalism on the one hand and castigating it on the other. Fight both. Put an end to this harmful atmosphere that makes French Muslims feel that they are not wanted if they do not remain silent.

Listen to Nelson Mandela, universally admired: “We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he said loud and clear. He knew that humiliation can lead only to hatred. The Blacks of South Africa were called animals. The Jews were also called animals by the Nazis. Is it conceivable that none of you has spoken out publicly against the use of this word by an Israeli minister with regard to the Palestinian people? Is it not time to help memories to communicate, to listen to them, to try to understand where the sticking point is, where it hurts, rather than giving in to emotions and reinforcing the stumbling blocks? What if the immense pain felt by everyone in this region could be the trigger for the beginnings of a shared determination to do things differently? What if we suddenly understood, through sheer exhaustion, that it takes a mere nothing to make peace, just as it takes a mere nothing to start a war? Are you sure you have covered all the “mere nothings” necessary for peace? I know many Israelis who, like me, dream of a movement of recognition, of a return to reason, of a shared existence. We are only a minority? What was the proportion of French Resistance fighters during the occupation? Do not stifle this movement. Encourage it. Do not give in to the lethal fusion of phobia and fear. It is no longer just a question of freedom for all. It is about a minimum of balance and political clear-sightedness, without which security is in danger of worldwide collapse.

Dominique Eddé is a writer. Her last book is "Edward Said: His Thought as a Novel" (Verso Books, 2019)

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. 

Translation : Ros Schwartz

Dear President Macron,I am writing to you because France is a member of the UN Security Council and the security of the world is under threat. I am writing to you in the name of peace.The horror that the people of Gaza are currently enduring, with the support of much of the world, is an abomination. It embodies the nameless defeat of our modern history. Yours and ours. Lebanon, Iraq and Syria are...