October 13, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
In 1799, during the French invasion of the Arab world, Napoleon Bonaparte offered Palestine as a homeland for the Jews with French protection. Though Napoleon’s idea for Palestine never really got off the ground in his lifetime, in the late 19th century, the British began talking about it once again. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration declared British support for a “national home for Jewish people” in Palestine, but with restrictions.
After the Holocaust, the end of World War II brought a new energy and worldwide pressure on the British to lift restrictions on Jewish migration to Palestine. (Some 10,000 Jewish children had been transported to Israel during the war to safety aboard the Kindertransport.) The United States and Britain formed the Anglo-American commission to relocate 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine. More followed.
By 1949, over 700,000 Palestinians were refugees and over 13,000 had been killed by the Israeli Army. Palestinians refer to this time as al-Nakba, “the disaster.” Though many Palestinian refugees went to nearby Arab countries, some of those refugees went to France.
Since then, the Israel-Palestine conflict has ebbed and flowed but never found a resolution, with consequences spreading well beyond the Middle East.
Today there are at least 5 million Muslims living in France, half of whom were born in France or are naturalized French citizens; France also has the third largest Jewish population in the world after Israel and the United States. According to Reuters, France has both the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in all of Europe.
Right now, the reasonable fear in France is that a blurring of lines between the Palestinian people and Hamas, the Israeli government and French Jewish citizens, may beget more violence, hatred, anti-Zionist or anti-Muslim actions, or a new wave of terrifying antisemitism.
France has not been a stranger in the last ten years to terrorism—there were the Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo massacres in 2015, for instance, and another in Nice in 2016. Three years ago, a teacher was beheaded by Islamist extremists. (Just today, a teacher was killed in a French school – and, so far, it seems to, indeed, be another case of Islamist terrorism.)
This week, President Macron said that he wants to make sure that the Middle Eastern conflict doesn’t become a French conflict. He said, “This event is an earthquake for Israel, the Middle East and beyond…Let’s not pursue at home ideological adventures by imitating or projecting….Let’s not add, through illusions or calculations, domestic divides to international divides…The shield of unity will protect us from hatred and excesses.”
And many of us President Biden’s speech and his story of how Prime Minister Golda Meir told the then-young senator, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, when he asked what she thought the outcome of the war would be, that Israel would win because, “We have no place else to go.”
And therein lies the crux of the issue: “We have no place else to go.” 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza have no place else to go right now, in 24 hours. 7 million Jews have no place else to go.
Yesterday, I told my younger son there was a war, and he had said, “Are they coming to Maine?”
“No, you are safe.”
His eyes filled with tears. “Why are so many people making war right now?”
What parent has an answer to that question?
Later, I found myself writing a note on a piece of notebook paper: “Radical peace is still possible.”
And though I know it might be almost childish to insist that this is an option, I can think of nothing else. A choice would need to be made by some brave soul to stop, come to the table, and offer an olive branch. How in the world will anything get solved otherwise?
But I fear no one will be brave enough, wild enough, radical enough to choose this option. And, consequently, the cost to all of us is going to be great, moral, spiritual, and measured in innocent human lives lost.
I am going to make these sheet pan pumpkin pancakes this weekend. Easy, sweet, mindless, and from a food writer I love, Yossy Arefi.
And I will watch the solar eclipse. It is not lost on me that my family and I have an enormous privilege of safety; the absurdity that my family’s safety is a privilege is also not lost on me. But even in safety, we must remember that the global is the domestic. What happens in Ukraine affects us all, morally, spiritually, realistically. What happens in Palestine and Israel will affect us all. It will affect the earth, the water, the creatures, the babies, everywhere. This is reason enough to find a way to peace. The whole world is holding its breath, waiting for the sun to go dark.
Hold your loved ones close. Pray for peace. Look up.
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