Paris turns a bank of the River Seine into an urban beach every August, providing a respite for Parisians who can’t get away for a summer vacation.
This year the Israeli seaside city of Tel Aviv was the theme for what was supposed to be a day of music and food trucks set amid sand, umbrellas and palm trees. But the faux seashore turned into a Middle East political battleground on Thursday.
“Israel murderers, Paris accomplices!” the pro-Palestinian protesters shouted next to a children’s playground by the river.
Nearly 500 police were deployed to the beaches to provide security. Normally sunbathers can just walk down to the beach from the street. But for the Tel Aviv event, they had to go through long lines at police checkpoints.
Parisian Michelle Mertens said she usually comes to the Paris beach with friends whenever the sun is shining, but the sight of police and long lines turned her away.
“I guess it’s Paris. Paris, they protest everywhere,” she said. “Maybe I would prefer it in a different place, because … it’s a place to relax.”
Police blocked off a section of beach away from the Tel Aviv festival to allow the pro-Palestinian demonstrators to create what they called a mini “Gaza” on the Seine.
Protester Sabrina Selam said it was unacceptable to celebrate an Israeli city after more than 2,000 Palestinians died in last year’s war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza. Dozens of Israelis, most all of them soldiers, were also killed.
“What happened last year, four children were killed in a beach in Gaza, and now they’re celebrating a beach in Israel,” she said. “In France, [they] think that Israel is a democracy. And ‘democracy’ is the last word I would use to describe Israel.”
Each year, Paris honors a foreign city at the pop-up beach. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo defended this year’s choice, saying Tel Aviv is a progressive city like Paris.
Wearing an Israeli flag like a cape as she passed out flyers for a Jewish organization, Marie Lefebvre called the protests against the Tel Aviv beach event “anti-Semitic.”
“France isn’t anti-Semitic. France is just afraid of what’s going on and is not really ready to defend its own values,” she said. “Some Jews in France are trying to fight for French values. We’re not fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting as a French citizen. By defending Israel, I’m defending democracy, and also France for me.”
Others came out just to make the most of summer in the city. Stephane Legrand was trying to enjoy a game of pétanque, or French boules, where protesters had taken over the beach.
“These issues have nothing to do with me,” Legrand said. “I think they don’t belong in France.”