A Paris 'Beach Party' Turns Into A Middle East Protest
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Every year, the city of Paris turns part of the bank of the River Seine into an urban beach, a small break for Parisians who can't get away for vacation. This week, Paris authorities made the theme for the day the city of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean in Israel. As Jake Cigainero reports from Paris, that choice roiled the usually peaceful scene.
JAKE CIGAINERO, BYLINE: Like every summer at the Seine here in Paris, we have sand, umbrellas, palm trees - and this year, protesters and police. It was supposed to be a day of food trucks and DJ sets on the river banks for a festival called Tel Aviv on the Seine. But the city-organized event turned the faux seashore into a political battleground.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).
CIGAINERO: "Israel murderers, Paris accomplices," the 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 says she usually comes to the Paris beach with friends whenever the sun is shining, but the sight of police and long lines and the protests foiled her plans.
MICHELLE MERTENS: I guess it's Paris. Paris, they protest everywhere. Maybe I would prefer it in a different place because it's a place to relax.
CIGAINERO: Police blocked off a section of beach away from the Tel Aviv festival to allow the pro-Palestine demonstrators to create what they called a mini Gaza on the Seine. Protester Sabrina Selam said it was unacceptable to celebrate any Israeli city after more than 2,000 people died in last year's conflict in Gaza.
SABRINA SELAM: What happened last year, four children were killed in a beach in Gaza. And now they're celebrating a beach in Israel. In France, politics thinks that Israel is a democracy. And democracy is the last word I would use to describe Israel.
CIGAINERO: Each year, Paris honors a foreign city at the pop-up beach. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo defended this year's choice, saying that Tel Aviv is a progressive city like Paris. And residents there have occasionally demonstrated their sympathy for the Palestinians. 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, anti-Semitic.
MARIE LEFEBVRE: France is not anti-Semitic. France is just afraid of what's going on and is not really ready to defend its own values. But some Jewish in France are trying to fight for French values. We're not fighting for ourselves. We're fighting for - as a French citizen. By defending Israel, I'm also defending democracy. And I'm defending, also, France for me.
CIGAINERO: Other beachgoers came out just to make the most of summer in the city. Stephane Legrand was trying to enjoy a game of petanque, or French boules, just next to where protesters had taken over the beach.
STEPHANE LEGRAND: (Speaking French).
CIGAINERO: "These issues have nothing to do with me," he says. "I think they don't belong in France."
The Paris beach is supposed to help Parisians and tourists pretend they're at the ocean for a day, but this year, they couldn't escape the city and its politics. For NPR News, I'm Jake Cigainero in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.