Tunisians Rally for Palestine, Demand No Relations with Israel

Demonstrators hold a Palestinian flag in downtown Tunis at a demonstration supporting Palestine and condemning Israeli violence on Tuesday, May 11, in downtown Tunis. Photo by Ghaya Ben Mbarek.

On Tuesday afternoon in front of the Prime Minister’s office in downtown Tunis, several people gathered to demonstrate in support of Palestine. Demonstrators denounced recent Israeli assaults on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the forced dispossession of Palestinians’ homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

“Jerusalem is in the line of fire. Strength, determination and tenacity!” and “With soul and blood, we redeem Aqsa [mosque]!” were two of the slogans demonstrators chanted.

“To the Palestinian people, we tell them that as Tunisian people we will always stand for the mother of causes, the Palestinian cause,” Warda Atig, Secretary General of the General Union of Students of Tunisia (UGET), told Meshkal at the demonstration. “In UGET, one of our main slogans is the support of all national liberation causes, with the Palestinian cause as the main one.”

Demonstrators in support of Palestine in downtown Tunis on Tuesday, May 11. Photo by Ghaya Ben Mbarek.

The UGET was one of nine organizations, alongside eight political parties, which had published a call the previous day announcing the demonstration. While previous demonstrations in Tunis supporting Palestine have drawn much larger numbers, Tuesday’s gathering of only about 50 people came as Tunisia is going through a government-mandated Covid-19 lockdown, which started on May 9 and remains effective till May 16, according to a new set of measures announced by the Tunisian government last week.

“This is a fair cause, a cause of a people that is struggling for its liberation,” Bechir Labidi, Secretary General of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), told Meshkal at the demonstration. “We believe that this is one of the residues of direct and settler colonialism.”

Some Palestinian students studying in Tunisia also participated in Tuesday’s demonstration.

“Here in Tunisia, we stand together with our people in Palestine and we are not leaving them alone in their path towards freedom and victory,” Amjad Abu Hmaied, a Palestinian studying sociology in Tunis who joined the demonstration, told Meshkal.

Tunisia’s Diplomatic Efforts

Tunisia, which was elected on June 7, 2019 as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term, had called for an emergency session on Monday, May 10, to discuss the recent “escalation and aggressive practices of the occupation authorities in the Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem,” at the request of Tunisian president Kais Saied, according to a statement by the Tunisian Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Tunisia had made the request alongside Norway and China, and a session was held but no statement was released, reportedly because the United States had taken a position against releasing a statement.

“We denounce the United Nations rejection, especially on the part of the United States,” Laabidi of the LTDH told Meshkal. “The U.S. is today a partner in the crime that is being committed by the Zionist regime in Palestine against Palestinians.”

Renewed Calls to Stop Normalization

Officially, Tunisia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and Tunisian businesses are expected not to trade with Israel. However, recently the Tunisian company Randa, which manufactures couscous and pasta, was found to be selling its products to Israel via France according to a leak published on March 20 by the investigative website Al-Qatiba. The Tunisian government subsequently announced it would open an investigation into the case, according to Commerce Minister Noomen El Euch in a hearing in parliament on April 12.

Tunisian diplomats reportedly had cordial relations with their Israeli counterparts prior to the 2011 revolution, even if such relations were not made public. Since then, there have been several incidents where Israeli citizens have traveled to Tunisia for tourism, causing popular backlash.

This has renewed calls for legislation that would criminalize normalization with Israel, a proposal the Ennahdha party blocked from including in the 2014 constitution.

“We call on our Arab people in Tunisia and all Arab territories to resist normalization and support resistance, namely the armed resistance,” Mohamed Kahlaoui, Secretary General of the Socialist Watad Party, told Meshkal at Tuesday’s demonstration. “Our cause is a legitimate one and the expulsion of colonialism can only happen with all means, with armed resistance being at the top.”

Demonstrators in support of Palestine in downtown Tunis on Tuesday, May 11. Photo by Ghaya Ben Mbarek.

Samir Cheffi, assistant Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), who was present at Tuesday’s demonstration, also voiced his support for a law in Tunisia that criminalizes normalization with Israel “to prohibit all those that deal with this racist and hostile entity.”

Demonstrators said their calls for criminalizing normalization are more urgent now that several Arab states have formally recognized Israel in recent years.

“In a time where the Palestinian people is going through another struggle against the occupation entity, unfortunately we see Arab countries or governments implicated, especially with what we have seen recently of the unprecedented wave of normalization with the Zionist entity,” Atig of UGET told Meshkal.