[...] I sit at the back of a normal banlieue classroom. Bits of plastic and dust balls fleck the floor. Fifteen-year-olds yell and shriek. There are 28 of them: eight of them white, the rest black or Arab, and only one without an immigrant background. They don’t know it, but they are about to experience Coexist, a volunteer anti-racist project.read more
The class is divided into four groups and handed blank sheets of paper marked with black headings: French, Blacks, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Men and Women. The children are then told to fill in whatever words come into their heads. A group of eight fill in what comes into their heads for French. This is what they wrote: whites, whites, France, whites, whites, French blood, whites, born in France.
“The French, it’s them,” says a black boy pointing at a white one. “The French, they’re not us,” says an Arab girl. “To be French,” says an Arab boy, “you have to have all your family French, all of them back to . . . the start of humanity.” Almost all of them were born in this banlieue.
Mohammed, a cheeky boy with a brutal undercut, is asked to come to the blackboard to read out what his group wrote for Jew. He also presents a picture they drew for it.
“Jews ✡ = Sons of Bitches = $”
Why did you draw a dollar sign, asks the instructor?
“Because they are all rich, they all used to be bankers, in the Middle Ages or something. So they have an inheritance. And they stick together.”
One girl laughs. “So we can take it from them.”
“What is the Shoah?” says a confused black girl. “Is it a drug?”[...]
I have driven round Le Périphérique, the orbital motorway that divides Paris from the banlieues, to ask her a Jewish question. Can a Jew still live safely in a banlieue?
“A Jew can’t live where he wants anymore,” says Mme Saada. “Bit by bit, everyone is moving from the banlieues. As soon as there are ethnic populations, and as soon as it gets, shall we say, problematic, the Jews move. The visible ones — they get constantly attacked.”
The rise of Saint-Denis France means the flight of the Jews. Since 2000, when banlieue anti-Semitism began to flare alongside the Palestinian intifada, the number of Jewish families in Aulnay-sous-Bois fell from 600 to 100, in Le Blanc-Mesnil from 300 to 100, in Clichy-Sous-Bois from 400 to 80, and in La Courneuve from 300 to 80. French Jews call this flight internal aliyah.
This is why they move: in 2014, 51 per cent of reported racist incidents in France targeted Jews. On average a Jew is assaulted in France every day. And this means it touches most families. A recent poll found that 74 per cent of Jews who wore traditional skullcaps and 20 per cent who didn’t reported being attacked.
Madame Saada’s community is a refuge: in 2000 it was 800 families strong, now internal aliyah has enlarged it to 1,500. This crush makes the synagogue feel more like a home than a place of worship. And, like so many things Jewish, it is a cacophonic mess: someone is looking for a tennis racket, a flotilla of pastry boxes seems to be arriving, and the rabbi is nowhere to be seen. It seems so similar to Jewish life in London — but then 20 soldiers arrive. “I’m the next guard,” booms a tall white trooper with a buzz cut.
Since the jihadi slaughter at the HyperCacher after the Charlie Hebdo attack last year, 10,000 troops and 5,000 police have guarded all Jewish sites in France. The military has been brought in because there are now so many potential jihadist cells and lone wolves in the banlieue that there is simply no other way to protect them.
Mme Saada looks at the troops. Every day she sees the uniforms and feels amazingly thankful and amazingly sad. It has come to this: that the Jews are, once again, so hated that they need the army patrolling their every building to keep them safe. It feels, almost, like a return to the Middle Ages, when the Jews were protected by the prince and would avoid those areas where the writ of their sovereign was weakest. French Jews with a sense of humour joke about their protector as le Prince Valls, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and how they avoid banlieues where his rule is weak.
“It’s traumatic, claustrophobic, to live every day,” she says, “with soldiers, seeing we are so hated we can’t be here without them. It’s particularly awful at the school gates, thinking that without the army our children would come home dead.” Many pious ones, who, praying daily, almost live in the synagogue, really struggle. At least in Israel the soldiers are not at the door. [...]
Mme Saada is growing old, but her eyes are wide brown. “This future frightens us. We’re being marginalised.” Three children have moved to Israel, two to New York. Only one is left in Paris. “We didn’t even get one full generation in France.”
Read also about this subject: France: Jews fleeing antisemitism become internal refugees