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Paris Tightens Security Ahead of Controversial 'Tel Aviv on Seine' Beach Event

A festival that will recreate beachside Tel Aviv along the River Seine has incited the ire of pro-Palestinian activists who have threatened to demonstrate against it.

by Pierre-Louis Caron
Aug 12 2015, 4:35pm

Photo by Sharat Ganapati

An extra 300 police officers will reportedly be deployed in Paris on Thursday when the city recreates the beaches of Tel Aviv on the banks of the river Seine

Dubbed "Tel Aviv sur Seine" (Tel Aviv on Seine) on social media, the event is part of an annual initiative known as Paris Plages (Paris Beaches), in which the banks of the Seine are transformed into a temporary public beach. The festival includes food trucks, concerts, and games, and will run from 10 AM to 10 PM.

Pro-Palestinian advocates and France's leftist politicians have reacted angrily to the event, which comes just one year after the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Tense discussions and images of devastation in Gaza have flooded social media, prompting the authorities to increase security out of fear of violence.

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The French daily Le Figaro reported that the city is planning to mobilize four additional mobile police units and almost double the number of officers that were originally planned to secure the event, noting that the extra manpower would serve as backup in case of unrest.

A Paris government spokesperson told VICE News that the Tel Aviv-themed event is "high-risk," but denied that the city was planning to double its police presence on the banks of the Seine. The spokesperson said that the city was "drawing up appropriate measures" to secure the event, but declined to reveal how many officers would be mobilized or where the teams would be stationed.

A source with the Paris City Hall later informed VICE News that the numbers published by Le Monde were close to the mark.

The city's Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo resisted pressure to cancel the event, for which she was commended by Eytan Schwartz, an advisor to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. Hidalgo said that the idea for the event was born "during a lunch meeting between elected officials from both cities" during an official trip to Palestine, and that Tel Aviv had been chosen because it was a "progressive" city.

"Circular economy in Paris: the sand used for Paris Plages will be recycled."

"I believe in the diplomacy of cities," Hidalgo said on Tuesday, adding that the event was part of a wider framework for cooperation between the city of Paris and the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Others have been outspoken against the event, including local councilor and Left Party Secretary Danielle Simonnet, who accused the city of "utter indecency."

Simonnet had urged the city to cancel the "cynical" event in a statement published on her website, proposing instead to schedule "meetings and debates" about the current political situation in Israel.

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Conservative lawmaker Eric Ciotti fired back at critics of the event, saying he was "scandalised" by the reaction of France's "far-left," whose rhetoric he accused of having "anti-Semitic overtones."

Israel's incursion into last summer Gaza sparkedprotestsin France last summer, as well as clashes between the police, pro-Palestinian supporters, and pro-Israel activists. In the face of escalating violence — including thevandalizingof Jewish stores in the capital — the French government banned protests in Paris and other cities.

Israel's Operation Protective Edge was launched in Gaza on July 8, 2014. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2,205 Palestinians — including 521 children — werekilled; 71 Israelis — including 66 soldiers — also died in the 50-day conflict, which ended on August 26, 2014, when Israel and Hamas fighters signed atruce.

The pro-Palestinian group CAPJPO-Europalestine has urged protesters to gather on the banks of the Seine on Thursday between noon and 9pm for a "Gaza sur Seine" protest against an event it has described as "obscene."

Meanwhile, Hidalgo said that she hopes for a big turnout on the riverside. 

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter : @pierrelouis_c

Image via Wikimedia Commons