Je Suis Charlie?

In January 2015, seventeen people were killed in a series of attacks over a period of three days in and around Paris. The first and most lethal took place at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists and two policemen were killed; Charlie Hebdo is well known for its satirical, if not inflammatory, depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The next day, a policewoman involved in the manhunt was shot dead by one of the suspects, and four more people were gunned down less than twenty-four hours later in a kosher supermarket in a Paris suburb. Eventually, French police surrounded and killed all three suspects in the attacks who were described as having ties to “international jihadist groups.” The attacks set off a firestorm of debate around Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, free speech, and extremism, as well as the double standards involved in the public discourse. The slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) was raised as a banner for free speech all over the world, and especially on social media, but there was also backlash from those who acerbically adjusted the slogan to express anger over rising levels of Islamophobia and the hypocrisy of leaders who were themselves culpable for human rights abuses. The following selections illustrate some of the Palestinian and Israeli aspects of that conversation.


In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market attacks, on 11 January, France’s Pres. François Hollande called for an international solidarity march to which he invited world leaders. At the president’s request, however, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked not to attend, for fear, according to Israeli sources, that he would detract attention from the march and use the event for electioneering purposes (general elections were scheduled in Israel two months later).

The same request was conveyed to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Initially, both leaders agreed to skip the event, but on learning of the participation of Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu reversed his decision, and France had to invite Abbas. As a result, both Abbas and Netanyahu ended up marching alongside about fifty world leaders at the head of an estimated one-million-strong crowd.

Around the world, people expressed outrage at Netanyahu’s presence in Paris, contrasting his statements of solidarity with the French people with his brutal actions as Israel’s prime minister. Many of the images and statements that went viral on social media came from Palestinians, especially those in Gaza who were enduring freezing temperatures and miserable living conditions, and remained unable to rebuild their homes after Israel’s summer assault.Gaza Tweet

In very simple messaging, Gaza resident Dima Eleiwa offers her explanation of the double standard in the global discourse of outrage at the loss of life.

Handala Paris March

A superimposed image of a defiant Handala, the character of a Palestinian refugee created by the late cartoonist Naji al-Ali, making an obscene gesture at Netanyahu during the Paris solidarity march. (15 January, artist unknown)

Je Suis Charlie, Bibi Cartoon

A cartoon depicting Netanyahu in a tank atop a pile of Palestinian bodies and the remnants of destroyed homes and infrastructure in Gaza to highlight the hypocrisy of the Israeli prime minister’s stance. (16 January, Gado)

Netanyahu Tweet


Netanyahu calls on French Jews to immigrate to Israel, the day after the attack on the kosher market.

Following the Paris solidarity march, Netanyahu and Hollande went on to the Great Synagogue of Paris to join a gathering in memory of the shooting attack victims. As Netanyahu began his address, warning about growing anti-Semitism across Europe and encouraging French Jews to immigrate to Israel, Hollande stepped out. In response to the Israeli prime minister’s remarks, attendees at the ceremony broke out into “La Marseillaise,” France’s national anthem. At a rally later that evening, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls made an impassioned statement that “France, without the Jews of France, is no longer France.”


As Netanyahu and Abbas traveled to Paris, activists challenged the Palestinian and Israeli governments on their free speech records. Both governments are known for their crackdowns on the media and on peaceful protesters.

On 1 February, the Palestinian newspaper Al-hayat al-jadida published a cartoon by Mohammad Sabaaneh depicting a dark figure spreading seeds from a heart-shaped pouch over the earth, with a caption reading “The Prophet Muhammad.” While many interpreted this to be an image of the prophet, Sabaaneh explained in a Facebook post that he intended the cartoon to “symbolize Islam and its role of disseminating light and love on the human race,” Middle East Eye reported. Two days after the cartoon was published, Abbas ordered an investigation and Sabaaneh was summoned for questioning. The paper responded by conducting its own investigation, stating that the purpose of publishing the cartoon was to “defend the religion and the message of love and peace.”

Sabaaneh, who was detained for his other work by Israel in 2013, explained, “My point was to defend religion in the face of attempts to distort it, by using the same means: a caricature.” The cartoon was one of a series Sabaaneh drew in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Sabaaneh Cartoon

Sabaaneh’s cartoon as it appeared in Al-hayat al-jadida. (1 February, Mohammad Sabaaneh) Sabaaneh Handala


A cartoon from Sabaaneh’s free speech in Palestine series following the Charlie Hebdo attack. (13 January, Sabaaneh)

On 13 December 2014, Palestinian students organized a march to Israel’s Ofer Prison in the West Bank to protest Israel’s administrative detention and political prisoner policies. Lina Khattab, a member of the renowned El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe and student activist, was arrested by the Israeli military for “participating in an unlawful demonstration” and “throwing stones,” charges Israel regularly makes to detain Palestinians protesting the occupation. Khattab told her lawyers that she was beaten and verbally abused in detention. Two months later, on 16 February, an Israeli military court sentenced her to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of NIS 6,000 ($1,500), and three years’ probation.

Free Lina Tweet

Students for Justice in Palestine at Hunter College tweeted this picture as part of the #FreeLinaKhattab campaign.

Also in February, Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network launched an international advocacy campaign for Khattab’s release. Using the hashtag #FreeLinaKhattab, Palestinian solidarity groups on university campuses around the world used videos, art installations, and demonstrations to highlight her case and Israel’s policy of detaining young Palestinian activists.