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Two remarkable women capture the festival of humanity

With 70 years between them, Josette Audin and Ahed Tamimi are the embodiment of timeless struggle — perfect for the opening of the Fete de l’Humanite, writes JOHN HAYLETT

WHEN Patrick le Hyaric, editor in chief of France’s left-wing daily, opened his paper’s Fete de l’Humanite annual festival in Paris at the weekend, he was flanked by two remarkable female fighters for justice.

From either end of the age spectrum, Josette Audin, now 87, and Ahed Tamimi, just 17, exemplify a determination not to surrender to seemingly omnipotent adversaries.

Audin has battled for 61 years to force the French state to acknowledge that her husband Maurice Audin, a member of the Algerian Communist Party, was murdered by the colonial French army.

Tamimi, her young sister in struggle, was thrown into the global spotlight last year by an act of resistance in slapping a member of Israel’s army of occupation in the West Bank after her cousin was put into a coma as the result of being shot in the head by a rubber-coated steel ball fired by an Israeli soldier.

Her angry response earned her an eight-month jail sentence in an Israeli adult jail, alongside her mother, Nariman, who was locked up as an accomplice to Ahed’s “crime” for videoing her daughter’s confrontation with the Israeli troops and posting it online.

The soldier’s action in putting her teenage cousin at death’s door is viewed as normal and merits minimal attention under Tel Aviv’s brutal occupation.

L’Humanite’s weekend edition, which covers Friday, Saturday and Sunday, left readers in no doubt over the significance of the Audin decision.

The picture of a smiling 25-year-old man, a single-word headline ENFIN! (At last) and the caption, “Maurice Audin — State crime recognised by the president of the republic.”

President Emmanuel Macron did not simply acknowledge the crime committed by agents of the state. He went to Josette Audin’s modest flat, spending over an hour with her and a number of her French Communist Party (PCF) comrades.

“It’s a case of making amends for an injustice. You have never given up on having the truth recognised. The only thing I can do is to recognise it,” said the French president.

When Audin thanked him for coming, he responded: “It’s my responsibility to apologise to you, so you owe me nothing. I am going some way to doing what had to be done.”

PCF parliamentary deputy Sebastian Jumel, who raised the Audin question in the National Assembly in January, told President Macron: “I welcome your statement which is all the more symbolic for being made on the eve of the Fete de l’Humanite, since, historically speaking, the paper has played a key role on this issue.

“We have had debates on many issues in the past and there will certainly be others in the future, but thank you for the mark of respect your presence here brings. I speak for all communists in saying I am touched by this.”

The army slaying of Maurice Audin, a communist mathematician and anti-colonialist activist, who was tortured to death in June 1957 in Algeria by the French army, has been raised regularly by the PCF and his widow ever since then.

The Maurice Audin Association, supported by l’Humanite and the PCF, has spotlighted his murder as symbolic of many similar crimes by French colonialism defended at the time by government ministers including socialists Francois Mitterrand and Guy Mollet.

PCF national secretary Pierre Laurent said: “Obscuring state responsibility and lying about torture were a stain on the forehead of the republic. This declaration makes it possible to open a new page.

“It is a victory for everyone who has carried on this fight without a break for more than 60 years. It is proof that their determination was just and necessary.”

L’Humanite journalist Maud Vergnol questions whether this is the end of the so-called Audin affair, noting that Josette Audin, while welcoming the president’s apology, followed up by saying: “I will be truly happy when I know the names of my husband’s assassins and can bury his body.”

Her dedication to principle, supported by her party, paper and other fighters for justice, while raising alone her infant son Pierre, on whose arm she rested as a Place Maurice Audin was inaugurated at the Fete de l’Humanite festival site, is already replicated in the refusal of Ahed Tamimi to put personal comfort and advancement before her duty as a Palestinian living under military occupation.

She and her family had been planning to leave the West Bank for a three-week speaking tour organised by solidarity groups in France, Spain and Belgium, but were initially banned from travel by the occupation regime.

Her father, Bassem, told Israeli daily paper Haaretz that the travel ban had been notified by Palestinian officials from the Israeli-Palestinian District Co-ordination and Liaison committee, who stressed that the decision was made by the Israeli side.

Haaretz investigated further, revealing that the order had come from the Israeli intelligence agency, Shin Bet.

Shortly after Ahed was released from jail in August, her 22-year-old brother, Waed, was given a 14-month sentence for stone throwing. He had been held without trial since May on suspicion of “involvement in popular terror acts” and was subsequently found guilty of “participating in a violent riot.”

The Tamimi family travel ban was lifted without explanation, allowing Ahed to take her place alongside Audin and le Hyaric for the l’Humanite festival inauguration.

The paper’s editor told her: “Our festival is happy to welcome you, you the Palestinian girl up against men armed to the teeth. You defend international law, you honour our humanity. France must oppose the despicable colonisation of Palestinian land.”

She told a large gathering at the festival’s Association France Palestine Solidarite stand: “Our generation has inherited Israeli occupation. We will continue the fight against colonialism. I hope that we will all celebrate the Palestinian people’s liberation.”

Tamimi explained that Israel contravenes international law, pointing out that included in more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners are “350 children denied the right to see their parents.”

She recalled suffering “very strong psychological pressures” during her imprisonment, being denied food and the right to go to the toilet.

“It’s humiliating. The cell is narrow, the air unbreathable. They put the heating on in summer and the air conditioning on in winter. There is no justice under occupation.”

Noticing that some of her audience were in tears, Tamimi said that she had not wanted to make them cry, adding: “Tell yourselves that we Palestinians are not victims. We are the architects of liberty.”

A highlight of the annual festival is the Sunday afternoon address on the main stage by the paper’s editor, joined by a number of guests. Tamimi joined le Hyaric in this prestigious event.

She spoke out against the US presidency’s efforts to browbeat Palestinians into accepting subservience in return for US aid and investment, declaring: “I want to say to Trump that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Palestine.

“Palestinian refugees do not need money from the Americans but to return to our land” and to find “our dignity,” she stressed.
“We must be united in the face of the occupation.”

Tamimi later informed French state TV network France 24 that her release from jail did not mean she was in the clear, since she is on probation and her own words, especially her call to back the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, could be used against her to return her to prison.

She told interviewer Taoufik Mjaied that Palestinians start resisting from birth since “the simple fact of existence is resistance in a way” against the efforts of Israel to kick them off their land.

“We live on our land and fight against occupation,” Tamimi said, declaring her support for “people’s resistance of any kind” since she understands that there are “different ways to fight.”

This young icon of the Palestinian struggle urges her compatriots and their supporters overseas to “redouble their efforts” for liberation and justice, understanding, as Josette Audin did before her, that eventual victory demands unflagging persistence.

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