The night after Israeli forces killed the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a little incident occurred in this southern French town where the sea glitters and the sun glows but all is not quite as tranquil as it appears.
Traces of the incident remain: the broken glass, blackened walls, stricken plants and boarded-up window at the Jewish community center and synagogue in the middle of town. On the night of March 22, part of the building was set on fire after one assailant, or several, used iron scaffolding to smash a window and toss inflammable liquid inside.
Nobody was hurt. The damage, at least physical, will soon be repaired. Life has returned to its seductive rhythms on the CÃ´te d’Azur. The killing of Sheik Yassin will no doubt feed Palestinian anger for many years; the little fire in Toulon may soon be forgotten by almost everyone.
Still, the incident was serious enough for President Jacques Chirac to send a letter, dated March 23, to the president of the local Jewish community, Yves Haddad, expressing his â€œgreat sadness and emotionâ€ at â€œan odious act that offends the Republic.â€ He added: â€œYou can count on the determination and firmness of my government, which will not allow anti-Semitism, racism or xenophobia to install themselves in France.â€
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister, followed up with his own letter calling the attack â€œintolerableâ€ and saying that instructions had immediately been given for the assailants to be brought to justice.
But more than two weeks after those strong words, nobody has been arrested. A police spokesman says every avenue is being examined, â€œfrom young Arabs to the extreme right.â€ The attack, similar to 33 incidents at synagogues and Jewish schools in France last year, remains a mystery.
The most commonly heard theory in Toulon is that the arson was the work of youths from the town’s large Muslim community who were enraged by the killing of Sheik Yassin. As the European Union noted in a report last month on anti-Semitism, â€œIt seems clear that The Middle East conflict has a negative impact on the lives of the Jewish communitiesâ€ in Europe.0