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Update – 22 March 2012

Posted by Emily Gian on Thursday 22 March 2012 at 5:30pm:

On Monday evening, Melbourne time, we heard the devastating news that four French Jews had been murdered outside Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The four victims were Jonathan Sandler a rabbi and teacher at the school, his two children Arieh and Gavriel, aged five and four respectively, and seven year old Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school’s principal. They were murdered by a lone gunman, who was dressed in black and was riding on a motor-scooter.

The murders were immediately linked to two earlier attacks in France where three French soldiers of North African descent were shot at and killed in similar circumstances and with the same kind of weapon.

As the news made our local papers on Wednesday, the Age featured an article entitled ‘Hunt for ex-soldiers after massacre at Jewish school’. The article focused on the information that French authorities had at the time, which seemed to suggest that the attacks had been carried out by former French paratroopers who had been fired from the 17th Parachute Engineer Regiment after a photo emerged of them back in 2008 making Nazi salutes and swathed in a swastika flag. The search was on, it seemed, for far-right Neo Nazis with many in the media commenting on what a racially motivated crime might do for the parties involved in the upcoming French elections. The Age also published an Op-Ed entitled ‘French right caught up in the storm it helped create’. The Australian also carried some articles on the issue with ‘Kids “killed like dogs” as terror arrived at the school gate’, ‘Gunman may most murders on the net’ and ‘Attacks bring jolt of déjà vu for nation with painful past’.

For statements from Israeli officials, please click here.

While condemnations came in from around the world, including from our own Prime Minister here in Australia, High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton made some rather regrettable comments at a conference called ‘Engaging youth – Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East’. She declared “And the days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances – the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives”(see more).

Initially however, the official transcript of her speech omitted any mention of Sderot. The attempt to compare different situations led StandWithUs France to issue a statement declaring that Ashton’s “record regarding diplomacy and the Israeli-Arab conflict has been checkered (sic) at best, but these comments are beyond the pale. She should apologise immediately or resign her position.” It continued “The attack that took place in Toulouse is in no way similar to the situation in Gaza. Since Israel pulled out of Gaza, Palestinian terror groups have fired tens of thousands of rockets on Israeli cities indiscriminately killing and maiming children and adults” (see more).

The following day, the corrected transcript was released as well as a second statement from Ashton declaring that she condemns “unreservedly the terrible murders at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse yesterday and extend my sympathy to the families and friends of the victims, to the people of France and to the Jewish community.” She continued, “At yesterday’s event I drew no parallel whatsoever between this tragedy and events elsewhere in the Middle East” (see more).

The outrage over her statements shows that the omission of Sderot in the initial release is irrelevant. As one commentator from Yediot Achronot noted, “even at a time of such sorrow for the Jewish people, her obsessive bias against Israel shines through” (see more). Please read Barry Rubin’s article entitled ‘The true perpetrators of the anti-Semitic attacks in Toulouse and throughout the world’. Ashton’s bias has also been pointed out by the ZCV on occasion, see here and here.

Move forward another day and the circumstances have changed again. Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent who is claiming to have links to al-Qaida has apparently admitted to carrying out the attacks. He apparently called in to a French television station and gave very specific information about the attacks. A few hours later, the police located the apartment block where he was living. As they attempted to break down the door, he opened fire, and since then, police and special forces have been negotiating with him to end the siege, which has now entered a second day.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant stated that Merah had been under surveillance for many years and had also spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that Merah “wanted to avenge Palestinian children and take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions” (see more).

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad declared that “it is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life” (see more). Please also read Honest Reporting’s piece entitled ‘Time to end the incitement against Israel’.

Today’s local papers both continued their coverage with ‘Toulouse suspect cornered’ from the Australian and ‘French police trap suspected killer’. The Age’s sister paper, the Sydney Morning Herald also featured an editorial about the incident entitled ‘Another mass killer strikes’. Interestingly, the Age chose not to run with the same editorial, though in this case they probably did the right thing because the SMH piece clearly showed no knowledge of the updated situation. The Australian also featured a touching piece by Middle East correspondent John Lyons entitled ‘Greatest heartbreak the smallest body’, which tells a bit more of the story of the victims of this horrendous incident, and the journey to take their bodies to be buried in Israel.

We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

May the memories of Jonathan Sandler z”l, Arieh Sandler z”l, Gavriel Sandler z”l and Miriam Monsonego be blessed, along with all other victims of terror, wherever that terror may occur.

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