Rima Hassan, a 32-year-old legal scholar and activist, has made history by becoming the first French-Palestinian member of the European parliament.

Her party, the left-wing France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, LFI), obtained 9.89 percent of the votes cast on EU elections and is now sending nine MEPs to Brussels. The European elections in France were won by the far-right party National Rally (Rassemblement National, RN), which got 31.37 percent of the votes, translating to 30 of the 81 French seats.

Unknown to the general public a few months ago, Hassan, a specialist in international law, quickly gained notoriety and popularity among the LFI grassroots by being at the forefront of the defence of the Palestinian cause, condemning Israel’s occupation and war on Gaza.

The French right-wing has given many titles to Rima Hassan, who have born in the Neirab camp in Syria and today known as “Lady Gaza”.

Rima Hassan, who rose to prominence in France after October 7th, has consistently stood with the Palestinian people, stating clearly that what is happening in Gaza is “genocide.” She led a protest in front of TF1, the French television channel, when it recently hosted Benjamin Netanyahu. She has previously been accused of anti-Semitism and was summoned by the police for questioning on charges of “supporting terrorism.”

Rima Hassan and the “La France Insoumise” party are among the few political voices in Europe that have clearly supported Palestinian rights amidst widespread support for Israel across most European countries. For instance, Germany’s Chancellor Scholz has said, “Germany’s security is linked to Israel’s security.” However, what matters to us is that Rima Hassan is an activist and a candidate for the European Parliament. Like any public figure, nothing she does or says, including her clothing choices, is without calculation; everything is (theoretically) measured and meaningful.

Rima Hassan lived in Syria until the age of ten, then moved to France. She holds a Syrian travel document and French citizenship. In a 2022 interview, she mentioned that she “stopped speaking Arabic as soon as she entered the French school as a means of survival,” but that did not stop her from appearing on Al Mayadeen channel and speaking in French about the war on Gaza.

We highlight the language detail because one way of praising Rima Hassan is by emphasizing her “mastery of French,” as if this were not a natural result of living in France but rather some sort of achievement. This “praise” is striking because it reinforces the condescending attitude French people often have towards immigrants, whether they speak French well or not.

This attitude is encapsulated in the daily compliment: “Oh, you speak French very well!”

Rima Hassan’s stance in France on the war in Gaza is unwavering. She provoked the Israeli army to the extent that they wrote her name on one of the missiles they used to bomb Gaza. She has received numerous threats, which she has shared on social media. This is in addition to her previous visits to Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, and most controversially, Syria, where she visited the Neirab camp in Aleppo this year.

Rima Hassan has become a significant target for the French right-wing, which has not hesitated to criticize and question her French identity. Similarly, supporters of Israel have not held back in threatening and insulting her. She has become a voice for the resistance, as seen in her appearance on Al Mayadeen channel, and for the far-left, specifically “La France Insoumise,” whose MPs displayed the Palestinian flag on their clothing during a parliamentary session.

In the same session, MP Rachel Keke raised the Palestinian flag, which led to her being penalized. However, the same MP had shared a controversial post in 2018, explicitly calling for support for Bashar al-Assad against the “savages: France, the United States, and England.”

The accusations are ready whenever we try to criticize Rima Hassan, especially in a world built on “screenshots” and “Instagram” photos that have turned into political stances, quotes, and “reels” from here and there, appearing in the rhetoric of both the far-right and the defenders of Rima Hassan.

This means that any attempt to criticize Rima Hassan as a public political figure will immediately result in accusations of belonging to the far-right, being pro-Zionist, doubting Palestinian rights, comparing victims (Syrian vs. Palestinian), or betraying Syrian rights in favor of Palestinian rights. Any mention of Rima Hassan’s visit to Syria will lead to accusations of betraying Syrian rights for personal reasons.

Rima Hassan was accused of being vague when asked about the Syrian regime. Some pointed out that she mentioned the word “revolution” in an interview on the populist right-wing French channel BFM TV.

In her response, Rima appears hesitant, describing the Syrian regime as “problematic” and, of course, mentioning “ISIS,” the bogeyman that scares Europe. She added that “they (France) did not understand the Syrian revolution and its details,” and that “she was 20 years old at the time!” She also states that “Bashar al-Assad appeared as an ISIS fighter” and affirms that “this is wrong” (between 20:06 and 21:24).

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The evasiveness adopted by Rima Hassan was not convincing, especially considering her background. She worked in the asylum court and graduated from Sorbonne in 2016, at a time when the university itself was welcoming large numbers of Syrian refugees. Moreover, protests against the Assad regime were ongoing in the French capital. At the age of twenty, French students stood alongside Syrians, so was their age not sufficient to form a stance?

Rima Hassan responded sarcastically in a post to those accusing her of not speaking out against the Syrian regime. She shared a post about a discussion she moderated on the film “Little Palestine – Diary of a Siege.” However, political stances aren’t made this way!

Safe Middle East

Rima Hassan chose to “struggle” for the Palestinian cause in France and Europe, a problematic and dangerous choice in the current war, potentially leading to legal consequences, as happened with her. However, in the Middle East or the countries surrounding Israel, this is the safest option.

No one in the region opposes Palestinian rights at the popular level, but the problem lies with the militias and dictatorships, all of which have exploited the Palestinian cause and even killed Palestinians in their camps. Due to the region’s structure, those who stand for Palestinian rights and against the militias are a minority, always threatened, and lacking immediate political interests in Europe that could be leveraged.

The issue lies in Rima Hassan’s choice to visit the Neirab camp in Syria at a highly sensitive moment and after receiving threats in France, where she no longer felt safe. She chose to visit the camp “after twenty years of longing.”

Here’s a quick summary of the news from the Neirab camp in recent years: barrel bombing in 2016, an “accidental” bombing in 2019 by Iran, extortion of camp residents by the Syrian regime since 2021, and the presence of the Jerusalem Brigade fighting alongside the Syrian regime. One of its members has been on trial in the Netherlands for war crimes since last year.

All the above has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause and rights. The issue is political and concerns the Syrian regime. Syria is “not a safe country for the return of refugees,” according to the latest statement from Human Rights Watch last year, after a European proposal to declare some areas of Syria as “safe.” This is precisely the problem with Rima Hassan’s visit after “20 years of exile,” as she described in her Instagram post documenting her visit.

This visit can only be compared to those of travelers and influencers to Syria, which the regime uses to “normalize life” in Syria and whitewash its image. Notably, Rima posted “touristic” photos on her Instagram, and perhaps without intending to, she posted pictures of jasmine, adding to the emotional blackmail of Syrians.

Isn’t this a mockery of those who hold French travel documents, essentially refugees, who are deprived of entering Syria? More importantly, would the Assad regime allow such a prominent figure to enter Syrian territory so warmly without any questions? And without using her in the narrative of a “safe Syria”?

Most importantly, no one should be deprived of the right to visit their family in Syria. Those who can navigate all the dangers have the right, as human beings, to land in Assad’s Syria and receive the emotional fulfillment they were denied in exile. However, the problem lies in showcasing the visit. Why?

Because millions are unable to return and are threatened with death. The far-right in some European countries uses these “visits” to declare Syria a safe zone, pushing for the return of refugees. This is the precise danger of Rima Hassan’s visit—it threatens people like her, refugees!

Rima Hassan’s choice is extremely safe concerning her relationship with the Middle East. She didn’t get close to Assad and adopted the Palestinian cause at a crucial moment when her presence was needed. But doesn’t this take us back to before 2011? The people of the Middle East endured dictatorship and oppression for the sake of the cause. After 2011, no one gave up on the cause, but it became clear that the militias claiming to fight for the “cause” started killing us. This applies to Gazans, Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Yemenis alike.

To live in safety and to feel safe

Rima Hassan repeatedly emphasizes that she is a Palestinian refugee who arrived in France as a child and obtained French citizenship. Despite her “integration” into French society, her refugee identity has never left her. For her, integration should be experienced and lived, not imposed, which perhaps explains her decision to stop using Arabic at the age of ten.

Rima has faced threats to the extent that she said she had to leave France for a while because her home address was made public. The “safety” that France is supposed to provide for its citizens and refugees was no longer felt by Rima, and her solution was to visit Jordan or Assad’s Syria, theoretically the safest place for those who support resistance rhetoric or at least do not criticize Assad and the region’s militias.

The irony is that Rima Hassan left France because she “didn’t feel safe,” while Syrians and Palestinian Syrians fled Syria because they “weren’t safe.” Feeling safe is secondary to the reality of what is happening in Syria. Influencers who visit Syria “feel safe” during their visit, just like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did in 2009. However, the residents of the Neirab camp themselves “do not live in safety” under Assad’s rule.

For Rima Hassan, Syria does not seem like one of the stops of refuge. The Neirab camp holds nostalgic, childhood memories for her. Her identity as a refugee in France begins with the oldest story of displacement, the Nakba, followed by France, and then obtaining French citizenship. She visits Syria out of nostalgia and to “feel safe,” a feeling she inadvertently threatens for Syrian refugees living in France.

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2 responses to “Rima Hassan: The Controversial Advocate of Palestinian Rights in France”

  1. Andrew Lock

    BFM is not a populist right wing TV station. I find most of the presenters lean to the left

  2. Ed

    A new generation of radical Islamists is being forged by Israeli brutality. Palestine imprisons atheists suc⁵h as Waleed al Husseini. Is Rima a believer?

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