Several hundred people joined a national march in central Tunis on May 19, organized by Tunisia’s most powerful labor union, UGTT, to denounce Israel’s recent assaults on Palestinians. The demonstrators called for the enactment of a law that criminalizes the normalization of relations with the Zionist entity.

National organizations, civil society, and political actors rallied in solidarity with the Palestinian people against the backdrop of the Israeli offensive on Gaza that began on May 10 and went on for 11 days. The bombardment followed soaring tensions and violence in East Jerusalem, which revolved around Israel’s threat of expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes.

Trade unionists, human rights lawyers, and activists also voiced full support to the Palestinian resistance, and strongly rejected all kinds of cooperation with the state of Israel.

Trade unionists, human rights lawyers, and activists voiced full support to the Palestinian resistance.

“We’ve said time and again that by now Tunisia should have passed a law against normalization with Israel,” Souad Mahmoud, National Coordinator of the World March of Women (WMW), told Inside Arabia. “We’ve pushed for it twice, three times before without success. It makes me sick!”

Like many other demonstrators, Mahmoud blamed the lead ruling party Ennahda for not lending their backing to the draft law.

“These people have been blocking [it] for years. So even if the largest part of parliamentarians wants to promulgate the bill, Ennahda will be in the way,” Mahmoud claimed.

“The first thing we’re asking for is to cut ties with Israel in all fields,” Mona from UGTT’s Regional Bureau of the northern Tunis suburb Ariana, who also attended the rally, told Inside Arabia. “We the Tunisian people, representing all different organizations, must fight for voting in this legislation.”

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Slogans such as “Resistance, resistance, no reconciliation nor compromise!”, “Free Palestine, Zionists out!”, and “Normalization won’t pass!” were chanted during the march, illustrating the widespread, firm stance against normalization.

“The failure to enact a bill criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity would be a great betrayal.”

“The failure to enact a bill criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity would be a great betrayal,” UGTT’s Secretary-General Noureddine Taboubi stated at the march. “MPs are called upon to assume their responsibilities and support the Palestinian people in their legitimate cause.”

Various political parties and national organizations announced on May 17 the creation of a National Coordination to support the Palestinian resistance and to incriminate normalization with Israel. The coordination had reportedly asked the Ennahda party not to participate in the national rally to avoid “possible tensions.” It clarified in a statement: “The Ennahda movement is known for its opposition to the incrimination of the normalization and for having hampered, for the last ten years, the implementation of this principle, besides welcoming Zionist senior officials in Tunisia.”

Calls for speeding up the adoption of the draft law have multiplied in Tunisia since Israel escalated its aggression targeting Palestinians in Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and inside the 1948 borders of modern-day Israel.

Just a day before the demonstration was staged by UGTT, a collection of unions, associations, and political parties held a protest in front of the Parliament building to renew the demand for an anti-normalization law.

Politicians and members of the civil society were unanimous in affirming that sympathy for the Palestinian cause is unquestionable, and any agreement or concession with the Zionist establishment must end.

“Tunisian citizens totally refuse to normalize relations with the Zionist state. What we’re missing is to translate this popular stand into legislation,” Zied Lakhdhar, Secretary-General of the Party of Democratic Patriots United (PPDU), said to Inside Arabia in the crowd of protesters.

He spoke about “pressures exerted by colonial and imperialist powers” supportive of Israel on parliamentary blocs hindering the ratification of the draft law and reiterated that it is up to the majority within the assembly to stand against these pressures.

Riadh Ben Romdhane, member of the Republican People’s Union Party (UPR), who also joined the rally outside the Parliament, argued that certain MPs do not reflect Tunisians’ compassion for the Palestinians.

“Members of Parliament must discuss this bill and take bold and clear decisions,” Ben Romdhane told to Inside Arabia. “Any activity that is considered to be an act of normalization must stop.”

The voting process for the law has struggled to see the light in Tunisia.

Until now, the voting process for the law has struggled to see the light in Tunisia. First proposed as a constitutional amendment during the drafting of the charter in the 2012-2014 National Constituent Assembly’s mandate, it did not pass after the legislature’s majority rebuffed the measure. Another legal text, put forward by the Popular Front coalition of left-wing groups in 2015 and 2018, did not make it beyond discussion within Parliament. Then on December 15 of last year, the center-left Democratic bloc put forth the draft to no avail.

Based on the latest text of the proposed law, anyone who partakes or tries to partake in a business transaction, industrial, handcraft, scientific, or cultural activity, collaboration, or service, in a direct manner or through a third party, with an Israeli institution whether governmental, public, or private, is deemed an offender. Anyone charged with normalization is punishable by a fine of between 10,000 and 100,000 Tunisian dinars (US$3,687-36,895) as well as two to five years in prison.

Numerous political figures in Tunisia have publicly expressed their support for the anti-normalization bill.

Member of Parliament (MP) Haykel Mekki, from the Democratic bloc, appealed for the swift examination of the legal text submitted in December 2020.

Mongi Rahoui, leader of the United Democratic Patriots Party (Al Watad), called upon all supporters of the Palestinian cause to press the Parliament to adopt the new draft.

Zouhaïr Maghzaoui, Secretary-General of the People’s Movement, said to be in favor of the legislative initiative.

Zouhaier Hamdi, Secretary-General of the Popular Current, stated that adopting the law is “likely to deprive the Jewish state of all kind of recognition” and added that such move is only possible with popular pressure.

Ennahda member Samlir Dilou said that all parliamentary blocs unanimously agreed on the need to promulgate the bill, anticipating that it will be voted by the end of the parliamentary year.

Parliament approved on May 21 the demand made by several MPs to examine urgently the proposed draft law that criminalizes normalizing relations with Israel. Thus, despite the alleged resistance within some political circles in Tunisia, the renewed national push for solidarity with the Palestinian people suggests the bill could indeed be passed soon.