This month marks the anniversary of one of the most brazen acts of military occupation ever to have taken place in the Mediterranean region. An entire people was seized and placed under foreign control, stripped of its nascent independence and forced into submission. Freedom still remains but a distant dream for them. And in the absence of dialogue, they can do little but chafe at every indignity that is thrown their way.
Yes, that's right, I know what you are thinking: It has been 240 years, and Corsica is still being occupied by France? It was in May 1769 that French troops defeated the Corsicans at the Battle of Ponte Novu, bringing to an end the 14-year old independent Corsican republic.
France intervened after Corsica was betrayed by its Genovese masters, who had ceded it to Paris the year before in the Treaty of Versailles. The French moved quickly to crush the Corsicans' hard-fought freedom, subduing the separatists and annexing the island. It now serves as a popular tourist destination and is one of France's 26 regions.
What does any of this have to do with Israel, you might be wondering? Well, my thoughts turned to Corsica after Paris issued a number of sharply-worded condemnations of Israel in recent days, essentially castigating it for its unwillingness to cede "occupied territories" to the Palestinians.
Despite all its righteous indignation about questions of self-determination, when it comes to France's own "occupied territories," Paris seems to sing a very different tune.
IT ALL started on Friday, when the French Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's declaration that Jerusalem would remain the united capital of Israel. A French spokesman accused the Jewish state of prejudicing the outcome of negotiations, slammed its actions in the city as "unacceptable and contrary to international law" and insisted that it should "become the capital of two states."
Then, on Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy told the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM that Palestinians have a "legitimate right" to a state and that Israel must stop all settlement construction in the West Bank.
Just who do the French think they are? Even as they preach to Israel about "legitimate rights," they fail to practice them in their own backyard. Indeed, for the past three decades, various Corsican movements have sought to gain greater autonomy, or even independence, from France. And while the previous French government did agree to grant the Corsicans some limited elements of self-rule, Paris has stubbornly refused to yield control over the territory.
JUST TWO WEEKS ago, the mayor of the fishing village of Galeria received an unpleasant reminder of who really calls the shots on the island. After Daniel Rossi decided to hold every other meeting of the Galeria city council in the Corsican language, he received a public dressing-down from the French government. "The French language is the language of the republic's institutions," sniffed a French bureaucrat, adding that Rossi's actions were illegal and even violated the French constitution.
Whatever happened to "liberte, egalite, fraternite"?
And Corsica, of course, isn't the only example of France's double-standards. Just ask the Basques, or the residents of north Catalonia, about how the French state treats their historical claims or their rights to self-determination.
This hypocrisy on France's part cannot and must not be allowed to stand or to go unanswered. So I say let's follow France's example, and start thundering repeatedly about it at every opportunity.
Next week, on June 3, Netanyahu is reportedly going to Paris to meet with Sarkozy. There is no reason for Israel to be passive in the face of French demands or to ignore their interference in our internal affairs. We should offer to send human rights monitors to explore the situation in Corsica, provide development aid to the Basque region and fund Catalonian NGOs seeking to keep their endangered culture alive.
Or maybe we can draft some UN resolutions as well as proffer proposed solutions to these interminable disputes.
As Jews and Israelis, let's raise the banner of freedom for those still living under French occupation, and let every cry of "Vive Palestine" be answered promptly and firmly with three short words: "Set Corsica Free."
Sound silly? Perhaps. But instead of constantly being on the receiving end of French criticism, let's finally turn the tables on Paris and give it a taste of its own medicine.