From refugee to EU Parliament member: Who is Rima Hassan, the French-Palestinian lawyer who made history?

From refugee to EU Parliament member: Who is Rima Hassan, the French-Palestinian lawyer who made history?
Rima Hassan, representing France's most prominent left-wing party, has been elected into the European Parliament, but who is the renowned Palestinian activist?
3 min read
10 June, 2024
Rima Hassan is the first French national of Palestinian heritage elected into the European Parliament [Getty/file photo]

Thirty-two-year-old Rima Hassan was elected into the European Parliament on Sunday, representing the French left-wing party, La France Insoumise (LFI) or France Unbowed.

The human rights activist, lawyer, and refugee advocate becomes the first French national of Palestinian heritage to be elected in the EU parliament in a career milestone for the young politician, who gained a significant following thanks to her activism for Gaza during Israel's ongoing war.

Hassan's successful election into the European Parliament, however, came amid a surge in far-right parties gaining seats across the continent, chiefly in France, Belgium and Germany.

LFI gained 9.9  percent of the vote, while the far-right National Front party won over 31 percent of the vote.

The European Parliament is one of the EU’s legislative bodies and institutions and is usually tasked with passing legislation.

But who is the budding French-Palestinian politician?

Hassan was born in the Palestinian camp of Neirab, near the Syrian city of Aleppo, which was established between 1948 and 1950, following the events of the Nakba, or Catastrophe in Arabic, which saw the ethnic cleansing, dispossession, and forced displacement of at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes at the hands of Zionist militias.

The atrocities were carried out to make way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Her paternal side of the family originated from the village of Al-Birwa located 10.5  kilometres east of Acre, in present-day northern Israel. The village was captured and resettled during the events of the Nakba.

Hassan arrived in France aged nine and stateless, and became a naturalised French citizen in 2010, when she turned 18.

She is a graduate of international law from Paris' prestigious Sorbonne University, having written her thesis on the legal comparison in South Africa and Israel on the subject of apartheid. She was also named in 2023 among Forbes France's Women of The Year.

Throughout her career, Hassan has worked and advocated for the rights of refugees in the country, and founded the Action for Palestine Collective following the start of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which has been ongoing for eight months and has killed at least 37,124 Palestinians as of Monday.

She is also the founder of the Observatoire des camps de refugiés (Refugee Camps Observatory), an NGO specialising in identifying and studying refugee camps and exiled persons with the aim of achieving a better understanding of camp management.

Following her election, Hassan told French media that she was happy, and vowed to make Gaza the "first subject" on which she would work.

An elated Hassan said: "I think it will hit me when I call my father who still lives in the Neirab camp."

Often seen donning the Palestinian keffiyeh, Hassan has been at the forefront of pro-Palestinian protests and advocacy for Gaza in France and was among the leading figures shedding light on Israel’s atrocities in the enclave.

Hassan’s pro-Palestinian activism made her the target of a harassment campaign on social media and to her personally.

The lawyer has been regularly documenting the abuse, sexual harassment, and death threats she has received on social media, showcasing the reality faced by staunchly pro-Palestinian public figures in France, and Europe.

She has been regularly present in rallies and protests in the country, and on French political talk shows discussing Israel's occupation and war of the Palestinian territories, and has used her social media platform to amplify Palestinian voices and activism.

Hassan was even summoned by French police in April for an "apology of terrorism" on statements she made regarding Hamas and Israel.

Earlier this year, Hassan said that the issue of Palestine was "a European one" and urged for further EU recognition of Palestine to "counter Israel’s colonisation plans" and to call for sanctions and the halting of economic ties with the country.

The left-wing activist is expected to make the ongoing war in Gaza central to her work as a European Parliament member.