Sada al-Mashrek, Ottawa
To mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which the UN firstly declared so in 1977, the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group organised a Parliament Hill event in collaboration with the Coalition of the Palestinian Canadian Organisations. Held in one of Parliament’s halls on November the 29th, the event joined a good number of Canadian MPs, diplomats and ambassadors, as well as representatives of Arab and Palestinian organisations from different Canadian cities.
Commenced at 6:00 pm, the occasion was also attended by GPC Party Leader Elizabeth May, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, federal NDP MPs Niki Ashton, Lindsay Mathyssen, Matthew Green, Bloc Québécois’ Denis Trudel and Mario Beaulieu, Conservative MP Larry Brock and Alberta’s NDP MP Blake Desjarlais.
Radi Shahrouri: Canada’s one of a few states that don’t recognise Palestine
Chairing the Association of the Palestinian Arab Canadians, Shahrouri commenced the event and introduced the speakers. The affectionate host, who couldn’t hold back his tears, asked for a moment of silence to mourn the death of two young Palestinian brothers who had just been killed cold-bloodedly.
Thanking all attendees, especially the MPs, Shahrouri as well reported that his request to raise the Palestinian flag at City Hall, this time, too, was refused. The agent in charge said Canada didn’t recognise the State of Palestine or have diplomatic relations with it, reported Shahrouri, adding that he reminded that agent that Canada was one of a few states that didn’t recognise Palestine, and there indeed were the Representative Office of Canada to the Palestinian Authority and bilateral trade relations…
Urging the attending MPs, therefore, to push Canada to work on essentials like recognising the State of Palestine, the speaker was met with applause.
Salma Zahid: We cannot lead for human rights everywhere if we are not also for human rights in Palestine
Next came the speech of MP for Scarborough Centre & Chair of the Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group Salma Zahid, who acknowledged the attending ambassadors & dignitaries representing Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Algeria, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
Federal MP Zahid as well greeted a number of MPs that were attending or following the event, including Liberal MP Mike Morris and federal NDP’s Heather McPherson… She as well thanked all attendees, human rights and justice organisations and the participant Palestinian community.
“We in Canada are privileged to have a homeland, where we are free and safe to live our lives, go to work, earn a living, support our families and make a better life for our next generations… But to the Palestinians living under occupation and whose basic rights are denied, that’s just a dream”, warned Zahid.
The MP, however, maintained hopefulness, saying, “It can seem like progress is all too slow, and it is too slow,” yet quoting Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“As Chair of the Friendship Group, I will continue to work to ensure that the voice of the Palestinian people is heard in Parliament and our government. We must continue to press the government to live to its ideals. We cannot lead for human rights everywhere if we are not also for human rights in Palestine. I want to assure you that you have allies on Parliament Hill – across all parties, and their numbers are growing… We will continue to march with you in solidarity until freedom is realised,” iterated the MP.
Mario Beaulieu: Long live a freed Palestine
It was then time for Bloc Québécois’ MP Mario Beaulieu, who spoke in French, declaring support and solidarity with the Palestinian people on behalf of the Bloc.
Beaulieu addressed the incessant aggressions against Palestinian human rights, emphasising that his party were in favour of “an independent Palestinian State”. The MP then noted that a Palestinian flag is always in his office, not just today. “Long live a freed Palestine,” concluded he.
Omar Alghabra: Canada needs to play a bigger role in advancing justice in the region
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra spoke afterwards, “… We affirm our collective commitment that we all are in solidarity with the Palestinian people… I stand in solidarity with Palestinian people as they want to live in peace and dignity and seek a homeland where they live independently, like every other human being on this planet, and as they seek justice for their children and grandchildren.”
“I know Canada has been playing a role and needs to play a bigger role in advancing justice in the region,” continued Alghabra, adding that Canadians were “lucky to have such a strong caucus” supporting this cause and MPs “working for it every day…”
Met with applause, Alghabra said, “The Palestinian people need people like us to be their voice at a time of difficulty. We live in one of the best countries in the world, in a democratic peaceful society, where we have rights protected, guaranteed for each & every one of us, and it is incumbent on us – as far as we can – to ensure that Canada plays a role in listening to the voices that are not always heard in the corridors of power in Ottawa...
You have never given up… Yes, there have been challenges and continue to be, but you continue to remind us of the awesome responsibility that rests on our shoulders – the expectation that people in Canada and all around the world have of us, so thank you…”
Matthew Green: New Democrats are your allies
“… It’s a delight for me to be here tonight to celebrate with you on behalf of the NDP of Canada. We are so grateful for the contributions of the Palestinian Canadian community. New Democrats are your allies; we believe that human rights are human rights because we know that the voices and experiences of Palestinians in Canada and Palestine must be heard, valued and amplified,” said MP Matthew Green.
“We have much work to do to support and ensure the human rights of the Palestinian people… We believe the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories must end. Canada must play a more productive role in working towards peace and justice,” said Green, who went on to blame the Liberal and Conservative governments for worrying, for years, more about “supporting their status quo and getting contributions.”
Green as well recommended that Canada “create conditions for a lasting peace by recognising the asymmetric nature of this conflict, condemning the violations of international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.” Green said that as long as Canada didn’t do that, it was “contributing to the problem.” The “shame” expression was uttered repeatedly in support of Green’s condemnation of the ruling elites’ foreign policies.
MP Green then said, “We want to change that. We want Canada to be an advocate for human rights everywhere, and we know that this has been a challenging year for Palestinians. We saw that in the opening remarks of tonight’s event with the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh - may she rest in peace, with the destruction of schools and homes, the arrest of children, and indeed the most recent re-election of Netanyahu. That has indeed highlighted the need for Canada to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people.
Tonight that the Palestinian spirit is strong and beautiful. We will continue to stand in solidarity with all of you.”
Elizabeth May: The Israeli government and military have decided that Palestinians are not humans
The MP for BC’s Saanich-Gulf Islands and Green Party of Canada Leader with Jonathan Pedneault Elizabthe May emphasised solidarity with the Palestinian people, and humorously said she wasn’t trying to outdo MP Green [who had come along a number of his party counterparts], but that 100% of her party’s caucus [who make very a little number] were attending.
May then noted there had been dark days when the committee of the Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group did not exist. It was May who restarted it with Bloc Québécois’s MPs Mario Beaulieu and Alexandre Boulerice, largely supported by Ottawa’s Palestinian community and by Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to Canada Mona Abuamara.
“We take our marching orders – and I should be proud of it – from my dear friend Mona Abuamara, who tells us what needs to be done and brings us devastating updates,” May affirmed, showing teary eyes in affection with the victims of the recent assaults in Palestine.
“The hypocrisy of some who claim to stand human rights but don’t is hard to stand. We are humanity. We are brothers and sisters,” said May, adding that just like she mourns the life of any Israeli child who dies, she grieves and is also horrified by what the Palestinians go through…
May then recalled the time when she and others from the Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group were trying to make it to Hebron but weren’t let through the gates by the Israeli guards… She condemned “the atrocity of stealing land and placing mass of infrastructure that is, in its essence, very racist,” citing the Separation Wall and challenging anyone who doubts the existing “fundamental injustice to spend one day there and deny for one minute that the Israeli government and military have decided that Palestinians are not humans…”
Mousa Zaidan: Whenever you’re in solidarity with the Palestinian people, you’re in solidarity with humanity
For his part, the National Coordinator of the Coalition of Canadian Palestinian Organisations Mousa Zaidan addressed thanks to the Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group for all the work they’ve been doing and praised MP Salma Zahid, saying she’s “a legend” that’s been working with the Canadian delegation to the UN and doing a great job…”
Zaidan as well affirmed that the community will continue to back Zahid up, no matter what happens or what pressure she’s exposed to, and his words were met by applause.
He then recalled the Balfour Declaration, by which the British government “denied the rights of the Palestinian people and gave them to another nation in 1917… That was a decision that left the Palestinians, for decades, suffering throughout the time, losing their homelands and villages, houses and everything and left thousands and thousands of refugees everywhere…So let’s not be the new Balfour Declaration for the Palestinians… Let the Palestinian people decide what they want & need. Let’s not dictate what they want and decide what’s better for them and how they live…”
“I would say that the most important thing that we can move forward with is talking with our government and MPs, as well as our brothers and sisters in the Friendship Group. We need to get Canada to recognise the state of Palestine… Always remember: Whenever you are in solidarity with the Palestinian people, you are in solidarity with humanity,” concluded Zaidan.
Ihsan Gardee: We reiterate our call for global action to end the system of apartheid, which the Israeli authorities enforce against Palestinians
Director of Mobilisation & Communication at the English Section of Amnesty International Canada Ihsan Gardee firstly addressed “thanks for the opportunity to address this eminent gathering, which I want to acknowledge is taking place on ancestral and unceded Algonquin & Anishinaabe Territory…”
Gardee then noted, “I’m joined tonight by my colleague and our Crisis & Tactical campaigner, Hilary Homes. Our Secretary General, Ketty Nivybandi, regrets that she could not join us this evening but passes along her regards and appreciation for the work of this group.”
The director then condemned Israel’s practices, “…We at Amnesty International reiterate our call for global action to end the system of apartheid, which Israeli authorities enforce against Palestinians with impunity. This system has become increasingly violent and oppressive over the past year – in the West Bank, Israeli forces have killed 127 Palestinians since January and injured hundreds more, and there has also been a surge in assaults and violence against Palestinians by state-backed settlers.”
Zaidan then remarked, “As part of the global Amnesty movement’s Protect the Protest campaign, I’d also like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with the six Palestinian organisations whose offices were raided one year ago after the State of Israel designated them as terrorist organisations for their work to end Israeli apartheid. These include: Addameer, al-Haq, Defence for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
This designation effectively outlaws the activities of these civil-society groups. It authorised Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.”
“How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human-rights defenders. We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision. With violations by Israeli authorities mounting and Palestinian civil society under unprecedented assault, Palestinians need international support now more than ever…We call on our supporters around the world to demonstrate their solidarity by speaking out, however they can, to demand an end to Israel’s apartheid,” Gardee recapitulated.
Stephen Brown: We will continue to advocate for a strong discourse on issues surrounding Palestine
Among the speakers was the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims Stephen Brown, who initially thanked
MP Salma Zahid as the chair of the Canada-Palestine Friendship Group for her leadership and hosting the event, commending her important public and private work.
“… Standing up for the Palestinian people has, in our estimation, been a historic moment,” said Brown, “Like many Canadians, NCCM takes the Palestinian cause to heart, and it is for this reason that we are working and will continue to work for the cause of freedom and justice for the Palestinian people as they suffer injustice and economic hardship,” stated Brown.
“Our goal is to work with local communities and activists who have been standing on this issue for decades. It is your work that has led to change. That is why just as we helped push for $25M in aid for Palestine in 2021, and we will continue to push the Canadian government to provide humanitarian aid for Palestinians that continue to struggle under occupation. We know that what happens in Palestine has repercussions that extend far beyond its borders, as it impacts the discourse surrounding the Muslims and Arab communities here in Canada. That is why at NCCM, we will continue to advocate for a strong discourse on issues surrounding Palestine, ensuring that when MPs speak about what is happening there, their discourse is fair and balanced and reflects the Canadian principles of democracy, justice and human rights,” iterated Brown.
“And in that same vein, we will continue to push Canada to recognise ICC jurisdiction over Palestine, so that an independent investigation that can impose accountability for the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh be conducted. And of course, we will continue to do so in consultation and partnership with the Palestinian community so that their voices are heard,” affirmed Brown.
Yazan Nasreddin: Our coming step is planting olive trees in Palestine
For his part, Islamic Relief Canada’s Yazan Nasreddin informed the attendees of the charity’s latest efforts with regards to Palestine, announcing their plans to plant a big number of olive trees in Palestine soon…
Omar El-Naggar: We proudly support the BDS movement
Democratic Socialists of Canada’s Omar El-Naggar made a brief speech: “DSC unapologetically stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle for freedom. We proudly support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and the efforts to eliminate US military aid to Israel, while resisting the ‘normalisation’ of relationships between the Israeli government and other governments.
Just last year at our national convention, we passed the following motion: ‘Be it resolved that the DSC recognise the right of return for the Palestinian people, condemns Israel as an apartheid state, and makes this the official policy position of the DSC.’”
Khadija Al-Hilali: There are parallels between the Palestinian struggle and the oppression experienced by Indigenous and black peoples in Canada
Activist Khadija Al-Hilali examined what was behind the curtains, stating, “From unceded Algonquin territory – so-called Ottawa –to Palestine, we are witnessing state-sanctioned violence. Our struggles against racism, white supremacy, genocide and colonisation are a global struggle. You can cease fire and killing, but you cannot bring loved ones back and act like what is happening in Palestine is up for debate. This is not a conflict, it is apartheid. Those calling these injustices out by name are not Anti-Semitic. We are Anti-Zionist…”
She emphasised that “we must not forget the root of the issue. All of the ongoing violence is a direct result of one group of people being forcibly removed out of their own land. Palestine has been colonised through ethnic cleansing and land theft for 73 years and military occupation for 54 years. There are parallels between the Palestinian struggle and the oppression experienced by Indigenous and black peoples in Canada. The world shook when the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went viral a year ago, but this issue still permeates and is intrinsically woven into the fabric of our nation’s colonial history. Black lives have been exploited and invalidated for hundreds of years, and it was only in 2020 – amidst a global pandemic – when the world slowed down and we were noticed.”
“Do not just be enraged right now because there is not much for you to do. Do not stop paying attention and showing up once the news feeds die down. We create our own media, content and rage. Our persistence forces the world to watch and fight for Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah and all of Palestine. Do not stop talking about Palestine! We must stand together in solidarity, love and rage to condemn, challenge and dismantle all systems of oppression. We must show up, stand up, and speak up over and over again until Palestine is free,” the activist recapitulated.
Corey Balsam: I deliver this message of unequivocal Canadian Jewish solidarity with the Palestinian people
Independent Jewish Voices Canada’s National Coordinator Corey Balsam stated, “I am honoured to be here representing Independent Jewish Voices Canada and our 1200 members across the country, on whose behalf I deliver this message of unequivocal Canadian Jewish solidarity with the Palestinian people.
If ever there was a time to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine, to join with Palestinians and all citizens of the world who are decrying Israel’s apartheid regime, it is now. As if the situation could get any worse, re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is in the process of assembling the most far-right and illiberal coalition in Israel’s history. So far, we know that coalition will include the Jewish Power party led by far-right settler and admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshippers at prayer in Hebron, as well as another far right faction…”
Balsam affirmed that IJV is “part of a growing movement of Jewish organisations around the world that is pushing back and advocating for the human rights of Palestinians wherever they may be…We fight for the right to speak truth to power without reprisal; we struggle with our Palestinian allies to preserve spaces and opportunities to do this vital human-rights work in a meaningful way.
As Jews, we affirm that to denounce Israel for its crimes against Palestinians is to act in righteous protest against injustice. IJV’s task is to affirm and guard this political right so that the plight of Palestinians will never be forgotten; and so that the voices of all Palestinians and those who stand with them will not be silenced…
As I speak, Palestinian children are being targeted, detained, and tortured by Israeli authorities. Just this year, more than 50 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces, and countless others wounded. I dedicate these words to them: for they are the future of Palestine and their lives and hopes must be vindicated and protected if we are to see a free Palestine come to be – as one day we must.”
Mahmuda Khan: People in Palestine are thinking what’s next and who’s next. Is that the life we want for ourselves and our children?!
The CEO of Human Concern International Mahmuda Khan insisted on making it to the event though she wasn’t feeling well.
She recounted a conversation that she had with her Palestinian co-worker while the night before while they were coming back from an event in the GTA. Khan commended that co-worker for her strength and compassion for the orphans that the organisation fosters, adding that this friend says she knows what pain and suffering are, and that it shouldn’t happen to anybody anywhere in the world.
“I actually ripped off my speech this morning,” recounted Khan, “I called her and said I wanted to deliver the message that she had….” Her friend’s words were: “Mahmuda, just remind them that we are humans who have rights. We’re not numbers. We’re not stats on the news or for bringing up some sort of movement before the Parliament from time to time…”
Khan said her friend also requested that these questions be asked: “What was the fault of the two young boys [killed] today? One of them just went out to help his brother who was shot, and he was shot down, too. What was the fault of the three students who were shot in the summer?.. A few months ago, what was the fault of the 14-year-old girl ago whose parents couldn’t find overnight? They found her the next morning beaten up so badly… People in Palestine are living day and night in such horrible, inhumane conditions. Every hour they’re thinking what is next and who’s next. Is that the life we want for ourselves and our children?! Nobody should have this life in this world.”
The most disturbing part of the conversation showed that when that friend sometimes tries to speak about the situation in Palestine, people ask her why the Palestinians don’t just leave as long as things are this bad, explained Khan, “I was shocked; can we as settlers of Canada or any settlers in the world just go to the Indigenous community and say leave?! So why should the people of Palestine be treated differently?!.. I told her: ‘I cannot treat you the same way knowing how strong, resilient and honourable you are. You deserve to be treated better. You deserve what we all have, if not more…’”
The speaker then reminded the attendees that the charity has a lot of projects related to education, orphan care, health and construction in Palestine, confirming that “it doesn’t start with just charitable work but with speaking up on ongoing basis and sharing the stories of Palestine,” and adding that she’s flying to Palestine this month, “I am looking forward to coming back with more stories that we can share and more work that we can take up.”
Thomas Woodley: Some consider Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as the last gasp of the colonial era
Humorously making it to the podium, President of the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East reminded the attendees that the organisation’s mission is “to empower Canadians of all backgrounds to promote justice, development and peace in the Middle East.”
He went on, “For 364 days of the year, many of us around the world see many disturbing and horrifying things… We see Palestinians in Israel treated as second-class citizens. We see average Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem trying to live their lives, without being shot at a checkpoint or caught up in an Israeli dragnet…
We see Palestinians in Gaza, living under an inhumane 15-year blockade, trying to seek out a living and hoping their apartment block isn’t the next one targeted by Israeli jets. We see families in Sheikh Jarrah being forced out of homes they’ve lived in for decades and generations. We see Palestinian Bedouin villages demolished – sometimes literally dozens of times – because Israel literally refuses to recognise them. We see people in Masafer Yatta being forced from their communities to make way for an Israeli-military-firing zone. We see children who have to walk through Israeli military checkpoints to get to school…”
“Indeed, disturbing and horrifying. Unacceptable,” warned Woodley, adding, “So for one day of the year, it is certainly appropriate for the Palestinians to be able to look to the rest of the world, and to find solidarity, to find people around the world, Canadians, who will stand up for the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people, who are not willing to accept what is happening and will not be silent until justice is achieved…
Today, hopefully, the people in this room are part of this community. Those who will stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Some people may think that many of us are gathered in solidarity because many of us are Palestinian, Arab, Muslim or from the Middle East. But of course, many of us aren’t… It has nothing to do with that. It’s because we’re human, and we have common cause with those whose human rights are being trampled and disrespected.”
Woodley then remarked that “there are many other urgent needs in the world. There are many other places in the world where human life is not valued or respected... But we believe that the Palestinian people and their cause is in many ways unique:
It is long-standing. Many have been refugees or second-class citizens for over 70 years. Many have lived under a brutal military occupation for over 50 years. It has destabilised the entire Middle East region for decades as it distorts the political relationships.
Many consider the question of Palestine to be a test of the West’s seriousness about whether it really respects international law and human rights. Some consider Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as the last gasp of the colonial era.”
But today, we do what we can do, and that is to say that we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and will continue to do so as long as Palestinians are not free as individuals to pursue their hopes and aspirations, to travel where they wish, to live in the lands and villages of their ancestors, to elect the authorities who govern over them and to pursue their collective dreams as a nation,” recapitulated Woodley.
Back in 1977, the United Nations’ General Assembly called on the world to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People every November 29th (Resolution 32/40 B). Incongruously, the UNGA had endorsed the resolution on the partitioning of Palestine on that same day in 1947 (Resolution 181 (II)).