Palestine and Israel saw an escalation of violence in October, with the death toll exceeding 1,400 for Israel and over 8,000 for Palestine. Both sides are seeing global support, however, Israel’s decisions are met with much criticism from non-governmental organizations and communities.
In Waterloo Region, support for the Palestinian cause saw hundreds of community members participating in rallies, vigils and protests throughout October. The Toronto chapter of the Palestine Youth Movement hosted several rallies at Kitchener City Hall throughout October.
Two rallies on Oct. 19 and Oct. 25 started at the CBC office in downtown Kitchener and went on to Kitchener City Hall. Another car rally drove through the city on Oct. 18 and another rally demanding a ceasefire took place at Kitchener City Hall on Oct. 28. Other organizations held gatherings and rallies across the region including KW in support of Palestine at Waterloo Public Square on Oct. 10.
Attendees of the rallies showed support for Palestine and condemned Israel’s actions as genocide. They asked the government and the media to also outright condemn Israel’s role in the ongoing violence in the region. Speakers said there is the need to rehumanize Palestinian people who are being dehumanized in the media and in how the general discourse surrounding Israel and Palestine.
Suhaila Sabah is an activist and a Palestinian mother of a toddler.
“I want to say to the media that they have been painting Palestinians, and Muslims and Latinos and blacks with one big brush for way too long. They have been placing, or they have been sharing a narrative as us as a second-class citizens of the world, making us, forcing us to prove our right to exist,” she said.
Along with continued bombing, there is a food and water shortage in Gaza as a 17-year partial siege became a total blockade on Oct. 9, after Hamas’s attack on 1,400 Israeli citizens.
The attendees shared their rage at the state of their community but also grief at the lives lost, referring to them as martyrs. Family members of those killed in Palestine by the current slew of bombing campaigns held signs with their names and stories.
One of these family members was Iman Mohamed whose brother and his family were trapped under rubble for seven days.
“My brother, his wife, his son and his daughter, still since seven days under the rubble, because there is no machines. And there is it’s not safe. They are still under the rubble. They can’t take them out,” Mohamed said.
Mohamed continues to worry for her family and all people currently in Palestine.
“It’s one hour we didn’t hear any news for from them, then we think that they are die,” she said. “When I call my mom every minute, I heard so many bombs. Every minute in my call, I hear so many bombs.”
“There’s no two sides. There is colonizer and there is colonized; there is occupier and there is occupied. This is not a war,” Shatha Mahmoud, member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said. “You cannot have a war when people have been living under occupation for 75 years.”
Sabah’s son is three years old and well aware of his Palestinian identity. She said she wants him to be proud of his heritage, however, it is difficult for her to explain the violence and hatred being directed at their community.
“I want him to be proud of his ethnicity as anyone rightfully should be on his ethnicity,” she said. “[But] when he told me, ‘Mama, is someone going to hit me because I’m Palestinian?’…I didn’t know what to tell him.”
“I wanted to say no, but how can I guarantee that you will be safe when our government and our media is complicit and unequivocally support the brutal force that is killing his brothers and sisters in Palestine?,” Sabah said.
Community members from different parts of the region showed their support for Palestine. On Oct. 25, Sarah Siembida, a local Indigenous activist and writer, shared some of their poetry. They said that liberation and re-indigenization must include all Indigenous folks—and this includes Palestinians.
“Palestinians are Indigenous. Palestine is a part of the Indigenous community and that means that when we lose someone in our community, we all feel that loss,” they said.
Siembida said that solidarity is necessary.
“I will one day be asked, ‘What did you do for your brothers and sisters during this time?’. And my answer will always be, ‘I was there, sacrificing my body, shouting from my core, from the river to the sea, I helped Palestine become free.’,” Siembida said.
Quill Christie-Peters, an Indigenous artist, shared her support for Palestine. She said fighting colonialism in all its forms is only possible with solidarity.
“Although our experiences of settler colonialism here and in Palestine are very, very different, our struggle is interconnected to the larger structures of empire and domination,” she said. “What I am learning in this moment is that our solidarity with one another is not just important, it is the only way forward.”
“Anishnaabeg liberation will never be complete without Palestinian Liberation,” Christie-Peters said.
Robert Fantina is PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo specializing in Palestine and Kashmir. He is an activist, a journalist and an academic.
Fantina said students should be able to grow in a university setting, especially since it is one of the first environments people experience as they move away from home.
“It must be remembered that one of the purposes of a university is to provide an environment in which differing opinions may be expressed as discussed. A student’s experience in university is a time of growth being exposed to ideas and concepts that may be foreign to them in different from that with which they were raised,” he said.
Still, as an academic, Fantina said he has a responsibility to fight injustice.
“Those of us in academia like everyone else, have a responsibility to fight injustice wherever we see it. There are many places in the world today where innocent people are suffering from horrific and justices, Fantina said.
The history of Israel and Palestine is complex with many different and equally important factors. Supporting either side is considered controversial and some folks have equated criticism of Israel with Palestine.
“This conflating of two unrelated concepts is a clear attempt by Israel and its supporters in government to hide the facts of Israel’s constant, blatant and deadly violation of international law and its many crimes against humanity,” Fantina said.
Mahmoud said Palestinian people have been fighting since the British colonized Palestine and Israel was created in 1948. For her and other supporters, Palestine is fighting a system of colonialism and resisting ethnic cleansing.
“Our people have a right to resist the slightest attempts of ethnic cleansing. They have a right to resist settler colonialism,” she said.
Fantina said that if schools want to remain neutral in political situations, they must also refrain from taking political stances in general and supporting political candidates.
“The admin needs to be completely neutral if it’s going to try to stay neutral…if the school didn’t want to comment on what’s going on, that’s fine,” he said.
In general, Fantina also calls on the government to openly condemn Israel’s actions. Sarah Jama, who condemned Israel, was removed from the provincial NDP party and from Ontario’s caucus until she would apologize.
“Why isn’t the Government of Canada condemning this?,” Fantina said. “If Hamas is condemned for killing innocent people, why is Israel not condemned for killing innocent people especially when Israel kills many times more innocent people?,” he said.
Christie-Peters said condemning Israel’s actions in Palestine is of utmost importance.
“What could be more important? What could be possibly more important than doing everything we can to stop genocide in Palestine?,” she said. “I refuse to let my daughter inherit a world built on genocide.”
Ultimately, in their grief and anger, the attendees and supporters called for peace.
“Stop the war. Enough. Enough. Stop the war,” Mohamed said.
“Once you give the Palestinians the right to live freely, then you will have peace,” Sabah said.