I’ve been trying to find the space and time to process what my trip through Canada was like. I spent almost two weeks lecturing at various Canadian universities in Ontario and Quebec and it was such a richly, intense experience that I have had a difficult time putting it into words.
The organization that brought me to Canada, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), is comprised of tireless students who on top of work and school do some incredible work on their campuses and in their communities to educate and build a movement that would lead to a Palestinian state (of course, with the right of return for refugees!). The movement of students and the organizing I saw crossed so many solidarity lines that showed me what reciprocal political solidarity could look like if we had this in the U.S. Six Nations, Ethiopian, African American, Guatemalan, Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, Indian people among others are working together on various human right issues from Palestine to Canadian indigenous rights to campaigns about homelessness and no one is illegal. It was just overwhelming to see all of this political work as well as alternative information, media, and cultural/political spaces to nurture this work.
It was especially amazing to hear about the solidarity work that Palestinians and Six Nations are doing in Canada. On my first walk around Montreal I was told stories of how the Mohawk tribe was removed from the land that became McGill University, the space where I gave my first talk about Nahr el Bared. The picture above is of a tiny monument commemorating the Mohawk Nation on campus; it was difficult to see it up close in the snow and at night, but it was remarkable to see that McGill chose to acknowledge whose land that university was founded upon if only to make light of it with this rock. While we were walking around campus I also learned that the word Canada comes from an indigenous word “kanata.” When the white folks first came to colonize there was a miscommunication and one of the white men asked the name of the mountain, but the indigenous man didn’t understand and just saw where he was pointing so he replied “kanata.” Kanata means “my village.” How ironic that the country was later named this. I spent a lot of time exploring various aspects of indigenous contexts while in Canada and found that the organizing and political work there is far more willing to challenge the nation state on a variety of issues. I found tons of efforts to reclaim indigenous languages, including beautiful bilingual children’s books many of which are about the residential schools that Six Nations children are forced to go to (a reminder that the narrative of Zitkala-Sa is not quite so far behind us). But there seems to be a concerted effort aimed at resistance, which is amazing to know.
Universities in Montreal, particularly Concordia, have been made famous in recent years for other reasons, however. Apparently the venue of my talk was partially related to this history. Ever since student activists successfully shut down former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, as a result, prevented him from speaking on campus, the subject of Palestine or the Middle East has been under scrutiny. A novel by David Bernans called North of 9/11 tells this story. It’s a long, complex story, but suffice it to say that students who protested were expelled. Apparently there are a few documentaries about it, though none of them accurately portraying what happened on campus. The Zionists on Canadian university campuses seem to be pushing the envelope, but in the end, they don’t seem to be winning. Al hamdulilah. And yet there are still sites of struggle. At Concordia the Hillel seems to be allowed to recruit for the Nahal Brigade, which is essentially like recruiting for a foreign army. Even the army and police cannot recruit on university campuses in Canada, but somehow Jews get special treatment and side step even state laws. Some of the administrations on campuses put pressure on the SPHR chapters to collaborate with the Jewish organizations, but SPHR devised a brilliant strategy to avoid this: they said they would be happy to work with any group that would be willing to sign a statement saying they support the Geneva Conventions in their entirety. Of course, each time this happened the Jewish campus groups refused to sign so there has not been such collaboration (though I saw unfortunate signs of collaboration at the University of Ottowa). Instead of signing a document that codifies international humanitarian law, Zionist organizations like B’nai B’rith sends death threats to Palestinian students. One such incident involved Irv Rubin of the terrorist organization with the lovely ironic name that gives it cover, the Jewish Defense League, the organization and man responsible for the murder of Alex Odeh in 1985 in Los Angeles. He was arrested and it was discovered at that time that SPHR was on his list of bombing targets. But all of this violence targeting students supporting justice in Palestine demonstrates the real progress being made in Canada. Case in point: a judge in a case, I believe known as Hill v. Concordia Student Union, stated in a precedent setting ruling that the critique of the state of Israel does not equal anti-Semitism.
One sign that things were different in Canada was also the amazing Israel Apartheid Week activities all over the country. I got to participate in some of them including a protest march against the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Voices for Palestine: Resistance to Racism and Apartheid. There were amazing spoken word poets and hip hop artists at the latter event and the energy of each of these poets and activists filled me with joy. To retaliate, Jewish clubs on campus pressured various universities last week. McMaster University decided to take the course of denying academic freedom, like its neighbors south of the border, and banned the phrase “Israeli apartheid” on campus. At the University of Western Ontario students and faculty are working to fight its university president’s acceptance of the Negev Award from the Jewish National Fund.
While there is some reaction by various Zionist forces to activism in Canada, it appears to be that they are reacting to Palestine solidarity activists rather than the other way around, which was a refreshing change. We need to inject some of this energy into the U.S. by having more student organizing that runs across our northern border more fluidly. We have a lot to learn from our neighbors up north.