Palestine-solidarity activists in Canada and across the world continue to organize

Global Palestine-solidarity was re-awoken with the latest Israeli offense on Gaza. The 8-day  assault resulted in more than 160 Palestinian deaths, 33 of them children. Over a thousand Palestinians were wounded, including 274 children. 5 Israelis were killed by resistance rockets from Gaza. The bloody ignited protests around the world, but they were not the only reason for them. Nor was a ceasefire the end of them.

Following Israel’s public launch of Operation Pillar of Defense and the assassination of Hamas’s Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday, November 14th, activists everywhere began organizing themselves to voice their opposition to the attacks, as well Israel’s ongoing apartheid regime. Protests were held in almost every major city in the world, across Europe, North America and the Middle East, including Palestinians throughout the West Bank, and with thousands taking to the streets from Indonesia to Egypt. 3 Palestinians from the West Bank were also killed as Israeli forces attempted to silent protesters.

On November 21, a ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and Hamas. The agreement is not unlike that reached in 2009 after the Israeli attacks that left over 1400 in the Gaza Strip killed and 13 Israelis. As history has shown us, a ceasefire does not mean peace. There can be no peace in a situation where Gaza is under a suffocating Israeli blockade and where the heavily-populated area can indiscriminately be shelled without any great repercussions to Israel.

Where I am now located, Ottawa, Canada, two large vigils and three large protests were organized in the span of a week and a half.  I was also in Toronto on the weekend where a protest was organized protesting the annual Jewish National Fund Negev dinner. The following are photos from both Toronto and Ottawa that either I or my mother took.

Speakers address the media before the march | 16 November 2012, Israeli embassy, Ottawa

When speakers were done, protesters spontaneously called for the procession to march to ‘Israel’s second embassy’ – Parliament Hill. In the spirit of civil disturbance, protesters took to the streets (“without permits!” police shouted to no response) and protested the Canadian government’s unwavering support for Israeli apartheid.

Police block the door to the Israeli embassy | 16 November 2012, Ottawa

Hundreds of protesters march, decrying Canada’s support for Israel | 16 November 2012, Ottawa

The protest lasted several hours long without losing energy. The “snake march”, a march without a planned route, traveled from the Israeli embassy to Parliament, back to the embassy, and back to Parliament, where it ended with a promise to meet again the next day.

Police attempt to contain the protest | 16 November 2012, Ottawa

Several hundred again gathered on Wednesday, November 22 for a vigil. Several speakers addressed the crowd, including professors and representatives of Students against Israeli Apartheid-Carleton, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-Ottawa U, Independent Jewish Voices, and Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG-GRIPO).

Hundreds gathered with lit candles to remember the names of all the lives lost because of Israel’s Operation Cloud of Pillar | 21 November 2012, University of Ottawa

The names of all the martyrs were read, followed by a moment of silence, then participants placed their candles to form the words “Free Gaza”.

Participants spelled ‘Free Gaza’ with their candles | 21 November 2012, University of Ottawa

Despite the ceasefire agreement, protesters continued to protest the siege on Gaza, the Occupation, the denial of the right of return to refugees, and Israeli apartheid at large.

Poster-making | 23 November 2012, Ottawa

Hundreds march for Palestine | 25 November 2012, Toronto

Hundreds march for Palestine | 25 November 2012, Toronto

Hundreds march for Palestine | 25 November 2012, Toronto

Following a rally of hundreds in Ottawa, a small group of protesters entered a large shopping centre, marching silently and distributing flyers. Before leaving the mall, the procession began to chant slogans such as “Harper, Harper, Can’t you see – Palestine will be free!” and “Gaza, Gaza, Don’t you cry! – Palestine will never die!” When they finished, the crowded food court began applause of support. The group narrowly avoided security guards before leaving.

Activists march through a central Ottawa shopping mall | 25 November 2012, Ottawa

Activists march through a central Ottawa shopping mall | 25 November 2012, Ottawa

Activists march through a central Ottawa shopping mall | 25 November 2012, Ottawa

If you are a student located in Ottawa, there are Palestine-solidarity groups at both Ottawa U (SPHR) and Carleton U (SAIA) that I encourage you to join – they are founded specifically on the call to Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS), organizing largely around the divestment of their universities from Israeli apartheid. If you are not a student, there have been recent talks about forming a Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) for Ottawa-wide organizing. If you are interested, please get in touch with me!

Guerilla theatre in the heart of Ottawa | mock Israeli checkpoint

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 20, 2012

Last weekend we staged an Israeli military checkpoint in the heart of Canada’s capital city in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli Apartheid and in particular with the residents of Al Khaleel/Hebron in their struggle to free their city. Al Khaleel is a powerful microcosm for Israeli apartheid practices all across Palestine:

Shuhada st in Al Khaleel has been turned into a ghost street for nearly 20 years now. Israelis and tourists are allowed on the street but Palestinians are prohibited.

500 Israeli armed settlers occupied Shuhada st in 1979. The 167,000 Palestinians living in the city have their freedom constricted as a result. This settlement is illegal under international law as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Participants hold signs while actors behind them wait in line at a mock Israeli checkpoint | Soha Kneen 2/20/2012

In 1994 an Israeli settler opened fire on people as they prayed in the Ibrahimi mosque killing 29 Palestinians and injuring over 100. Following this, Shuhada was closed to Palestinians, while settlers continued to travel freely and carry arms. Despite constant violent harassment from settlers, Palestinians are the ones subject to checkpoints, night raids, arbitrary searches and arrests, economic closure etc.

Palestinians are not allowed on this road, even if they still live on it. Palestinians still living here must climb down from neighbours’ roofs or use back doors to access their homes. In the area, Palestinians are not allowed to use cars, while Israelis are. Palestinians have also lost access to their cemetery because it borders Shuhada st. Since the second Intifada, all Palestinian shops on Shuhada st were sealed, and their owners prohibited from accessing them.

Shuhada street is symbolic of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements within the West Bank, a widespread policy of segregation, the lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians, and the Israeli occupation at large. This is why opening Shuhada is so significant.

Open Shuhada Street Day is coming up on Feb 24th and Al Khaleel residents are organizing events all this week. Read more here: http://www.youthagainstsettlements.org/upcoming-events.

Participants act as detainees to draw attention to the system of Israeli apartheid that obstructs Palestinian rights & freedoms | Soha Kneen 20/02/2012

Myself giving a monologue on behalf of pregnant Palestinian women | Charline Dequincey 18/02/2012

This is the monologue I read:

“I am Hurriyeh Mir’ieh who waited at a checkpoint for 6 hours before she began hemorrhaging. Finally, Israeli soldiers let her through, but said she couldn’t use a car. She walked 2km while bleeding before fainting and asking her husband to leave her to die. She lived but her baby girl died.

I am Samaher Zbaidat who was in labour when she reached an Israeli checkpoint but was delayed for an hour as soldiers demanded they go back and get an ambulance to be allowed to pass. She gave birth in her car and almost died when the placenta ruptured inside of her.

I am Bushra Sultan whose ambulance was deliberately stopped by Israeli soldiers and prevented from transferring her to hospital. She died at the checkpoint.

I am Maysoon al-Hayek who was having contractions when her car was stopped and searched for one hour. After being allowed through, Israeli soldiers fired at her car, shooting her husband and father-in-law and injuring her. Contractions were coming faster. Soldiers pulled her out of the car, made her undress to be examined, then left her on the street, bleeding and in labour. When she finally reached the hospital, she gave birth to a baby girl in the elevator. Her father-in-law was in coma for 40 days. Her husband died.

Between 2000 and 2007, 10 percent of all pregnant Palestinian women traveling to hospital were delayed 2-4 hours at checkpoints. 69 babies were born at checkpoints. 35 babies and 5 mothers have died as a result.”

More media coming soon including videos!

Virtual Statehood or the Right of Return

Many Palestinians feel the newest version of the bid for statehood no longer represents them and their interests.

Omar Barghouti

Some Israeli officials support the UN bid because the PA would replace the PLO for negotiations with Israel – the PLO represents all Palestinians regardless of location while the PA represents just the West Bank and Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY]

“The Palestinian declaration of independence practically constitutes a victory for Israel’s declaration of independence, and this is why Israelis must celebrate in the streets and be the first to recognise Palestinian independence, calling on the world to follow suit.”

– Sefi Rachlevsky, Yedioth Ahronoth, September 5, 2011 (Israeli writer who led a recent Israeli delegation that met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to go forward with the statehood bid at the UN)

“Palestine 194” is the name of a campaign called for by Palestinian officials to drum up support for their “September Initiative”, or bid for statehood, in the hope that “Palestine” would become the 194th member of the UN. This same number, however, has historic connotations for the people of Palestine. It has been etched in our collective consciousness as the UN General Assembly resolution stipulating the right of the Palestinian refugees – most of whom were forcibly displaced and dispossessed during the 1948 Nakba by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel – to return to their homes and properties.

Without any sense of irony, Palestinian officials who have time and again colluded in eroding official international support for UNGA 194, as the Palestine Papers have amply shown, are now appropriating that very number and using it in a bid that runs the risk of surrendering the right of return associated with it for more than six decades. This is merely a symbol of the far more substantive moral, political and legal bind that this Initiative may potentially place the Palestinians and their supporters in.

The “September Initiative” is at best vague and confusing and at worst damaging to the interests of the Palestinian people. Regardless, it is entirely divorced from the will of the Palestinian people, and those advocating it have no democratic mandate from the people to employ it in any way that jeopardises our UN-sanctioned rights.

Replacing the PLO

Practically speaking, there is no possibility for Palestine to become a full member of the UN so long as the US has a veto power in the Security Council and the US Congress and White House remain in full partnership (regardless whether the dog wags the tail or the other way around) with Israel, even with its present far-right government.

What is left of the initiative, other than replacing the PLO, one way or another, with the presumed state of Palestine at the UN? If this is not the case, why can’t Palestinian officials provide the people with concrete, rational assurances to the contrary to secure mass support for this endeavor?

And if the most parroted goal of having Palestine recognised as a state is to pursue legal channels to hold Israel accountable to international law, why has the Palestinian leadership squandered the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice against Israel’s wall and colonies? Why has it tried to bury the UN Goldstone Report on Israel’s assault on Gaza and, when it was forced to reverse itself, did absolutely nothing to follow up on the report’s recommendations, adopted by the UN?

The PLO remains the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinians, regardless of their location. This includes Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem); Palestinian refugees, both in exile and in historic Palestine, who constitute a majority of the people of Palestine; and Palestinian citizens of Israel, the indigenous minority that remained steadfast during the Nakba of 1948 when most Palestinians were uprooted and dispossessed by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel. The PLO, as such, is the embodiment of the Palestinian right to self determination which all Palestinians are entitled to.

The UN has consistently recognised the Palestinian people, regardless of place of residence, as “the principal party to the question of Palestine”, as the prominent Oxford University legal authority, Guy Goodwin-Gil, has argued. “It is thus the people of Palestine, as a whole,” he adds, “who possess the right to return and the right to self-determination.”

The September Initiative has left so many questions unanswered regarding how it purports to protect the representation of Palestinian refugees, let alone Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to defend the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Goodwin-Gill’s argues convincingly that, while the PLO represents, at least nominally, all Palestinians (including the refugee majority), thereby protecting our collective right to self determination, a Palestinian state cannot claim to represent refugees outside its “borders”, thus making their claim to the right of return and participation in self determination (both protected by international law) that much more difficult to assert.

Cognizant of the central role the PLO plays in the struggle for Palestinian rights, Israel has for quite some time been propping up the PA at the expense of the PLO, in a calculated attempt to circumscribe the rights that Palestinians can claim through the latter. The Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank closely connected to the Israeli establishment, has as early as 2005 openly advocated in a policy paper switching “the official Palestinian interlocutor from the PLO to the PA in order to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders”, to better fit Israel’s expansionist agenda.

The Reut paper accurately lays out the advantages expected for Israel from such a switch of the Palestinian representative, “The PLO, as the representative of the entire Palestinian People, will likely demand the expansion of the agenda of the political process to include issues pertaining to the entire Palestinian people such as the issue of Palestinian Refugees or Jerusalem; whereas the PA, if recognised as the formal interlocutor, is likely to limit the agenda of the political process to issues affecting its residents in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and, to a certain extent, East Jerusalem.”

Some Palestinian analysts have opined that we must endorse the Initiative and try, from within, so to speak, to contribute to its formulation in a way that can protect our rights. The obvious flaw in this path is two-fold. Given the lack of democratic mandate and accountability mechanisms for the current, unelected Palestinian leadership, no one can guarantee any significant influence on its decisions and whimsical adventures.

What have 20 years of the ‘peace process’ accomplished?

This September marks the 20th anniversary of the failed “peace process”. Hoping to escape accountability, especially in light of the budding Arab Spring and the related sharpening assertiveness among Palestinian youth everywhere, the same Palestinian officials responsible for this failure now want us to believe that they are going to the UN to advance the struggle for our rights.

Why haven’t they done so, one can only wonder, during the endless rounds of so-called negotiations, while Israel was busy entrenching its colonial presence in the oPT?

During twenty years of talks, used by Israel to cover up its systematic pillage of Palestinian land, especially in occupied Jerusalem, the Naqab (Negev) and the Jordan Valley, whole communities of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed or incarcerated behind a land-grabbing wall that denies them access to livelihood and land. Gaza was pulverised by an unprecedented, deadly air, land and sea assault and remains under a brutal, illegal siege. Racist laws have mushroomed in Israel, further denying Palestinian citizens their rights and aggravating their misery under Israel’s system of racial discrimination which completely fits the UN definition of apartheid. Palestinian refugees have remained deprived of their inalienable, UN-protected right to return to their homes and lands from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948.

This could not have happened without the veneer of normalcy offered to Israel by a pliant Palestinian leadership that lacks vision, skills and principles, and that has categorically rejected and undermined every form of resistance, including non-violent methods, as a means to achieve Palestinian rights.

Why should anyone trust this same “leadership” to defend our rights?

Moreover, as we have learned from the South African struggle against apartheid, diplomatic initiatives, even the most well-intended, cannot on their own restore rights or end colonial injustice; in order to win our rights, we must apply sustained, morally-consistent, effective pressure against our oppressor, both from within and internationally. Effective resistance coupled with global solidarity is the key to freedom, justice and self determination.

Instead of seeking to weaken Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid to compel it to recognise our rights, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during a recent address to a group of Israeli intellectuals urging him to proceed with his UN bid, declared, “We don’t want to isolate Israel”.

He assured his audience that, as long as he remained in office, security coordination between the PA and Israel will continue, in order “to prevent terror and keep the situation calm and quiet”. The spokesman of the Israeli delegation, notable writer Sefi Rachlevski, was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth on September 5 saying, “We are a group that fully supports [Israel’s] declaration of independence and the Zionist dream of establishing the State of Israel, and we see the Palestinian initiative a definite continuation of that.”

Palestinians have a right to statehood, but this is only one channel for expressing our far more fundamental and inclusive right to self determination.

Palestine’s rights according to international law

UNGA Resolution 3236, of 22 November 1974, elevated the applicability of the universally respected right to self determination to the people of Palestine to an “inalienable” right. Resolution 3236 “reaffirms the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including: (a) The right to self-determination without external interference; (b) The right to national independence and sovereignty.”

It also reaffirms “the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return,” and emphasises that “full respect for and the realisation of these inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine.”

A morally-consistent, rights-based approach to resolving the question of Palestine, therefore, necessitates addressing these inalienable rights of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Adhering to a discourse based on human rights and international law, the Palestinian BDS National Committee, BNC, by far the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society groups, has raised serious concerns about the September initiative’s safeguarding of the right of return and the PLO’s status, while welcoming international recognition of our right to statehood.

In an important statement, the BNC said:

“Diplomatic recognition must result in protection of the inalienable right to self-determination of the entire Palestinian people represented by a democratised and inclusive PLO that represents not just Palestinians under occupation, but also the exiled refugees, the majority of the Palestinian people, as well as the discriminated citizens of Israel. For it to go beyond symbolism, this recognition must be a prelude to effective and sustained sanctions against Israel aimed at bringing about its full compliance with its obligations under international law.

In light of the above, and inspired by the will and the power of the people which have  given rise to the Arab spring, the BNC calls upon people of conscience and  international solidarity groups to proceed with building a mass BDS movement … before and after September.”

Fatah leaders in the Nablus region of the West Bank distributed on August 28 a statement raising the same key concerns:

“The right to self-determination is a collective right of all Palestinians, irrespective of their geographic location … All diplomatic initiatives, including the initiative at the United Nations this September, must preserve the status of the PLO as the sole representative in the United Nations and protect and advance the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Prominent Palestinian civil society figures, in turn, independently published a statement (Arabic) that resonates with the BNC’s concerns above. So has Stop the Wall, a respected grassroots campaign against Israel’s wall and colonies.

At a time of Israeli impunity and intensifying colonialism, occupation and apartheid, a principled Palestinian leadership would follow the example of Mandela and Gandhi, leading the masses in popular resistance and inspiring effective and sustained international solidarity in order to tip the balance of powers – a necessary condition for exercising our UN-sanctioned rights.

Ignoring the will of the people and potentially sacrificing their basic rights in order to secure some illusory advantages at the “negotiations” table hurts Palestinian interests and endangers the great advances our popular and civil struggle has achieved to date, particularly as a result of the global BDS movement. It would in effect reduce the Arab Spring to a Palestinian autumn.

Going to the UN should be strongly supported by all Palestinians – and, consequently, by solidarity groups worldwide – if done by a trusted, democratically elected, accountable leadership and if it expressly represents the will of the Palestinian people and our collective right to self determination.

Alas, neither condition is met in the current “September Initiative,” which may end up replacing the “194” we’ve always struggled to implement with a “194” that is little more than another irresponsible leap away from accountability and from the inevitable repercussions of the sweeping Arab Spring.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian analyst and human rights activist based in Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera