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May 21, 2013

A Canadian commemoration of the Nakba

The Canadian Charger

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Last week on May 15, the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, the disaster that befell Palestinians when Israel was founded Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) held a demonstration at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa. This was followed by another on Parliament Hill on May 18.

Some 150 people turned out on Parliament Hill to show support for Palestine, to hear speakers, and to join in chants.  Halimah Sallam was one of those taking part.  “I come from a refugee camp in Jordan,” she said.  “I was born in the West Bank.  My parents fled with us to Jordan in fear because of the Qibya massacre.  Our village was nearby.” 

Another Palestinian, Dr. Thaer Elrefai, was a child in 1948 when his family fled to Lebanon.  In 1982, Israel engaged in a massive bombing campaign in Lebanon.  Some of their bombs destroyed his family home.  “We were refugees again,” he commented.  “Palestinians are still living in refugee camps—65 years later.”

The Canadian Charger asked Peter Lawson, a CJPME activist, about the importance of commemorations such as this.  “Very few Canadians are aware of the Nakba,” he said.  “We need to know what happened as a start for resolution of the problem.” 

An Ottawa CJPME leader, Grafton Ross, spoke of the 700,000 Palestinians driven from their homes by the Nakba.  “We are here,” he said, “to protest the continuing injustice of the occupation, oppression, statelessness, and exile.” 

“65 years ago,” he continued, “Palestinians owned 94% of their land.  Today, Palestinians have less than 12% of their land and it is disconnected and occupied.  Today, nearly 600,000 Israelis have settled in illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Today, an illegal wall snakes through the occupied territories, severing Palestinians from their lands, schools, hospitals, and places of work—an ugly scar on the land that can be seen from outer space.  Today, over 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees—one-third of them languishing in camps under appalling conditions—await their United Nations-guaranteed right to return peacefully to their homes.”  CJPME also condemns the ongoing seizure of Palestinian property, the eviction of Palestinian homes to house Jews, and the widespread demolition of Palestinian homes.

A Jewish perspective was provided by Tyler Levitan, the Campaign Coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices, who told the crowd about the brainwashing that Jews have experienced.

“More and more Jews are realizing that the historical narrative that has been dominant in Jewish culture and education is based on a national mythology.  I was taught at my Jewish elementary school in Ottawa that Israel’s behavior historically has been based on a need for security from its Arab neighbors.  The framing of the situation was one that focused only on Israel and the surrounding countries, without any acknowledgement of the Palestinian people.  On maps I was given as a child, Israel was portrayed as existing from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with no trance of Palestine’s existence.”

His experience is part and parcel of the mythology that persists.  “The attempt to erase the presence and existence of an entire people,” he continued,” is exactly what the Zionist leadership had thought to do.  Their goal was to remove the Palestinian Arab presence in the land, and to have these refugees assimilated into the surrounding Arab countries.”  Independent Jewish Voices rejects this genocide.  “As Jews of conscience, we stand in solidarity with your struggle.”

The speakers urged that Canada abandon its one-sided support of Israel.  “Canada used to be a peacemaker,” noted Elrefai.

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