A remarkable conference

SHUNPIKING Magazine congratulates the McMaster Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) on the success of their national conference "Palestine Lives" held at McMaster University on March 12 and the exemplary manner in which they organized it. (See below for the report on the conference by SPHR.)

The question of Palestine in its different aspects was treated in a serious manner from the standpoint of providing authoritative information and developing discussion on a principled basis. Four Haligonians were invited to present to the conference; we were all impressed not only by the serious tone, comfortable atmosphere and spirit of the proceedings but by the broad and lively participation. The 165 people who registered hailed not only from the students and faculty but from across the generations. They included those who had stood against Zionism and US domination since the Sixties and before, as well as against persecution by the Canadian state and media. Adding to the life of the conference was the rich Palestinian culture, from the panorama of art -- realist, partisan and powerful -- to the sale of Palestinian farmers' olive oil, and the gracious hospitality of the Hamiltonians.

Organizing such a conference, working out the method and the social form is no small cup of tea. Organizers told us that they had gone in a serious manner not only throughout the McMaster campus but amongst all tendencies in Southern Ontario. The community came forward to participate and provide material support. The resulting atmosphere of unity and solidarity was unmistakable. Palestine Lives! expressed the social conscience of Canadians. Carolyn Parrish, MP for Mississauga-Erindale present at the event, remarked explicitly on the absence of the rancour and splits accompanying similar attempts to convene serious conferences of this calibre at other universities. As with the Halifax Symposium on Palestine, held in March 2003, the example of this conference and its method for defending the unity of the oppressed people against their oppressors will loom ever larger in the forthcoming months as the pressure against the Palestinian people to conciliate and give up their just cause intensifies.

'Palestine Lives!' - National conference in support of the Palestinian people's struggle


HAMILTON -- "PALESTINE LIVES!" was the title for the conference held at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, on March 12 to combat the disinformation spread about Palestine and to strengthen the Canadian people's solidarity with the just struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination. The level of interest in the issue of Palestine was clearly evident among the audience, composed of people from across the country, including representation from the Palestinian and other Arab communities, workers, youth and others. The event was hosted by the McMaster contingent of Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), a national network of campus-based groups organizing to inform the Canadian polity about the just cause of the Palestinian people.

The conference featured a series of speakers from across North America who made detailed factual presentations on a variety of important aspects of the Palestinian question. Wafa Hasan, an SPHR organizer, chaired the first panel. The tone for the proceedings was set by these opening remarks of Dr. Ismail Zayid of Halifax, president of the Canada Palestine Association, on the topic "The Palestine/Israel Conflict: A Legacy of Ethnic Cleansing and Dispossession." Dr. Zayid cited a number of sources to illustrate that the problem of Palestine, which has been described as complex, is actually quite simple: "A foreigner came and took our land, took our farms and our homes, and kicked us out. It may take us a hundred years but we will return." Using historical quotes, many from the Zionist leaders themselves, he demonstrated how the state of Israel was created by the forcible dispossession of the Palestinian population through massacres, psychological warfare and the outright destruction of hundreds of villages. Dr. Zayid himself was born in Beit Nuba, one of three villages that were demolished during the Israeli aggression in 1967 and which have now been replaced by "Canada Park," a recreation area funded by a Jewish agency that has charitable status for tax purposes in Canada.

Mariam Ibrahim, president of McMaster SPHR, introduced the second panel, "Disinformation on Palestine, Some Aspects of Its Modus Operandi and Our Response." The presentation was made by Tony Seed, the editor and publisher of Halifax-based Shunpiking magazine and of the Dossier on Palestine. Seed described the efforts of his collective to bring to light the historical truth about Palestine and described disinformation as "organized deception" aimed at negating the direct experience of individuals and entire nations. He pointed out how disinformation has been used as a form of psychological warfare to attack the worldview of a people and eliminate their ability to make sense of a situation. Shunpiking produced the Dossier on Palestine in October, 2002 after months of independent research in order to combat the disinformation which falsely portrays the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as one of fanatical people mindlessly killing each other for religious reasons. Seed said that the Dossier on Palestine was a response to a valiant people calling for help in letting the world know of their heroic struggle against the genocidal policy of the Israeli Zionists and their patrons in the United States.

Dr. Haresh Kirpalani, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University, chaired the next discussion dealing with the involvement of the Canadian ruling circles in the Middle East. Gary Zatzman, co-editor of Dossier on Palestine, revealed that the Canadian government has intervened in Palestine over time for its own imperial ambitions. Its consistent policy has been to deny the existence of Palestine and to oppose the right of refugees to return to their homes. In fact, in recent consultations with his Israeli counterparts, Canadian foreign minister Pierre Pettigrew questioned why the Israeli government did not simply declare the right of return to be ended once and for all.

Mostafa Henaway of Al-Awda Toronto explained that Canadian foreign policy towards Israel "follows the dollar." He described how Canadian firms trading with Israel have grossed billions of dollars through the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1997. As examples, he pointed out that Canadian businesses are building the trans-Israel highway and have provided telecommunication systems used in air strikes on Palestinian targets. Without this kind of financial support from Canada, the US and Europe, he said, Israel would not be able to stand on its own.

Sina Rahmani, a founding member of SPHR, introduced Rhoda Shapiro, representing the Media Committee of Al-Awda (USA). Under the title of "Right of Return: The Heart of the Matter," Shapiro affirmed that the Palestinian Arab people, regardless of their religious affiliation, are indigenous to Palestine. Therefore, all Palestinian refugees are entitled to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in historic Palestine from which they were expelled. From this point of view, Shapiro addressed the right of return as a concrete problem to be taken up for solution.

Melonie Fullick, another student organizer, introduced the next panel "Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Struggle" presented by Hanna Kawas of Vancouver, the chairperson of the Canada Palestine Association. In response to the repeated accusation that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, Kawas traced the history of Zionism and showed that it has always found anti-Semitism to be a willing ally in the Zionist project to encourage Jews to leave their home countries and colonize Palestine instead. It was anti-Semitic governments that the Zionists approached to give their blessing and support to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. On their part, the governments were eager to get rid of the Jews from their countries and, at the same time, establish a colonial outpost in the Middle East to protect their economic interests. However, the Jewish citizens of these states did not favour Zionism because they feared that it would deny them their nationality.

The Balfour Declaration itself was opposed by the only Jewish member of the British Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who warned prophetically that the declaration of a Jewish homeland would cause all governments to strive to expel their Jewish populations.

Sana Abou-Georgi, an SPHR organizer, introduced Carolyn Parrish, Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erindale. Parrish narrated a slide presentation of the visit made to Palestine in 2002 by nine MPs and several members of Palestine House. The images depicted the horrific damage done by the most recent Israeli invasions, including the destruction of scores of homes, schools and public buildings. In Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem, there was no garbage collection or water service, and families rendered homeless had been living in tents for months. Schools could not operate because students and professors alike were delayed by too many military checkpoints. Parrish claimed that she has been kicked out of the Liberal caucus because she tells the truth on issues such as Palestine. She warned that the "Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel," which was formed two years ago to influence foreign policy in favour of Israel, now has 10 members in the federal Cabinet.

Chadi Marouf, the National Director of SPHR, chaired the panel dealing with "Aspects of Apartheid in Israel/Palestine." Presenters included Adam Hanieh and Rafeef Ziadeh of Summoud Toronto. Each in turn demonstrated how, under Israeli law, Palestinians have been dispossessed not only of their property but also of the facilities of the state. Under the Law of Return, any Jewish person can emigrate to Israel, claim citizenship and become eligible for social benefits. Palestinian citizens of Israel do not do military service so they cannot access the benefits given to veterans in the form of insurance, education and huge land discounts. Planning boards restrict certain economic markets so that, for example, Palestinian citizens cannot grow tomatoes. Schools for Palestinians receive only seven per cent of the education budget even though they represent 30 per cent of the students. Most importantly, the Absentee Property Law has been used to expropriate land from its hereditary owners under the false pretext that they voluntarily abandoned the land and thus relinquished their rights of ownership.

The final panel "An Attack on Us All: Repression of Palestine Activism," featured students from four universities in southern Ontario, representing London, Waterloo, Toronto and Hamilton. They related their experiences in defending Palestinian human rights on their respective campuses. In each case, the activists had their efforts blocked by the university administration, the student government and at times the full force of the police. The repression usually revealed the instigation of Zionist forces on or off the campus. Jamill'e Ghaddar, representing McMaster SPHR, spoke to the systematic racism and repression of Arabs/Muslims by the Canadian government, including such measures as Bill C-36 and security certificates. These measures, directed at Arabs/Muslims, empower the Canadian government to deny such basic rights as the right to not be held without charge and the right to see the evidence presented against you in court. It is in this broader context that these attacks against Palestinian organizing should be seen. Dario Kuzmanovic, an organizer from the University of Western Ontario SPHR, described how his club had its status revoked after its display on the UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The group appealed and won reinstatement after mounting considerable public pressure on the administration. Hazem Jamjoum, from the Arab Students' Collective at the University of Toronto, described a similar situation where the administration at first cancelled a planned conference after receiving a complaint that it would be "anti-Semitic." The conference was finally given the go ahead after opposition to the cancellation was organized in response.

During the discussion period, Suzan Howard-Azzeh, from the Niagara Palestinian Association, spoke of her experience being attacked as anti-Semitic due to an End the Occupation march her collective had organized on April 19, 2002. The next day, the top front-page headline in the local newspaper, the Standard proclaimed, "Protest March Was The Worst Anti-Semitism" and characterized marchers as "holocaust deniers". The Standard followed with an editorial attacking the credibility of Ms. Howard-Azzeh. Ms Howard-Azzeh spoke to the financial and social reprecussions this had on her. She affirmed that it is very important to oppose the line that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is anti-Semitic as the worst form of censorship and for the sake of principle she has launched a lawsuit against the Standard under the Slander & Libel Act.

The conference concluded with the announcement that there had been 163 participants registered over the course of the day. This represented a great accomplishment for the youth at McMaster who had started the Palestinian solidarity work with a few individuals less than three years ago. Also encouraging were the many community and campus organizations that came forward to support this work in a variety of ways. Financial support, food donations and other assistance was provided by Al-Quds Restaurant (Mississauga), Basilique Restaurant (Hamilton), CUPE Local 3906 (Hamilton), Golden Dough Restaurant (Mississauga), Palestine House (Toronto), Shabab Islamic Youth Centre (Hamilton), Sam's Foodmart (Hamilton), Tarboosh Restaurant (Hamilton), USWA Local 1005 (Hamilton) and Voice of Mothers (Hamilton).

The entire proceedings were imbued with the energy and enthusiasm of an audience which knows that the cause is just and will prevail. The conference was considered a great success by participants.

Views of audience

Student panel

(L-R) Rhoda Shapiro, Dr. Ismail Zayid, Carolyn Parrish and Hanna Kawas

Mostafa Henaway and Gary Zatzman

Tony Seed, Adam Hanieh and Rafeef Ziadeh

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