It is an understatement to say that, during this past summer, tensions have been high. The Israeli carpet-bombing of Gaza exacerbated tensions all around the world. The other day, I overheard a conversation, which went a little bit like this: “You’re Jewish?” The answer was “Yes.” “Well you must be a Zionist then?” was the follow-up.

Jewish communities around the world are affected by the actions of the Jewish state. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, because of the continuous tension between Arab nations and the new state of Israel, many Jews were forced out of their countries – countries, which they had inhabited for hundreds, if not for thousands of years.

Israel was supposed to be the refuge for the toiled masses of Eastern European Jews escaping the horrors of the Second World War, but from the outset of its creation, Israel came to be identified as the banner carrier, the symbol, and the sole defender of the entire Jewish culture and creed. Thus Zionism, which in itself was a relatively marginalized ideology within Jewish communities up until the end of WWII, became conflated with Judaism as a whole.

Pseudo-intellectual generalizations of the sort, supposedly “common knowledge”, are very slippery slopes indeed. Today the general knowledge — at least based on my few interactions within the past few months — is that all Jews are Zionists. There is quite a stark parallel to be drawn between this intellectual fallacy and the myths, for example the protocols of the elders of Zion, which were at the forefront of anti-Jewish propaganda at the dawn of the 20th Century. Such generalizations were, and still are, the breeding grounds on which fascist, nationalist and xenophobic groups lay their eggs of hate.

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In France, for example, the Front Nationale is trying to create bridges between themselves and the Muslim youth, who are rightfully revolted by the events in Gaza. This is a recurring event throughout Europe in this day and age. The French comedian and political activist Dieudonné and his highly controversial gesture “La Quenelle” are but part of a cultural trend that manifests the rise of a new anti-Jewish sentiment, whose slogan is “Every Jew is a Zionist” and whose fuel is the civilian casualties in Gaza.

Subsequently, anti-Zionism, as a result of these neo-fascist movements, becomes synonymous with anti-Judaism, thus allowing the Israel hawks or the right-wing Jewish diaspora to categorize any criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic, which is a term I prefer not to use, because not all Semites are Jews.

On the one hand, every thing that is Jewish is seen as Zionist, and on the other everything that is anti-Zionist is seen as anti-Jewish. Even left-wing figures have been caught in this dreadful trap. George Galloway, leader of the British Respect Party, was caught equating all Israeli citizens with Zionists; although he must know very well, that there is a strong anti-Zionist intellectual contingent within Israeli academia and Israeli society at large.

Such intellectual shortcuts are dangerous, and there’s only one way to deal with them: going on a journey down memory lane. In most situations, in order to find solutions for the problems of today, we must dig into a past that has been, more often than not, purposefully omitted.

Before Zionism had the prominence and the global notoriety that it now has, it was a marginal ideal within the Eastern European Jewish community. Its main rival and anti-thesis was embodied by the Bund.

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The General Jewish Labor Bund of Lithuania, Poland and Russia was founded in 1897 in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was a socialist labor organization in the vein of the workers’ organizations sprouting-up throughout Europe at the time. Bundism — as it would be called — ideologically differed from other labor organizations, in the sense that it had the specific objective of uniting all of the Jewish workers within the Russian Empire, but its core principals and ideology were still based on the struggle to create an international workers movement that would uproot capitalist exploitation.

Bundism, was thus the nemesis of Zionism, because no dimension of Bundism appealed to any sense of ethnonationalism. The “Bundist” belief was that Judaism could be an internationalist creed, and thus the combination of international socialism and Judaism was a perfect match.

No wonder why, that, today, the Bund is all but forgotten, swiped under the rug. Zionism is a nationalist movement; a movement for the return of the Jewish people to the holy land. Parallels can be drawn between this ethnocentrism, which is at its foundation, and the ethnocentrism that serves as the foundation for the majority, if not the totality, of contemporary Western nationalist movements.

With the mounting xenophobia throughout the world, we are on the brink of a catastrophic head-on collision. Bundism is needed now, more then ever. A strong, inclusive, and tolerant Jewish alternative movement might be the dearly needed vaccination for our world’s predicament; not only for Jews, but for people of all walks of life. It is certainly needed in the current context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the media is constantly saturated with close-minded Zionist rhetoric.

The antidote to dislodging the nationalist fear mongering, and avoiding a deluge of hatred, is going back to the roots of an internationalist interpretation of Judaism.

During past few weeks since the start of the Israeli operation of and collective punishment against the people of Gaza, which was supposedly triggered by the killing of three Israeli teens by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas which controls the Gaza strip, the statements released by the Conservative government have come to dangerously resemble Ezra Levant type rants instead of thoughtful and thought through foreign policy.

In fact not only has this Conservative government lent a blind eye to the majority of the violations of international law that the Israeli government has committed during this military operation, our Canadian government has thrown its support and whatever leverage it has on the international scene behind the Israeli hawks, taking a unilateral position which favors Israel in any given circumstance or situation.

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Ezra Levant at the PetroCultures conference (photo Jay Manafest)

Unfortunately this neo-conservative stance is far from being a novelty. It appears that in the eyes the Conservative war room, international affairs is merely an extension of domestic affairs by other means, another tool to assert their domestic agenda and garnish support among certain sections of the Canadian electorate in view of 2015.

But as for all pre-fabricated position of ideological purity, this doctrine or approach to international affairs has it’s Achilles heel and that is the hypocrisy and double speech on which it is founded.

During the heated debate revolving around the PQ’s  Charter of Quebec Values, the Harper Government, much like Don Quixote jousting against invisible windmills, took the bold position to cut down the nascent legislation, using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the ultimate rampart against xenophobia and racism used as political vectors for short term political gains. But while the Conservative Government supposedly crusades against such intolerance and xenophobia on domestic turf, on the international scene it promotes its antithesis, an international policy which refutes basic human rights and international conventions favoring instead a Manichean vision of the world, rooted in profound demagogy and fueled by fear.

Other governments of the same vein through the globe have pushed forward Islamophobic legislation with the intent to preserve the sanctity of some mythical antique society, refuting one religious dogma for another in the name of secularism. This Conservative regime prefers to promote pseudo multiculturalism within its borders and support racist and xenophobic policy and segregation and inequality on the outside. Unfortunately, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

This government’s reaction to the suffering of the people of Gaza, slandering them and belittling them at every possible occasion as “terrorists” and “fundamentalists,” not the victims of Israeli aggression but the makers of their own oppression in some sort of twisted Stockholm Syndrome way, is but the culminating point in a decisive shift in foreign policy taken by the current regime.

On the African continent, the current Canadian government has allocated funds to extreme-right, homophobic and xenophobic evangelistic groups, thus aiding them in their mission to propagate the light of Christ throughout the world. In South America, the Conservative Government has lent their support, through enhanced free trade deals, to Canadian multinationals that run amok, with devastating consequences for entire communities, especially for indigenous communities resisting the violation of their habitats. Such a policy endangers their way of life and is pushing them to the brink of extinction.

When it comes to international cooperation in terms of climate change or within the United Nations, the current government has undermined much of Canada’s international status as a deal broker, preferring to sign alliances with the newly anointed group of “weasels”—composed of the ideological brothers of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada—and push for climate deregulation.

The hard right might not have found its niche with the Conservative government domestically, many on that side of the spectrum would like to see this government be more assertive with its social conservatism and push for the criminalization of abortions and the repeal of gay marriage legislation. But in John Baird and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have found a champion.

They are several types of power in terms of international affairs; the two main strains are described as soft and hard. Hard power is referred to as the usage of brute force, military force, and domination through physical submission. On the other hand, soft power is domination through cultural influence and diplomacy. Canada might have once had a strong stock of soft power, but today it has given up on both approaches to fully endorse the Ezra Levant archetype of Sun News power.

john baird ezra levant

This is a power that serves only the ideological purposes of the most radical sections of the Conservative Party of Canada and the vision of a planetary struggle of Ying versus Yang. Any pragmatism or rationality are sidelined in favor of an outright xenophobic foreign policy which asserts through the rants of it’s spokesperson—John Baird has taken the role of Ezra Levant in this case—that some human beings have more rights than others, some populations are more valuable than others, some communities have more a right to live a dignified life than others.

A government that is honest with itself cannot appeal to the high moral standards of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when dealing with domestic xenophobia and disregard such values aboard. Canada must promote human rights for all.

What better role could Canada play on the international scene than being the sole defender of human dignity and human rights, with the values and ethics invested in it through the charter of Freedoms and Rights. That must be our banner on the international scene.

At the same time as the Israeli assault against the Gaza strip prepares to shift gears, from a bombing campaign — that has had no shortage of civilian casualties — to a full fledged ground offensive, its seems as if the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) under the leadership of Justin Trudeau has decided to shift gears too, in terms of foreign policy.

In the past week the Liberal leadership decided through several statements to show their uncompromising support for “Israel’s right to self-defense” against the missile attacks of Hamas that have targeted several Israeli communities . This is merely another manifestation of the continued mutation of the LPC, which over the past year and a half, since the election of Justin Trudeau as leader, has shed much of its past cornerstone. Past centre pieces of the LPC brand are now regarded as relics of days past.

In distancing himself from a balanced approached to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Justin Trudeau has renewed a trend which has slowly been changing the LPC since the days of Paul Martin, and continued under the hospices of Ignatieff. But in many ways Trudeau went further than his predecessors, adopting a tone and rhetoric that could of very well been Harperite talking points. One thing is certain: in the space of 5 minutes, Trudeau shattered any hopes of a renewed Pearson peacekeeping outlook on international affairs.

20130401-081630-gBut this is but the tip of the iceberg unfortunately, when it comes to the Liberal “race to the right”. During the past year and half, very little Liberal statements or policy announcements have had an ounce of progressivity. From their virulent support for the Keystone XL pipeline and support of the Nexen take-over, to their silence concerning the cuts to CBC, Employment Insurance, Post Canada or their refusal to show support for a higher corporate tax rate. The LPC has done everything to prove themselves the worthy heirs of the Conservative agenda which has held power in Ottawa for the past 10 years.

A few months prior I wrote an article pursuing the following question: is the LPC still Liberal? In the space of a few months, the newly anointed leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada has had time to settle and put in motion their strategy to regain the ground they have lost over the past decade on the Canadian political scene. And their strategy speaks for itself, the rejuvenated Liberal establishment has decide to embrace in many ways the neo-liberal agenda that has been set in motion by Harper’s conservatives. After all, as the saying goes, when you can’t beat them, might as well join them. The LPC isn’t Liberal anymore, rather it has decided to shed that skin and embrace a new neo-liberal gown.

The path the LPC has embarked on is one of very high risk; it’s a political calculation that Canadians fundamentally agree with the “reformed” Canada Stephen Harper has been carefully crafting for the past decade. A Canada, which is in many ways, the antithesis of what (supposedly) past Liberal governments built over decades. In absolute terms, there is little to no space in the stances taken by the current leadership of the LPC for some of the most important pieces of the “Liberal” legacy. It seems as if this Liberal establishment has once and for all come to terms with the fact that they will put that legacy to the grave. Harper didn’t have to do it after all; they have decided to do it themselves.

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Yet, in recent polls, when asked what are the political elements that most define Canada, the pieces of legislation or policies that Canadians are the proudest of, Canadians responded overwhelmingly in favor of universal health care, a foreign policy revolving around the promotion of peace and the charter of rights and freedoms. The LPC has let transpire through their silence to the cuts to public services that they will not champion a rhetoric which will challenge the status quo and austerity measures. Much to the contrary, they will probably be at the forefront of the struggle to balance the budget on the backs of less well off Canadians.

In terms of foreign policy, Trudeau’s statement last week has completely written off a balanced approach. And through his criticism of his father’s plans for a national energy strategy and his promise not to open up the constitutional box of Pandora, a Liberal government would not make any extraordinary maneuvers in terms of Canada’s legal framework.

In terms of Indigenous sovereignty and instating a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations communities throughout Canada, Trudeau hasn’t uttered a word.

Canadians are struggling to come to terms with an ever changing political scene, and the damage which has been done to their country. Many Canadians have become apathetic about politics in general, which is more than understandable, but on the other hand many Canadians are ready to fight tooth and nail to defend the principles and values which have defined their perception of Canada and thus of themselves, and  I considered myself one of them. But to do so and succeeded we must first understand that replacing Harper isn’t the be all end all, it’s what and who we replace him with.

PS: I would like to extend my solidarity to the people of Gaza and recognize the death of thousands and still counting civilians, which have perished in these past 2 weeks and a half, may they rest in peace. It is my heartfelt hope that one day Canada will be at the forefront of crafting a solution with the peoples of Palestine and Israel which will ensure justice and peace for all.

A luta continua.

Canada’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict disappointing, to say the least. Canadians don’t favour Israel over Palestine. A recent poll showed roughly equal support for Israel and Palestine and more significantly, the poll also showed that the majority of Canadians are neutral towards the conflict.

And yet, when Prime Minister Harper recently spoke in response to Gaza-Israel clashes, he emphasized that unilateral “solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also criticized the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for her condemnation of Israel’s air-strikes, again re-iterating the narrative trumpeted by the Conservative Party- that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorists, and that any collateral damage in the process is ultimately the fault on the part of the terrorists.

No other administration in Canadian history has ever taken such a stance on the conflict. In fact, in comparison to the United States (perceived by many as overwhelmingly pro-Israel) and the European Union, (perceived more as pro-Palestine) Canada had the advantage of being in the middle.

Indeed, starting with Lester B. Peason’s UN peacekeeping mission during the 1956 War, Canada had cultivated a foreign policy outlook that often sided with the United Nations and pursued diplomacy, not ideology.

The Harper government chose to take a different route. The government has repeatedly criticized and gone against the United Nations, including voting against Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly in 2012.

The Prime Minister also visited the region in January of this year, and became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli Knesset, where he delivered the memorable line: “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.”  Conversely, Harper’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a little while later was much more formal and tense.

But what is the rationale behind the Harper government’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel stance when polls indicate that that position doesn’t represent Canadian views?

Academics think that the answer lies in domestic politics, not foreign. That is, there might be an electoral pay-off for the Conservative Party in adopting such a position. They can both console members of their own base while winning new votes from those who are frustrated by the other parties’ vague support for Israel.

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But then three serious problems remain.

First, the Canadian government’s foreign policy is supposed to reflect the opinions of the nation as a whole, and not just the views of a few strategic constituencies. The Harper government’s pro-Israel stance is quite simply unrepresentative of the views of a majority of Canadians.

Secondly, such a one-sided stance eliminates the potential ability of Canada to act as a credible mediator in the conflict. In a situation where the EU and the US are perceived as biased by one side towards the other, a more ‘neutral’ Canada may have been able to lead negotiations in a way that the others could not.  But given the rhetoric used by the PMO, that opportunity is no longer available.

Finally, on an even broader note, the Harper government’s statements on the conflict sustain certain toxic narratives that make this conflict so taboo and difficult to negotiate. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But trumpeting this statement alone, without any context or nuance, is simply dangerous. It does not educate about the conflict, and can instead reinforce hostile stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims as a whole.

Such a stance spurs on hardliners within Israel while simultaneously communicating to groups like Hamas that the Western World is against them- thereby forcing both sides to take on more uncompromising stances, making negotiations more difficult.

Sacrificing such foreign policy considerations in preference of electoral goals is disappointing, to say the least.

 

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Once again, casseroles rang through the streets of Montreal this Wednesday as hundreds of protesters gathered in solidarity with Palestine. Organized by Tadamon, a collective that works in solidarity with “struggles for equality and justice in the ‘Middle East’”, the manif converged in front of the Mont-Royal metro station at 5:30pm, and began with speeches from some of Montreal’s powerhouse activists.

The protest aimed to continue the global resistance against Israel’s siege on Gaza, but also put forth Canada’s and the Harper government’s implication in the issue.

Wednesday’s manif is the second in the past week in solidarity with Gaza. Another protest in support will take place this Saturday at 2:00pm at Parc Jarry.


On May 30, 2010, the Mavi Marmara led a flotilla of six ships and nearly 700 people across the Mediterranean Sea on a mission to deliver humanitarian aid to a blockaded Gaza.   The flotilla was confronted by the Israeli military, whose soldiers shot and killed nine people on board the Mavi Marmara.

One year later a flotilla of 10 ships and over 1,000 delegates from 20 countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the U.S., will sail to Gaza in late June.   For the first time a Canadian boat, the Tahrir, will be part of the flotilla, transporting 50 people, including Canadian and international delegates and members of the media.

Today, Forget the Box presents the story of five of Canada’s 32 delegates, their motivations and their state of mind as they prepare for a humanitarian mission with the highest of stakes.

The Mediator

Lyn Adamson

She called back to make sure there was no misunderstanding.   The 59-year-old mother of two wanted to ensure that her contribution to the Freedom Flotilla II was not being overstated.   Modesty and a penchant for calm discussion came through over the phone as Lyn Adamson talked about her role in the mission of the Canadian Boat to Gaza.

“I’ve been interested in social change all my life and I’ve seen how individuals and groups have been able to make really significant changes and that’s what I’d like to see happen,” she said.

Adamson is the co-chair of the non-governmental organization Canadian Voice of Women for Peace.   She is also a mediator and trainer in non-violent conflict resolution and will be helping to deliver a two-day training session on these skills to the Canadian boat’s passengers.   “None of us have to do [something like this] very often so I think we all need some preparation,” said Adamson, “this is different.”

Adamson is keenly aware of what happened with last year’s flotilla and is naturally nervous, but when asked if her children were afraid for her, she laughed. “My children were writing Jack Layton and one of them has never written a political letter before,” she said. “Politicians pay attention when something resonates with the public and the public lets them know.”

Adamson, a Quaker, said one of the most important things she’s been doing is trying to rally political and diplomatic support. “That’s our safety, you know.   Our safety is not us and what we do in the boat necessarily,” she said, “but it can be what is said and done behind the scenes as well as publicly before we go.”

NDP MP Alex Atamenko

Two NDP MPs had lent their support to the Canadian Boat to Gaza, but reportedly after speaking with his leader, Alexandre Boulerice of Quebec retracted his backing, leaving only MP Alex Atamanenko from BC’s interior backing the mission.

Parliamentarians from all parties have distanced themselves from the Canadian boat with New Democrats and Liberals suggesting UN strategies to relieve Palestinians’ suffering under the blockade and Conservatives calling the flotilla provocative.

Non-violent protest from within Gaza and the West Bank, however, has been garnering greater international attention recently. “What we want to do is bring some visibility to what Palestinians are doing,” said Adamson. “I think [non-violent protest] has great potential but only if it’s visible, it has to be visible and seen and supported and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

This will be Lyn Adamson’s second trip to the Palestinian territory. She was in the West Bank city of Hares with the International Women’s Peace Service for two weeks in 2004.

The Survivor

Having been held captive for four months after being kidnapped in Baghdad, it might seem unlikely that 38-year old Harmeet Singh Sooden would want to be part of a flotilla with an unfortunately fatal history.   Yet the man who was bound and imprisoned next to James Loney as part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams mission in Iraq and who Loney calls “a man of the highest integrity,” is committed and feels that certain principles need to be represented.

Hameet Sooden

“We are responsible for what we do and what we can do,” said Sooden in a matter-of-fact email.  He also said the privilege of people in Western countries confers proportional responsibility.   Sooden believes that part of that responsibility, and the message that he wants to get across to people here, is that Canadians should find out more about Canada’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Perhaps because of his previous experiences, Sooden, an engineer who works for a health software company in New Zealand, seems less anxious than his fellow passengers on the Canadian boat. “I assess that the risks are relatively low. My fellow passengers on the Tahrir are highly experienced,” he said.   “International media is focused on Israel and the fact that we are citizens of Western countries will provide us with a measure of protection.”

Still, Sooden admitted there will be risks. “Deaths are very unlikely on this non-violent initiative, but it is impossible to predict what will happen.”

The Canadian boat will be carrying medical supplies that are among the goods needed most in Gaza. “We are also carrying human rights defenders,” said Sooden.  “If we reach Gaza, I intend to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) doing accompaniment work and recording human rights violations.”

The Canadian boat also intends to bring back goods that the people of Gaza would like to export, though the blockade’s tight controls are likely to make these goods largely of symbolic nature.

Harmeet Singh Sooden was part of a Free Gaza flotilla initiative in 2008 after being denied entry to Israel, assaulted and detained by Israeli Defence Forces on the way to Palestine for humanitarian work.

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Santiago Bertolino and Marie-Eve Rancourt days before leaving to rendez-vous with the Canadian Boat to Gaza

The filmmaker and the lawyer

His father is an international filmmaker and documentarian so he understands his filmmaker son’s involvement with the Canadian Boat to Gaza.   It’s not as easy for 32-year-old Santiago Bertolino’s young son.   At only four years of age, Bertolino’s son has already come to understand the danger involved with the words Palestine and Israel, so much so that Bertolino has taken to telling him he is only going to Greece to save him the anxiety.

Marie-Ève Rancourt’s family and boyfriend are no less anxious, and though they wish someone other than her were going, they support her participation.   The 33-year-old Rancourt is uniquely placed, as a lawyer, to act as an observer and to document human right violations for the Ligue des droits et libertés, a Quebec human rights organization and member of the International Federation for Human Rights, one of over 150 organizations that has lent its support to the flotilla.

Bertolino and Rancourt sat side by side in the kitchen of a second-floor Montreal apartment on a quiet, sunny afternoon.   While discussing the boat’s mission, the pair also described the vessel they have yet to see.

About 25 metres long, the Tahrir is a former Greek island ferry converted to be able to take to the high seas.   With no sleeping quarters, the 50 or so passengers will share the space of the main deck to lay out sleeping bags and mats. “Everyone will be together so there will probably be a good vibe,” said Bertolino as the two shared a laugh.   “As long as we don’t all get sea sick at the same time, we should be fine” Rancourt joked.

At times nervous, the self-described “cinéaste engagé” and the relaxed holder of a Masters in law spoke with clear heads about what they are getting into.

“As a Canadian citizen I want to raise the awareness of Quebecers and Canadians to mobilize more people and to force our governments to play a more active role in favour of peace” said Rancourt. “For me, participating in this trip is really the extension of my civil engagement here in Quebec, which means being active in demanding greater respect for human rights in Palestine.”

“I’m going as a filmmaker, but also as an activist” said Bertolino. “So unlike maybe a journalist from Radio Canada, I’m not simply an objective observer.” And that will mean making choices.   “There will be moments when I want to take a position,” he said, “so that’s when I have to decide whether to keep filming or whether to participate in the non-violent resistance.”

Bertolino’s interest lies in what he sees as the changing nature of civil society in Palestine and what he calls the phenomenon of “people to people.”   “They’re trying to make links to the international community,” he said. “They’re not working through the Palestinian Authority anymore, so they’re putting aside their own political bodies and trying to make direct connections with citizens around the world.”

Santiago Bertolino has been involved in Palestinian solidarity initiatives for the last three years, including the Gaza Freedom March in Cairo in late 2009.   This will be his fourth trip to the Middle East as part of these initiatives.

Marie-Ève Rancourt has traveled widely in Latin America and Asia, including for human rights work in Cambodia. She expects to return from the flotilla even more engaged in the solidarity movement than before.

The Teacher

Robert Lovelace and the state of Israel were born in the same year.   Better known as Bob, the 63-year-old father of seven and lecturer at Queen’s University has followed the evolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine for many years.

Robert "Bob" Lovelace

A former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Lovelace is perhaps best known in the media for his role in blocking uranium exploration in Sharbot Lake, Ontario in 2008.   For his troubles, Lovelace spent over 3 months in prison before being released.   Now, even in the face of what happened with last year’s flotilla, he has higher hopes for the Tahrir.

“There’s always room for progress, there’s always room for positive outcomes,” Lovelace said.   He thinks there’s a will on the part of people in Israel and Palestine, activists and supporters of the peace process to move things forward, what he calls “restoring self-determination to people that have lost it.”

Lovelace’s stepfather was an aircraft mechanic who was working in Israel in 1948 and supported the creation of the Jewish state.   His stepfather talked to him about that time as Lovelace was growing up. “He had lots of Palestinian friends and he was sorry that the whole thing had deteriorated into this war,” said Lovelace over the phone from his home outside of Kingston.

A teacher of indigenous studies, Lovelace sees several parallels between the history of Palestine and the European settlement of North America.   “Many Palestinians left their homes to avoid conflict in the hopes of returning after things settled down and they weren’t allowed to return,” said Lovelace.

“And that’s certainly the case with our people.   As settlement took place in Canada our people were driven into the far bush, they were absorbed into settler towns and had to make their own way,” he said.   “They were made refugees in their own land.”

And despite his own history of non-violent resistance and wealth of experience, even Lovelace has concerns over his safety. “I’d be a fool if I said no,” he said. “My family’s anxious and, you know, we’re all concerned that things might get out of hand, but we don’t want that to happen.”

Still, Lovelace realizes that protest in Canada is not the same as protest in the Middle East. “We’re going into a part of the world where violence is far more normalized and the value of life is far less than when [aboriginals] face off with the Ontario or Quebec provincial police,” he said.   “There have been casualties among aboriginal protesters, but we’re going into a situation that could be far more volatile.”

Central to much of Lovelace’s motivation for resistance is the aboriginal struggle against colonialism. “Bringing an end to colonialism of any sort will always involve conflict,” he said.   “What’s important in conflict is for both sides to understand each other and for there to be a very high degree of predictability.”

This will be Robert Lovelace’s first trip to the Palestinian territories.   He plans to bring the real world experiences of the flotilla back to the classroom and his students at Queen’s University.

Photos courtesy of   tahrir.ca and Tomas Urbina. For more information on the Canadian Boat to Gaza please visit www.tahrir.ca