Panelists Katie Nelson, Enzo Sabbagha and Jerry Gabriel discuss the feud between taxi drivers and Uber, the Canadian Parliament voting to condemn the BDS movement and Apple challenging the FBI. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Katie Nelson: Concordia student and frequent taxi passenger

Enzo Sabbagha: Concordia student and podcast technical assistant

Jerry Gabriel: Podcast regular and FTB contributor

* Uber v Taxi report by Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

I really thought I wouldn’t have to write this. No, scratch that, I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write this. Things were going so well since the New Year, the start of the election year in Canada.

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, it seemed, turned over a new, very progressive leaf and it has really started looking like they could ride it all the way to 24 Sussex Drive. Unfortunately now it looks like they may have folded back that leaf’s left corner just enough to cause a problem. And they did it by taking the bait laid out for them by the Conservatives.

Two Steps Forward

Last summer, when Mulcair made a statement on Israel’s attack on Gaza that sounded as one-sided as the ones Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau released, the party faithful wouldn’t stand for it. Members of the NDP base began speaking out, some even occupying MP offices.

Such a strong statement eventually led to a mea culpa from the leader which came in the form of a Toronto Star op-ed. While it wasn’t everything the NDP base had been hoping for, it was a much more balanced approach to the situation and one that didn’t leave Israel blame-free.

Protesters occupying MP Don Davies' office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza
Protesters occupying MP Don Davies’ office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza

It was good enough to shift the party’s focus away from the Middle East and onto more domestic matters. It’s on these issues that the NDP has, for the most part, excelled in offering an alternate view to the sometimes indistinguishable Conservative and Liberal discourse.

This year, we have seen the NDP, among other things, take a very important stance against Bill C-51, Harper’s so-called anti-terror legislation. Not only did they oppose some of the more egregious elements of the now-law, but voted against it and promised to repeal it if they form government.

Four Steps Back: Manly, Wheeldon, Natanine and Hyder Ali

Unfortunately, that progressive streak hit a roadbump back in July when the federal NDP denied Paul Manly, son of former MP Jim Manly, a chance to run for the party’s nomination in the BC riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Manly, now running for the Green Party in the same riding, took to social media almost immediately, letting everyone know his nomination was refused because of his father being on the boat to Gaza.

Last week, it became apparent that what happened to Manly wasn’t an isolated incident. After CPC trolls unearthed some rather ordinary statements critical of Israel, the party forced Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine who was running in Nunavut and Kings–Hants, Nova Scotia candidate Morgan Wheeldon off the ballot and barred hopeful Syed Hyder Ali from running for the nomination in Edmonton Wetaskiwin.

Unprincipled Approach to Principle

So what did they say online that warranted such a censure? Nothing groundbreaking, really. In fact, it’s the same thing the United Nations had to say: that in 2014 Israel was guilty of war crimes for its assault on Gaza.

To block someone from running under the orange banner just because they have voiced principled views on a subject many in the party, the country and the international community share is just plain unethical, paranoid and wrong.

It also indicates a tone-deaf top-down approach instead of the grassroots one the NDP seems to have adopted over the past year. Now we’re back where we started last summer with the leader enforcing his own agenda on a party and its supporters that, for the most part, have a very different point of view.

Not Even Good Politics

To be completely honest, a good chunk of the political centre in Canada, the so-called middle class which all politicians pander to, doesn’t really care all that much about Palestine and Israel. Domestic issues are much more important.

Supporting Palestinian human rights gets votes on the left and may lose some on the right. Coming out as a hardcore supporter of Israel no matter what the country is doing has the reverse effect. A politician doesn’t risk losing the centre with either approach, but Mulcair is risking losing votes on the left in hopes of getting some on the right, which he will not. It makes no sense.

I checked out the site MeetTheNDP.ca. The Conservatives put it together as an attack site, pulling gotcha quotes from MPs and candidates, but the attack really only helps to mobilize their own base. I read through the quotes and came to the conclusion that this site just makes me want to vote for the NDP.

Screenshot of Conservative "attack site" meetthendp.ca
Screenshot of Conservative “attack site” meetthendp.ca

Canada is, at its core, a centre-left country. Harper is an aberration of electoral math, his right-wing and sometimes ultra-right-wing views and policies are not shared or supported by the majority of Canadians. However, he tries to use the fact that he has a majority government to bait his opponents into mirroring his agenda.

Trudeau took the bait on Bill C-51 and has been relegated to near irrelevance because of it. Mulcair has avoided it and offered a progressive view of Canada to voters. But now, possibly spurred by his own beliefs, he has fallen for it and barred valid candidates from running under the NDP banner simply for saying things which quite a few Canadians already think.

What Happens Now

As I said, I never wanted to have to write this. This leaves progressive Canadians in a very precarious position.

I had actually been excited to vote this time, despite all the hoops Harper’s “fair elections act” is making me jump through. It was a clear choice, vote NDP or live with Bill C-51, a real no-brainer.

Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with Mulcair’s stance, or lack thereof, on Energy East, but at least he has chosen to remain on the fence until after he forms government and conducts a study on whether he gets more votes from Quebec or Alberta. Crass politics through and through, but I can live with it.

When it comes to Palestine, he’s not on the fence. He is forcing the NDP into a position that is no different than Harper’s or Trudeau’s and he is doing it with the party in full campaign mode, so it’s really hard to challenge him.

I can’t change my vote on FTB’s election poll, but I can do so in the actual election. I don’t think I will, though. There are plenty of good people running for.and working with the NDP who share what I believe in. I also want to get rid of Bill C-51 at all costs and while the Greens would do that and also offer a more principled position on Palestine, they are not in a position to form government and do anything while the NDP is.

While I’m reluctant to vote NDP under these conditions, I will do it. Unfortunately, I think there are those who will not, strictly out of principle. These are people who may have supported, volunteered for and voted for the party but just can’t because Mulcair seems to have taken a stand on Palestine that is on the wrong side of history.

I can only hope that the NDP fixes this problem quickly and acknowledges that criticism of Israeli war crimes is not something to sweep under the rug, but something to be proud of, as it is one more thing that distinguishes New Democrats from the Lib/Con slate.

To quote Katie Nelson, “When Global uses ‘unreal’ as an adjective you know it’s worth watching!” Yes, the scene in the Canadian Parliament a few days ago can only be described as unreal or rather surreal.

Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the Official Opposition, New Democratic Party (NDP), was trying to get some specifics out of the government about Canadian deployment in Iraq. Instead of responding to Mulcair’s very clear question, Conservative MP Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, brought up some statement an NDP staffer had made earlier about Israel.

Mulcair’s initial response, before calling on the speaker to intervene after a second non-answer from the Harper government, was priceless. Watch it for yourself:

While I’ve heard Muclair use sarcasm effectively before, this response impressed me for another reason: he didn’t take the bait.

That wasn’t the case a few months ago. Following a struggle with the NDP base over his initial statements on the assault on Gaza that saw office occupations, and culminated with a sort of mea culpa op-ed in the Toronto Star, a lone MP, Sana Hassainia, quit the party and blamed it on Mulcair’s recent support of Israel.

Instead of a simple statement acknowledging Hassainia’s resignation, Mulcair echoed some of the statements the NDP faithful had been criticizing him for, breaking the party peace he had just regained. He took the bait.

It’s not hard to imagine someone in the Harper war room taking note of that and concluding that if a random MP could get a rise out of the leader by bringing up Israel, they could surely do the same. It’s also not hard to imagine a memo going out saying something like: “If you don’t want to answer a question from Mulcair, bring up Israel, it’s a sore spot!”

If that was their plan, it failed spectacularly this week. It did not result in any NDP in-fighting, but Calandra has become the poster boy for CPC caginess when it comes to serious issues to the point that mainstream media called it unreal. I, for one, really would like to hear an actual answer to that question.

Mulcair learned his lesson. But that’s not the only reason he’s impressed me as of late.

A few weeks ago, after the conservatives refused yet another request for an inquiry into missing and murdered native women, Mulcair promised one within the first hundred days should he be elected Prime Minister. The NDP followed up by forcing a debate in parliament on the issue. Have a look at that, too:

To be fair, Trudeau also wants an inquiry. Honestly, anyone not wanting an inquiry into this is confounding. Trudeau is not prioritizing it, though. The NDP has the lead on this one.

Meanwhile the only thing I see in the news about Trudeau is that he kissed the bride at a wedding, that both of his parents got laid a lot, and that he has a problem with Ezra Levant and Sun News. I honestly don’t think he actually has a problem with them: hate from Sun brings votes on the left.

Sun, along with the rest of mainstream media, is fully on board the Trudeau versus Harper bandwagon, even though very little separates the two candidates policy-wise. Until recently, I didn’t really care, because Mulcair’s NDP wasn’t offering much of an alternative.

Now, that has changed. Now, the NDP is offering a solid alternative to the Harper approach on some issues. I’d love to see Mulcair reverse his position on Energy East, come out strongly for weed legalization, and against Harper’s re-criminalization of sex work, but I accept that he needs to start somewhere and this is a good start.

Many in the mainstream media say that Mulcair is a star in the House of Commons, but loses the soundbite war to Trudeau. Maybe, just maybe, that’s because in parliament, the NDP is given the respect and place in the discourse that should be accorded to the Official Opposition, whereas the media has already bought the Liberals vs. Conservatives angle as they have for years.

I could have been making observations like this months ago, but didn’t really see the point. Now I do.

If Mulcair and the NDP stay on this course and keep fighting the good fights, they will be giving people like me something truly different to vote for.

No, it’s not April 1st, no FTB has not turned into the Onion and yes, you did read the headline correctly. Stephen Harper is to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, that Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister responsible for Canada’s unprecedented shift of focus from peacekeeping to full-on militarization. The man whose administration ruined Canada’s reputation internationally and even got us kicked off the UN Security Council.

This is the same Stephen Harper who clearly isn’t interested in bringing any sort of peace or justice to the homefront, either. He’s set out to augment our prison population by increasing sentences for small drug offenses, re-criminalizing sex work and criminalizing acts of dissent like wearing a mask at a protest.

Clearly there are many reasons why he should not win or even be considered for a prize of peace. But, to be fair, let’s look at the reasons for the nomination, in this case put forward by B’nai Brith:

“Moral clarity has been lost across much of the world, with terror, hatred and antisemitism filling the void,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in the organization’s press release, “throughout, there has been one leader which has demonstrated international leadership and a clear understanding of the differences between those who would seek to do evil, and their victims. More than any other individual, he has consistently spoken out with resolve regarding the safety of people under threat — such as opposing Russian aggression and annexation of Ukrainian territory — and has worked to ensure that other world leaders truly understand threat of Islamic terrorism facing us today. ”

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear  “the differences between those who seek to do evil, and their victims” refers to Harper’s unwavering support of Israel’s humanitarian crisis-inducing assault on Gaza. Now even if your blinders are so thick that you feel this attack is justified, arguing that support for and encouragement of a military action makes someone a man of peace takes a logical leap much greater than the Canadian North, which, by the way, Harper is also trying to militarize.

The same goes for Russia and Ukraine. Even if you think someone is on the right side of a conflict, being on any side instead of working for a solution should automatically disqualify you from winning a peace prize.

War is not peace. Orwell’s 1984 was meant as a warning, not a guide.

So, while Harper clearly shouldn’t win, stranger things have happened. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he had a chance to do anything. At least it was for the hope of peace in his campaign speeches and not for his drones.

Unless Harper does a complete about-face on most of his policies real soon, I think it’s important that we let the Nobel people know that Harper is in no way a man of peace and completely undeserving of this award. Looks like others feel the same way. There’s already a petition asking the Nobel committee to reject Harper’s nomination.

This is great, but maybe we should go one step further and think of our own Canadian nominees for the prize. It shouldn’t be that hard to find someone more deserving of a peace prize than Harper. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments, or, at the very least, sign the petition.

We shouldn’t let our national embarrassment of a warmongering Prime Minister be celebrated as a man of peace. Even the very suggestion of such an accolade needs to be stopped and quickly.

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.

ezra levant
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.

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.

montreal gaza protest

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.

 

[soundcloud params=”auto_play=false&show_comments=true&color=0ac4ff”]https://soundcloud.com/forget-the-box/manif-solidarity-with-gaza[/soundcloud]

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.

It’s been in the news for the past couple of weeks, omnipresent in all most every headline, on every news channel, in every newspaper. Harper’s historic speech –in more ways than one– has generated much debate.

One of my fellow FTB colleagues wrote a piece that summed-up in many ways the shortcomings of Harper’s speech, it’s blatant disregard for the condition of millions of Palestinians in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, in the West Bank and Gaza.

The outrageous affirmation that Harper made that any criticism of Israel was ‘Anti-Semitic’ was seen as ‘little bit’ over the top even by right-wing political pundits.

Harper’s visit must be seen for what it is, it was the launch of his reelection campaign and that’s what is the most disturbing, that Harper and his neoconservatives used this visit to Israel to gain political points. How else could you explain the comments made by some MPs during the trip like the “one million dollar photo-op” or the huge cortege that followed Harper during his trip, made up obviously of staff and dignitaries but also full of political spin seekers.

harper israel wall

Now this was to be expected. Harper’s government is on it’s last legs, battered by the senate scandal. And as the saying goes when things are going bad domestically, take a trip.

Even the most ardent supporters of Harper must ask themselves one important question: was all of this out of love for Israel? Of course not, it was a political maneuver and it must be seen as such.

But this question also alludes to another important question: was Harper’s speech positive for Israel? If open ended conflict with the Palestinian people and Arab neighbours is the outcome you are seeking, then yes, this speech was exactly what you were looking for. But if even just one little thread in your body clings to the idea of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, whatever that peaceful solution is, then this speech trashed whatever little hope you might have had left.

But I will not enumerate in how many ways our prime minister’s speech was harmful for the peace process and for Canada’s international reputation. I’d rather focus on one of the most important points of the speech, one of those rare stones that has been left unturned.

In his speech, Harper made reference to the very important notion of ”never again” as he extended his apologies to the Jewish people for the Canadian government’s attitude during the Second World War and in the period after, where thousands of Jewish refugees were turned away from Canadian shores. Magically, whoopdiedoo, Harper is the best friend of the Jewish people… or not!

For me this was the most insulting moment of the speech, not because someone who isn’t Jewish made reference to this notion of ”never again”. Not at all. I would hope that all of humanity will come to embrace this notion. I was insulted because it was the height of hypocrisy.

When Harper said with a heavy heart ”never again”, he spoke as if it was a notion of the past, that somehow the atrocities of the Shoah and the Nazi Holocaust were an impossible re-occurrence. Maybe that is why so many persecuted Roma families are being detained in detention centers throughout Canada waiting their deportation? Maybe that’s why the Conservative government calls Roma and Mexican queer refugee claims bogus? Maybe that is why this Conservative government cut healthcare to refugee claimants and made the refugee claimant system tougher and more repressive?

roma rights canada

How can one apologize on one hand for the mistreatment and the discrimination of Jewish refugees in the 1940s and 1950s and the deportation and discrimination against refugees on the other hand?

The answer to all of these questions is that Harper doesn’t understand the notion of ”never again”. Not because he’s not Jewish, but because he doesn’t abide by the lessons of never again, the most important being that gaining political points out of fear-mongering and wedge politics is reckless and spineless.

”Never again” is a concept that transcends the past and the present, race, creed, sexual orientation, political affiliation etc… Never again means that persecution for whatever reason is unjustifiable and should be condemned.

If I was to sum-up what ”never again” truly represents for Harper and his supporters that have misused and mistaken it for something else, ”never again” is love for humanity and hatred against oppression, racism and xenophobia. In the words of Sub-Commandante Marcos:

“I am a gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.”

Inch’allah

Inch’allah

The absurdity of war, of a conflict without meaning, of barriers without meaning, of a wall. Seeing Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s film Inch’allah made me realize the point to which wars, conflicts, attacks, military invasions, are of no meaning to us, the people. To the people waging the wars, the army generals, the political officials, the presidents of states or of corporations manufacturing weapons, and the technology, software, networks, circuits and the fuel that support war, it is entirely lucrative.

What is war? Is it between two fighting parties? Between two armies? Between two peoples? Between two governments? Two, or more? The wars we see today, are they between armies? Or is it an army on people? Or, an army versus so-called rebels or militants? It is unclear to me.

The Palestinians, the Israelis. Are they at war? Do they hate the other? Are they different from one another as people? Do they benefit from the 700-kilometre, 8-metre high concrete wall, surrounded by a 60-metre wide exclusion area, and built mainly in the West Bank by the State of Israel? Who would hear of such a thing on the eve of the year 2013?

The Berlin wall fell; rather was demolished by German citizens, with their hands, in 1990. The wall was a barrier constructed in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic in East Germany, which completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany. The Berlin wall was adorned with people’s graffiti.

Is the separation wall erected in Palestine, by Israel, also there to block out something? What? Is it helping? Is it useful? It is adorned by outspoken graffiti and words that compel the imagination and speak louder than its politicians.

The film’s Chloé, a Montrealer, a physician, working at a clinic visited mostly by Palestinian moms and their infants, is caught between a friendship with an Israeli young woman who serves her state by guarding checkpoints and checking the ID papers of those wishing to pass; and a friendship with a Palestinian family, marked by woes. Man-made.

 Anaïs Barbeau-LavaletteI wondered what would send a young Canadian woman to a place like the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Why there? Does she speak Arabic? Does she wish to learn it? Is it the promised land of troubles? Is it her way of seeking redemption, or for being grateful for her life in North America? Is it a curiosity? A will to learn more about what is told to be complex? I don’t know. I am a Palestinian, and have not been. Am I ready? It is an absurd way to live. The checkpoints, the pain, the trials, the tears. It is all absurd.

Why do we do this? Why do we put each other through this? …is what echoed in my mind. This is not the first film or documentary that I have seen about The Conflict. But it struck a chord.

Was Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, the film’s Director, trying to show the absurdity of our wars, of our conflicts? Or, of the fighting and deaths in this place?

Being invited to present at Montreal’s Jewish Festival, Le Mood, is a privilege.

I am a Palestinian and Lebanese woman living and raised in Montreal, and who has been part of activist and community initiatives for the last decade of my life.

I met interesting people, angry people, and motivated and tired people trying to make a difference, trying to speak out on violations in Palestine and Israel.

I’ve realized that my passion is leading me to speak with Jews. To meet Jews and speak with them on the very issue that is supposed to divide us, to keep us in separate camps, in isolated camps of thought and preventing any agreement or seeing eye-to-eye.

I refuse all that. When the status quo doesn’t make sense I challenge it and I am not satisfied ’til I do. Until I speak with enough people and ruffle enough feathers, and invite people around me to take a look at what is and at what can be.

My journey led me to the Montreal Dialogue Group, and to Conversations initiated by Carly Seltzer and her team at Federation Canadian Jewish Appeal.

Sunday, Carly and I were at Le Mood presenting on inviting Palestinian and Jewish Dialogue in front of a full crowd in the tight room 7 at Espace Réunion on Hutchison Street.

We didn’t expect so many people. We didn’t expect so much love and attention. So many people speaking with us afterwards to exchange email addresses, shake our hands, give us wide smiles and warm looks, and mostly, to thank us for encouraging speaking to one other. “You are trailblazers,” one man says to me. As honoured as I am to hear this from a Jewish man about my initiative to encourage dialogue between us, I feel as though I am doing something so mundane. Difficult, and trying, and satisfying, like raising a child or a puppy perhaps, but certainly a part of life that we need to engage in to move ahead.

“I feel like we’re celebrities!” squeals Carly. I laugh and understand her laughter. It’s great to feel that people get you, especially when we weren’t sure that the Jewish crowd would be open to our talk to talk.

During our presentation, we had a tearful testimonial from a young woman who recounts a time that she attended a meeting of Jews and Palestinians. This encounter led to the beginning of a positive recognition between her, a Jewish woman, and a young Palestinian man. She cried as she shared how touched she was by this relationship. “Why should I hate him? He is such a nice guy.”

During the discussion, several Jewish people in attendance asked why Palestinians are a minority in dialogue events with Jewish people.

I cannot answer this. I do know from what some Palestinians said to me when I invited them to such gatherings: “I can’t.”

These Palestinians, unlike me, having not yet been to Palestine, lived and live traumatic experiences in Palestine and Israel. Checkpoints, humiliating experiences at Ben Gurion airport, the daily stresses experienced by their family members in operating a shop or living or circulating in an ongoing limitation to daily freedoms by Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

They can’t because it is ongoing. It is still there. Still fresh. It still hurts so they feel unable to talk with a Jewish person who they may or may not feel is responsible or complicit in the ongoing limitation of their freedoms and livelihoods as Palestinians in a land that is ancestral and dear.

I can only respect this feeling.

I do think that even when it’s painful, even when the trauma is ongoing, it is important to speak about it to someone who is willing, to at least an elementary degree, to listen because this Jewish person is there, he or she has come, left their cozy home and left their plans, to attend a dialogue event with a Palestinian.

We’re four women, three Jews and one Muslim (me), exchanging our life stories that lead us to engage in initiatives that gather Jews and Palestinians.

I listen to the three women around me in the bustle of Lafontaine park on the first evening of August. Each, in turn, shares their upbringing, their feeling about her Jewishness, stories from grandparents who survived World War II’s holocaust, their awakening and relationship to the word Zionism and to a place (or to a state) called Israel, and their comprehension of everything they have been told as 20-something-year-olds in Montreal.

It’s a gift.

Years ago, I would fantasize that I would be in such a gathering—listening, discussing and sharing with Jewish peers about their lives, my life, and about how we each feel about the turmoil called Palestine/Israel that we were thrown into involuntarily by past generations.

Voluntarily, we are each climbing out. Together. By talking. Seeking out each other’s company to talk about Palestine/Israel, what it makes of us, and how we can tear down the barrier. The false barrier, in my view.

I am Palestinian and Lebanese—with Kabyle ancestry—and a Montrealer since childhood.

I studied at Marianopolis College, McGill University and Concordia University in Montreal. I met classmates, colleagues and acquaintances who are Jewish, and they dreaded the topic.

It seemed that Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews and Israelis could not speak together about the one thing that ties our fate, the elephant in the room: Palestine/Israel.

Why?

You tell me something cannot be done and I will not let it go until I figure out why. Why can’t any two be able to communicate and be friends? How can two people be enemies or have a reason not to like one another?

I refuse fictitious lines.

In history, it is the same modus operandi: paint a people in a bad light to justify what you do. Palestinians are in the way of a Zionist dream. We were in Palestine, inhabiting a land quietly that was later chosen as a place of solace for Jews to seek refuge from the atrocities of the world against them.

You can choose a land, but what about the people there? Golda Meir said there was no one there. She was wrong.

Most of us—nearing 10 million Palestinians now—built lives outside of Palestine and Israel since The Nakba in 1948. We fled our homeland. We had to. The Palestinians in Palestine and in Israel are living the lives of prisoners, unable to move, work, live.

Back to Montreal. I don’t have a reason not to speak to a Jewish person. I increasingly feel it is necessary. Palestine and Israel depend on Palestinians and Jews in Palestine/Israel to speak with each other and the same is true in Montreal, Québec, Canada. Not argue, not debate, not get angry and emotional.

After a decade-long journey through conferences on the Middle East, I decided that the only way is to speak with Jews about this. What’s going on? What do they believe?

I realised that the similarities are astonishing. We are similar in our experiences of our respective faiths and cultures in Montreal. A Jewish woman raised in her family culture, dating someone who is not Jewish, growing up wondering what is Israel, how she feels about it. Me, growing up Muslim, Palestinian, Lebanese, Arab, in Montreal, wondering what my culture is, how it fits, how it can fit, how I feel about Palestine, how I feel about Israel.

We are similar. When we speak it feels good. When it comes to Palestine, Palestinians, Israel, the navigation to the dialogue is demanding. But worth it. I have scraped my hands a little, walked away exasperated, discouraged, but I come back. I come back to the table, to the discussion, to the living room. We talk, sometimes we stagnate, sometimes it gets a little tense, each tries to diffuse to keep the respect and the harmony.

Through this tug, we feel our humanity and desire to be in one another’s presence.

We need each other. We can only speak with one another. We can only learn from one another. If I don’t know about you, how can you know about me? We have to do so not just through documentaries and plays and films, but also through personal, live interaction that is difficult and worth it.

If you’re interested, the Montreal Dialogue Group and Conversations are two organisations in Montreal making sure that we meet.

*Photo from Wikipedia (Creative Commons).