Vancouver, with its snowboarders and kayak tours and great produce and Benetton ad-inspired hipster scene, can seem on the surface a little removed from “global issues”. Issues such as Israel’s bombing of Gaza these last few days. Not to mention the worldwide fury stirred by conflict in the Holy Land.
But, for a primer on Vancouver’s connection to the “big picture”, you couldn’t beat this afternoon’s (December 29) pro-Palestinian protest on West Hastings Street.
Palestinian flags were out in force. So were those of Israel, across the street at the small counter-demonstration. The rhetoric was exact, pungent, fierce, furious, and emotional. Speaker after speaker encouraged the 250-strong crowd to shout.
“Free, free Palestine,” Omar Shaban, vice president of the Canadian Arab Federation, chanted. The crowd returned, “Free, free Palestine.”
Demonstrators also chanted:
“Stop the bombing, stop the siege. Stop the bombing, stop the hate.”
“Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine.”
“From Canada to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”
“Free, free Palestine. Long live Palestine.”
“Long live the intifada. Long live the resistance.”
“Justice for Palestine. Freedom for Palestine.”
“Viva, viva intifada.”
“Occupation is a crime. Israel out of Palestine.”
“Fight the power, turn the tide. End Israeli apartheid.”
“I want all the Zionists to hear you. Viva, viva intifada. Long live Palestine.”
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free.”
Many of the demonstrators were in their teens and 20s.
Asif Husain, who attended the event to represent Muslim solidarity, explained to the Straight why he supports Hamas.
“They’re in a difficult position,” he said. “There is no solution to the peace problem so far. Sixty years have gone by with no end in sight.”
Across the street, a yarmulke-bedecked Stephen Burgher agreed there is no obvious solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“They [Palestinians] want to be ”˜free to the sea’ so they want no Israel left,” he said. “I don’t think anyone over here is calling for the destruction of Palestine. For peace, you’ve got to start off with somebody who’s a partner. You’ve got to start off with someone who is willing to talk to you about coexistence. If they want to destroy you, it’s not negotiation time; it’s war time. And I think it’s necessary, it’s sad to say.”
Hanna Kawas of the Canada Palestine Association blamed the ongoing conflict on the United Nations and the U.S.
“Yesterday was the 43rd veto in support of Israel,” Kawas said. “No other country in the world has been protected as Israel. And they’re doing it basically to cover the war crimes of the Israeli government. The U.S. is complicit in these war crimes. The M16s are American, the ammunition is American, and Israelis doing it on behalf of the U.S. Without them, Israel doesn’t exist.”
If those who turned up at the demonstration proved that some Canadians are vehemently engaged, the flip side is also true.
Erika Del Carmen Fuchs blamed the relatively small turn-out at today’s demonstration on a listless Canadian public. She normally works with Justicia for Migrant Workers B.C., but spoke on behalf of herself only.
“In many parts of the world, the struggles of Palestine is very important to people,” Del Carmen Fuchs told the Straight, mentioning Latin America and Mexico’s Zapatista movement, specifically.
“Exploited people feel that instinct of connection. Here, we’ve been lulled into complacency....It seems that when you are aware of your own exploitation you act in solidarity with other people. Here, we go shopping on Boxing Day, even though there are many people who are suffering here. Many new immigrants, people of colour that have lived here for decades, the First Nations population, the migrant workers, a growing poverty in the working class—we’re all turning a blind eye to that. We all need to be more aware of our own oppression. When you recognize your own oppression, you act in solidarity with others.”
Again, the opposite of listless was represented on West Hastings Street.
At the end of the demonstration, when the crowd dissipated into the sleet, Husain found Shaban and said: “You should have mentioned jihad. It’s the only way.”