With the debate on free speech taking centre stage at Concordia last weekend, those wanting to know more about peace efforts in the Middle East had to go to McGill.
Neta Golan and George Rishmawi, co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine, were not allowed to speak at Concordia University last Friday due to a moratorium on issues pertaining to the Middle East conflict. Their talk, sponsored by the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, attracted a crowd of about two hundred people.
Not unlike the talk held by MPs Svend Robinson, Libby Davies and activist Judy Rebick, a location change was made in light of the ten-day injunction granted to the university earlier that day in Quebec Superior Court that prevents any events related to the Middle East from taking place.
The International Solidarity Movement is a coalition of Palestinian and international activists who take part in non-violent direct action against the Israeli occupation. A Montreal chapter of the ISM has begun recently, with the goal of arranging a trip to Palestine within six months.
Golan and Rishmawi are on a two-week North American tour, which will bring them to Ottawa, Vancouver, and Portland, Washington.
Flyers for the event read “Visit sunny Palestine”. As organizer Scott Weinstein put it, “We see ourselves as kind of a travel service, but with a practical component. A few years ago, no one had been to Palestine, but now tons of ordinary people have gone.”
Due to the lack of an international peacekeeping force in the occupied territories, foreigners have found themselves in a position to bargain with Israeli forces on the ground and get the Palestinian side of the story broadcast around the world.
Staying with host families in the West Bank and Gaza, ISM volunteers escort children to school, keep watch over checkpoints and halt demolitions of Palestinian homes.
Golan, an Israeli citizen, said she equated Palestinians with “images of violence” throughout her childhood in Tel Aviv. Yet after the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, she began questioning the history she’d been brought up with.
She began attending “dialogue groups” in Palestine with other Jewish and Arab peace activists. Yet despite her politics, riding the bus to Nablus would make her break out in a cold sweat, even after a year of getting to know Palestinians.
“I grew up in this very separate, very scared world where the Jews are the good guys, the Arabs are the bad guys,” said Golan. “Because really the reason they hate me and want to kill me is because I’m a Jew. That’s what I was taught.”
After the second intifada began in September 2000, Golan was determined to change people’s perceptions of Palestinians as “rioters” and “terrorists”. She moved to the West Bank town of Al-Ahram to help co-ordinate the ISM. She saw how the importance of international presence during the March 2001 Church of the Nativity siege, when activists brought food and support to the 200 Palestinians trapped inside.
Rishmawi, who also works with the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, was active in the first intifada of 1987. He threw rocks at tanks and saw many of his friends get shot. He was imprisoned for four months, but joined a peace march with both Israelis and Palestinians upon his release in 1990.
The experience made him change his mind about the effectiveness of dialogue and co-operation between the two sides.
“Since we are engaged in the conflict, we are part of the conflict,” he said. “We don’t want to fight the Israelis-we are resisting the occupation. But maybe there’s a chance we can fight in the morning and chat in the evening.”
Ian Sternthal, a Concordia communications student, was the lone member of the audience to bring up the fear Golan mentioned-that on any given day, out of the blue, a suicide bomber may attack innocent civilians. While thanking the speakers for their peaceful methodology, he asked what non-violent alternative Israel has to defend itself.
Golan had a simple answer: give the Palestinians some hope. Describing the calm during former Israeli PM Ehud Barak’s re-election campaign in 2001, she recalled that road blocks were eased and people could move around more easily. There were no suicide bombings during this period.
“There are two campaigns against suicide bombings that would be really effective,” she said. “One is give people hope. If you don’t want to give people hope by actually implementing international law, give Palestinians anti-tank, anti-aircraft weapons.”
A Concordia Connection
Fiona Becker, a political science student at Concordia, also went to Palestine this summer. During her seven-week stay, she assisted a Canadian delegation with the preparation of a foreign policy review and collected footage for a documentary.
Though she says she learned a lot by working with the delegation, it was personal contact with Palestinians that meant the most.
“My presence, if anything, was to provide an outlet, to put a smile on someone’s face,” she said. “I don’t think I’m a hero or anything. There’s a lot of people more courageous than I am.”
On Monday, Nov. 25, Becker and two other Concordia students will share their experiences with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine.
The video and slide presentation is tentatively scheduled to be held in H-110 at 6 p.m.