Thursday, July 07, 2016

Speaking at a Rally for Palestine

On July 2, I spoke at a rally for Palestine. This time, I was speaking strictly for myself, and not on behalf of any organization. Although it was organized to recognize the controversial Al Quds Day (an observance for Palestine originally started in Iran), I was very impressed that most of the speakers were saying that this was a day to recognize all of the oppressed and occupied peoples of the world, including our own First Nations. While I was specifically asked to speak about BDS and the situation involving access to water in the West Bank, I also acknowledged that I disagree with violence on either side of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. It was a peaceful and respectful gathering, and while I was at first conflicted about speaking there, I was glad afterwards that I did. Below is my speech and a video from the event.
My name is Paula and I am not speaking on behalf of any organization: I am simply speaking as a Jewish citizen who believes that the occupation of Palestine must end. Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing. Despite the efforts of organizations like B'nai B'rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs that claim to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community, there is growing concern among Jewish people in Canada and beyond about the actions of the Israeli government and its human rights atrocities aimed at the Palestinians. I say: not in my name!

An end to the occupation is needed for a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East. The occupation, besides being illegal and immoral, does not allow either the Palestinians or the Israelis to live in peace and risks continued escalations of violence against both peoples – not to mention the horrific human rights abuses that the Palestinian people must face every day.

Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions, better known as BDS, is one tactic to protest the occupation. BDS targets companies and products produced in Israel, particularly in the Occupied Territories. The BDS movement has come under fire this year by the Canadian government, which passed a motion in Parliament to condemn those who support BDS and reject it. As a peace activist, I fear that such a motion is a slippery slope to delegitimize people and organizations for their political beliefs. BDS is a peaceful, non-violent means of protest – it is, in fact, simply a conscious act of refraining from something - that takes both a political and moral stand. For the government to condemn people for their beliefs is overstepping boundaries in a way that has no place in a democratic society.

As a Jewish person, my spiritual practise includes tikkun 'olam, which means healing or repairing the world. Our faith and history teach us that we must stand up in the face of injustice. When it comes to the plight of the Palestinian people, the word “injustice” barely begins to cover it. The latest outrage concerns allegations that the main supply of water to Palestinian towns and cities such as Jenin, several Nablus villages, and surrounding areas was manipulated during the holy month of Ramadan. The executive director of a Palestinian NGO focused on water and sanitation issues reported to Al Jazeera that some areas had not received water for more than 40 days, with families having to live on two, three, or 10 litres per capita per day.

Water is a basic human right. According to the UN, 7.5 litres per person, per day is the minimum requirement for most people, but areas of Palestine reach more than 35 degrees Celcius in temperature, so much more is needed. As also reported on Al Jazeera, Israelis, including settlers, consume five times more water than Palestinians in the West Bank: 350 litres per person per day in Israel compared with 60 litres per day in the West Bank. According to Amnesty International, almost 200,00 Palestinians in the West Bank do not have access to running water, and require permission before collecting it themselves.

Getting back to my stance as a Jewish person of conscience, I have been accused of being a “self-hating Jew” and someone even once asked me why I hate Israel. For the record, I don't hate Israel – I have never said that in any discourse, publicly or otherwise. For the record, any senseless deaths of anyone saddens me, and I don't believe that acts of violence accomplish anything except beget more violence. Ending the occupation will save lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, and is the only path leading to a just and lasting peace.

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