Imagine this: Granville Island being closed off to the rest of the world with no means of getting out or bringing in food, water, and other humanitarian aid. Your living situation has become intolerable – in fact – Granville Island has become your prison.
This is one of several descriptions and statistics written in leaflets by Jon Turnbull, husband of Karen DeVito, a Vancouverite who has participated in several human rights and anti-war efforts and was recently one of several Canadians on the Canadian boat Tahrir that headed to Gaza.
The leaflets were recently handed out to the many tourists and shoppers at Granville Island in order to give the people of Vancouver a glimpse of the daily struggle of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
Hanna Kawas, the chair of the Canada Palestine Association (CPA) has compared the plight of the Palestinian people and the occupation of their land to that of the indigenous people of Canada. He also hosts an independent radio show called, Voice of Palestine, which he says is “committed to bringing the neglected voice of the Palestinian people to the Canadian public.”
Kawas was given a feather by the indigenous people of the Women’s Center in downtown Vancouver, where a delegate honoured the CPA and voiced their support for the Palestinian struggle whilst acknowledging their similar dark past.
“Like the Palestinians who are displaced and living in refugee camps,” says Kawas, “the natives had their country occupied and colonized by European settlers, and [they were] put to live in reserves.”
The CPA, which was established in Vancouver after the 1967 Six-Day War, was created in order to promote unity amongst the Palestinian people and to educate the public on what is happening in Palestine and Israel.
“Because the world is interconnected,” says Kawas, “what happens around the world effects everyone, especially Vancouver.”
The CPA was created with the notion that the Palestinian people are one nation whether they are living in Vancouver, other parts of Canada or the U.S. or as Kawas mentions “under occupation or living in refugee camps all over the world.”
According to Kawas, there are about 5,000 Palestinians in Vancouver, most living in the Lower Mainland. Whereas the Jewish population is between 25,000 to 30,000.
Kawas says that due to the negative stereotypes and pressures against the Palestinian people from the media, most of them try and keep away from politics. He adds that while most Palestinians choose to describe themselves as Greek or Spanish, or from some other Mediterranean country, that “some Palestinians…admit they are from Israel” in order to be accepted.
Kawas says that not all Jewish organizations promote a Zionist agenda. In fact, Vancouver has other independent organizations, such as Jews For a Just Peace, that stand against the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.
“We interact with the peace loving Jews and Arabs, we do not form dialogues with those who support ethnic cleansing and war crimes,” explains Kawas.
Concerning the local politics in Vancouver, and Canada being an ally of Israel, Kawas, does not seem too disheartened. His main goal is to win the people.
“We have lots of friends and supporters in the NDP and the Canadian parliament,” says Kawas.
One thing Kawas is certain of is that the indigenous peoples and the Palestinians will regain their rights sooner or later.
“No power can deny [the] rights that have been taken away from them,” says Kawas. “They are the rightful land owners…just like the indigenous people are the rightful land owners of this land.”