By Theresa Wolfwood
Palestine and the Palestinians’ sixty–one years of struggle to regain the freedom of their homeland may seem distant to most Canadians and our problems, but on many levels, Canada and Canadians are abetting the oppression of Palestinian people. Every day our Canada Pension Plan through its investments in military industries contributes to the military occupation of Palestine by Israel. Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with Israel encourages Israel to export to us products produced and/or grown on occupied land – the BC Liquor Board is selling several brands of wine from grapes grown on illegally occupied Palestinian land.
Recently many Victorians had the opportunity to learn of another Canadian connection to internationally judged and condemned illegal occupation of the ever shrinking land of Palestine. We heard the eloquent and documented words of Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer, who represents the village of Bil’in in its case against two Canadian companies. This small village, near Ramallah, has filed a lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court against Green Park International and Green Mount International, two companies registered in Quebec. They are accused of illegally constructing residential and other buildings on the village’s lands. Bil’in’s case against the construction of settlements on their land is based on the Geneva Conventions which prohibit an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into land that it has occupied as a result of war. (One half million Israelis already live in these illegal settlements.) This tiny community, that resists the illegal wall and theft of its land every Friday in a non–violence demonstration, submitted its case against Green Park and Green Mount; it seeks an immediate order from the Canadian court that they will stop their illegal activities. The hearting was held in June and the judge will rule on the case in September.
Schaeffer, a Canadian lawyer and Mohamed Khatib of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall, were in Montreal to present their case. Bil’in’s steadfast resistance to the Wall and the enclosure of its land has become a powerful symbol of Palestinian popular resistance to the ongoing construction of the Israeli apartheid wall and settlements on their land. In an interview in Montreal, Mohammed Khatib said, “Almost 60% of Bil’in village land has been confiscated, mainly cultivated land, with olive trees and farming fields which has allowed us to survive for generations. Also Israel is building settlements on our land which is tragic because loosing this land is an attack on our livelihood as Palestinians. There are thousands and thousands of olive trees on this land a source of life for us and a symbol for the Palestinian people, in Bil’in and throughout Palestine.”
Every Friday since 2005, Bil’in villagers, joined by Israeli and international peace activists, have stood up against the brutality of the Israeli government – not without serious and tragic consequences. Demonstrators are tear–gassed, beaten, and shot at.
Schaeffer showed us a shocking video, made during the peaceful demonstration in April, 2009, of an Israeli soldier shooting a high–velocity teargas canister at Palestinian activist Bassam Ibrahim Abou Rahme. Bassam was standing with his arms in the air shouting in Hebrew to the soldiers to stop firing – they had injured an Israeli. Instead they killed him with a tear gas canister through his heart. Schaeffer said this weapon was no ordinary tear gas canister; it is a new high velocity model that can travel around 500 meters. When she showed the terrible scene, her voice wavered as she said, “he was my friend.”
Bassam, nicked named, Pheel, Arabic for elephant, has become a symbol of peaceful resistance. He was very active and much loved in the village. Khatib said , “At our demonstrations Bassam was always speaking with the Israeli occupation forces in a human way, asking them to stop shooting, asking them to act peacefully and to stop using violence against us.” There has been no legal action against the soldier and no official protest from our government or from the USA, UK and other governments that support democracy when it suits them. (Including also, it seems, Honduras.)
Schaeffer, the daughter of Jewish American parents, visited Israel as a high school and university student. She became interested in and knowledgeable about Palestinian culture and history during those visits. After she acquired her law degree she decided to return to Israel and joined a law firm specializing in civil and human rights. She is professionally and personally deeply committed to her work for justice for Palestinians, it gives her a purpose in life that helps her to compensate for her privileged life. At first her parents were disturbed by her decisions, but they now fully support her. Indeed, more and more, people of Jewish ethnicity in Canada and the USA oppose the actions of the Israeli government in Palestine. Many ‘Justice for Palestine’ organizations are called, “Not in My Name”, a response to a government that claims to represent Jewish people everywhere. It was some of those Jewish organizations that supported and helped organize the visits to Canada of Emily Schaeffer and Mohamed Khatib.
The campaign in Bil’in represents a great danger to the Israeli authorities; the non-violence, Schaeffer says, “threatens the image of a violent enemy.” An image Israel spends millions to spread and maintain. On a deeper level Bil’in represents an even greater threat. The Bil’in demonstrations are directed by Bil’in residents as they are the ones to suffer most the consequences. But a growing number of Israelis actively attend and support the actions, showing their government and the world that it is possible and empowering for those presented as enemies to work and live together peacefully. At the end of her talk, this brave young woman, who admitted to be terribly homesick for Bil’in in spite of the support and hospitality of Canadians, told us that the peace movement in Israel is resurging and growing, partly in response to the military brutality in Gaza and West Bank and also because many Israelis want to share the same just and peaceful lifePalestinians want.
If readers want to support the legal case of Bil’in in Canada and in the community or to contribute funds to replace destroyed trees in Palestine, they may contact www.bbcf.ca To become active in Victoria contact the Victoria Coalition against Israeli Apartheid, CAIA, the local sponsor of Schaeffer talk: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on Bil’in village see: www.bilin-village.org
Victoria CAIA activists, 2009. TW