Dozens of people met outside North Okanagan MP Mel Arnold’s office in Vernon Saturday for a rally in support of Palestinian rights.
Among them were people who have lived the effects of the crisis of conflict between Hamas and Israel, which was brought to its latest boiling point on the first day of Ramadan (April 13) when a celebration at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was shut down by an Israeli police squad. The ensuing 11-day war left hundreds dead, and a recent ceasefire has only held tensions at a violent high.
Others, such as event organizer Debbie Hubbard, have visited the disputed lands of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and have brought their observations of human rights abuses home to the Okanagan.
In 1948, with the end of British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel by Jewish leaders, as many as 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.
Reem Faour’s grandparents were forced to leave Palestine in 1947. She and her husband, a skilled engineer, immigrated to Edmonton in 2010 and moved to the Okanagan in 2015. They had previously lived in Lebanon, not far from the Palestinian city they consider their true home.
“They thought it was going to be two weeks of war and then they would go back to their homeland and to their house,” Faour said of her grandparents at the rally in Vernon.
“They passed away without getting that dream,” she said, adding her father also died last year.
“We still have the key, though.”
While the competing land claims are mired in complexity in many isolated cases, Faoud and other protesters present said the results for Palestinians on the ground are much more straightforward.
“We can tell you about the experience (of) the Palestinians in Lebanon,” she said. “They are suffering.”
“It’s our right to go back one day. They think they will bury us, but we are like seeds.”
Juanita Austin and Miriam Allen, mother and daughter, have both made visits to the distant region, and recommend the trip to anyone wanting to better understand the Palestinian experience.
“I had grown up learning the Jewish story, learning about the Holocaust and being horrified by that. But all I had heard of Palestinians was basically that they’re dangerous,” Austin said.
Hubbard first visited the region in 2012.
“It was at that time that my eyes really opened up to the realities on the ground for Palestinians,” she said.
She then went back to serve three months as a human rights observer with the Royal Council of Churches in 2014, and was back in 2017 spending time at the military courts, “watching what happens to Palestinian children who are arrested for throwing stones.”
In Vernon, representing Amnesty International and the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) Okanagan chapter, Hubbard said she was “extremely grateful” to see the number of people who came out in solidarity with Palestinians.
When she moved to the area five years ago, “there just wasn’t a movement,” but local awareness has since grown.
“And today is just an example of that. You see all ages, all stages of life, and different ethnic groups here. That’s the Canada I want to be part of — diverse, inclusive and engaged in human rights.”