Celina Shamon / Sports Editor
The Panel for Palestine in Waterloo.
For the last 12 weeks, there have been numerous demonstrations, vigils and charitable events in support of Palestinian civilians who are being targeted, murdered and forcefully displaced from their homes in Gaza and the West Bank. This week, South Africa brings genocide allegations against Israel at the International Court of Justice.
In light of this, the newly emerging Palestinian Culture Club (PCC) at Wilfrid Laurier University hosted a panel discussion as their first event, called Panel for Palestine. The panel was held on Dec. 4 in the Science Teaching Complex at the University of Waterloo. UW’s Waterloo Arab Student Association (WASA) and Laurier’s Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) helped organize the panel. The PCC is open to Laurier students from both the Waterloo and Brantford campuses, and community members in the area are always welcome at events.
Fourth-year Canadian-Palestinian students Omar Yousef and Yousef Abdo cofounded the new club in late November. Yousef is a computer science student and MESA vice president of finances. Abdo is a chemistry student and MESA’s social media coordinator.
“This club serves as a constant reminder to people that we [Palestinians] are still here, we still exist and we will keep on fighting until Palestine is free,” said Yousef.
Yousef and Abdo said the PCC aims to educate their peers on Palestinian history, politics and liberation.
The panel consisted of presentations from four expert speakers with time for questions and open discussion at the end. The club served Middle Eastern cuisine and tea for everyone in attendance.
The speakers included Rabbi David Mivasair with Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Quill Christie-Peters with the Indigenous Youth Residency, political science PhD candidate at McMaster University Ghada Sasa, Canadian-Palestinian student speaker at Toronto Metropolitan University Ayah Elmasri and Shatha Mahmoud and Mohammed William with the Palestinian Youth Movement.
Each speaker shared different perspectives of the Palestinian struggle for liberation from their respective communities, showing the audience how Palestinians have faced consistent injustices both in their history and their current reality.
During the Q&A period, there were many questions about Canada’s support for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
“It is really a thin veil to hide what Israel has always been doing even before 1948, which is to maximize the amount of land that they control with minimum numbers of Palestinians,” said Mivasair.
To address Canada’s complicity in this, the rabbi used the example of the reoccurring United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution to return to the 1967 borders established between Israel and Palestine.
“This vote happens every year, and Canada is amongst the eight countries who voted no alongside the United States, United Kingdom and Israel,” said Mivasair.
Vincent Strickland, a member in the audience, said he is most concerned about “the narrative of the West, who are just not completely understanding the context of Israel being a colonial state.”
“The belief system they have is continuously going against international law,” he said. “The government here, my government, is just as complicit as the U.S. and their blanket support for Israel.”
Strickland is a part of the Kitchener-Waterloo community and attended Conestoga College for biotechnology in Waterloo.
“I am almost 40, and it has been the same narrative displayed that I witnessed from when I was a teenager protesting the Iraqi war, and it is crazy to me that we are having the same conversations 20 years later,” he said.
Strickland said he attended the event with the hope of becoming more educated on what he can do to help the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Canada. He shared that his partner is of Palestinian descent and said he will aways do whatever he can to learn more about the topic.
“A free Palestine to me, means that my partner can go home and see his family,” Strickland said with tears in his eyes. “His entire family is back there. They are people who work hard and they deserve to have the life that they want to have on their land without the overarching fear of having their homes and jobs taken away.”
Some individuals in the audience travelled to Waterloo from as far as Woodstock to learn and hear more about the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
The Israeli Defense Forces have begun besieging the territory of Gaza, forcefully displacing most of the 2.3 million Palestinian population. The death toll in Gaza has now reached 21,672 civilians, with the addition of thousands buried under the rubble.
The death toll in Israel from the Oct. 7 attack is at approximately 1,140. Israeli president Ben Netanyahu said in a news conference on Dec. 31 that “the war is at its height” and it will go on for many months.
“If I can wake up to a roof over my head with water and food in my fridge, I feel like I owe it to the kids in Gaza who remain smiling while losing their homes and families to keep spreading the word of Palestine and reminding the world that they do exist,” said Yousef.