Halifax Teach-In on Palestine - Opening Session
Those who registered for the event throughout the day numbered eighty-two people of all walks of life, including workers, students, journalists and teachers. Despite the weather, several people from outside Halifax also attended. The teach-in continues on Saturday afternoon, January 31st from 1-6 p.m.
All participants received a programme, fact sheets and background resource material. The walls were festooned with Palestinian posters, maps and flags. Throughout the day presentations and discussion took place in a lively atmosphere manifesting the deep feelings of solidarity between the Canadian and Palestinian peoples. Presenters spoke about the realities and historical context of Israel's unprecedented 22-day war on Gaza following an 18-month siege. Over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 340 children, were killed under the Israeli assault, which also destroyed local infrastructure, buildings, 4,000 houses, schools, mosques and humanitarian facilities. In the building's foyer, an impressive display of sixty photographs paying homage to women and children murdered by Israel and the human and social carnage of the assault on the one hand, and the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people on the other was oriented for students and passer-bys. Childcare was provided for families.
Following welcoming remarks by Walid on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Palestine, the president of the Canada Palestine Association, Dr Ismail Zayid, inaugurated the teach-in. Dr Zayid, 75, was unanimously elected honourary chair of the Halifax Teach-In On Palestine in recognition of a lifetime of continuous defence of the just cause of the Palestinian people and opposition to Zionist aggression.
Leila Al-Husseini and Mohammed Gharbiya then gave an illustrated presentation, "Understanding the Assault on Gaza." Rendering the history of their people, they attacked Israel-media-government disinformation and blatant and convenient lies as a central phenomenon of waging a war of aggression. Providing much needed context, the two members of the university-based Palestine Solidarity Society pointed out that, "during this entire period no rockets were fired from the West Bank, yet over fifty Palestinians have been killed." Israeli forces had broken the truce on November 4, 2008 on the night of the US elections with a military incursion (the 'ticking tunnel' raid) that killed six in the central Gaza Strip which they described a concentration camp. That Israel is "not targeting civilians is like saying they are not trying to walk on the ground in one of the most densely populated areas in the world."
What is presented as a "war on Hamas" is a war on Palestine as its Change and Reform Slate is the sovereign government elected by the Palestinian people in January 2006. Behind the "heroic disengagement" orchestrated by Ariel Sharon of seventeen illegal Zionist "settlements" and 9000 settlers on September 12, 2005 from the Gaza Strip was the victory of the human factor/resistance led by Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) in expelling from Gaza the Israeli military settler state occupation forces after 38 years, the only area of Palestine not currently occupied, which is one of the reasons it is now being bombed and threatened with re-invasion. The aim of the Israeli military blitzkrieg is to smash the democratically-elected government, smash the national resistance, install national subservience, and permanently divide up Historic Palestine between foreign-backed and collaborationist proxies. It is a war against Palestine, not against a faction. Despite the horrendous human and social cost, Israel has again failed; it is mired in a deepening crisis of credibility.
Sixteen questions and interventions were made in the ensuing discussion session covering such questions as tunnels, rocket fire, whether Gaza is a concentration camp or a ghetto, and the nature of the Israeli democracy and the rights of Arab citizens. One person pointed out that Israel had recently banned Arab political parties from participating in the current election. Participants strongly condemned Israel for its massacre of the Palestinian people. One intervenor provided information to the teach-in from Israeli and UN documentation that revealed that 65 of 71 "civilian casualties" from rocket fire in 2007 were in fact members of the Israeli Defence Force. The information was unreported by the North American media.
A shopkeeper from Lunenburg related that she had posted a poster for the teach-in in her store window only to find it the next morning splattered with eggs bravely thrown under the cover of darkness. This convinced her of the necessity to attend the teach-in, she said to applause.
Following a coffee break, journalist David Parker of CKDU Radio in the second session, "Live from Gaza", played two interviews with Natalie Abu Shakra from the International Solidarity Movement, and Fida Qishta, author of the blog sunshine208.blogspot.com (which is under attack by Israeli hackers), who stressed the role of humanity's outpouring of anger, protest and outrage around the globe in strengthening the morale of Palestinians to resist and hastening Israel's "endgame."
In his keynote presentation, "The Palestinian Struggle and its Historical Context", Dr Zayid, author of two books and one of the foremost authorities in Canada on Palestine, stressed that the Palestine-Israel conflict is frequently described as a very complex one. "I want to submit to you that the problem is fundamentally a very simple one which was summed up, in the worlds of a simple Palestinian farmer in Jericho - quoted by the late Frank Epp, then president of Conrad Grebel College of the University of Waterloo - who told him: 'Our problem is very simple. A foreigner came and took our land, took our farm and our homes, and kicked us out. We have in mind to return. It may take a hundred years but we will return.'" The falsification of history and disinformation of the contemporary reality is what has made the conflict seem complicated.
Eight questions and interventions were made in the ensuing discussion session, including the on the Zionist lexicon (Operation Cast Lead, Summer Rain, Operation Warm Winter).
Gary Zatzman's talk on "Zionism, the State of Israel and U.S. Strategy in the Middle East" explored the question of whether the State of Israel, regardless of billing itself "Jewish" or "democratic", was ever anything but the instrument of Anglo-American imperial aims in the Middle East on the one hand and Zionist aims to maintain an exclusive protectorate for a certain section of world monopoly capital on the other. It deconstructed the contemporary active face of Zionism as a method for attacking, marginalizing and deligitimizing those who defend Palestinians and Palestinian rights. And it showed how and why the Zionists' so-called "Jewish state" became a permanent instrument of the U.S. empire and its particular mission to keep the Arab peoples divided and subjugated to its oil monopolies.
In the ensuing discussion session, some of the main issues discussed were the role of settler states as a tool of Western imperialism and colonialism, democracy and the nature of the two state solution.
Walid and Tony Seed of the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Palestine, in their remarks opening and closing the inaugural session, stressed that the aim of the teach-in is "to provide much-needed context, information and education for the public about the war - the analysis much needed to guide action," and to expand the space for Palestine in our own country.
Tony called on everyone present to work to build the committee, highlighting the political importance of defending Palestine at this time when the Obama administration is also threatening Palestine militarily as well as trying to isolate the just resistance of other peoples in the region in the international arena. To defend Palestine is to make a contribution to peace and in the interests of the Canadian people and all humanity, he pointed out. Tony informed the participants that despite the fact that the teach-in was organized in just nine days, the initiative had received much support. Several bookstores were handing out teach-in bookmarks to every customer. As well, significant numbers of Dossiers on Palestine, published by Shunpiking Magazine, were being purchased by people eager to know more for themselves about the history and reality of the conflict. He also thanked the many volunteers who contributed to making the teach-in a success.
The session closed with the reading of the poem, Sky Over Gaza by Peter Ewart, which denounces the use by Israeli troops of "beautiful" chemical weapons, like phosphorus, which are prohibited by international law. Informal discussion continued afterwards with participants discussing the themes and information of the day and the work of building solidarity between Canadians and Palestinians.
In Session II on January 31st participants will also hear Palestinian testimonies and discuss international law and sovereign rights, and the role of Canada in its historic context, the media and Canadians.
Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Palestine
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