According to Ali Abu Awwad, establishing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is simple. Just make the Israelis buy their cigarettes in the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians buy theirs in Israel. Peace in 24 hours.
That’s a light moment in the documentary film “Encounter Point,” the story of Parents Circle-Families Forum, an organization of Israelis and Arabs who have lost family members in the violence. Over 500 families are involved.
Robi Damelin’s son was an Israeli soldier killed by a sniper in the Occupied Territories. While he personally opposed the settlement movement, he was stationed there to protect a settlement. She had to decide whether to react with rage or to choose another path. She joined the Parents Circle, to share her grief with other families on both sides of the struggle.
In one scene, Damelin, who is from South Africa, attends a tour of a settlement. A speakers tells the group that the Jews have a right to all the land of Palestine and that the Arabs have to go. She interrupts, telling him that that sounds like what she heard in South Africa with regard to the blacks.
Awwad’s brother was killed by Israeli forces. He himself was wounded in anti-Israeli activities and served time in prison. In jail, he read, and that changed his perspective. He became acutely aware of the common humanity of people on both sides and convinced of the need to get people talking to one another.
After the filim, he and Danelin were present to speak to the audience and answer questions. Awwad commented that the only Jews that Palestinians in the Territories had ever had contact with were soldiers and settlers. He made it his task to introduce them to Jews who oppose the occupation.
Damelin for her part spoke of the wilful ignorance of Israeli Jews about the suffering and injustice of the occupation. The wilful aspect allows people to avoid facing the reality of the injustice being perpetrated. “Victims,” she said, referring specifically to the Holocaust, “have a tendency to become victimizers, not victors.”
Parents Circle members demonstrate against the occupation, but there is no clear-cut program as to a solution to the morass, and the political positions of members vary. Awwad spoke of the need for a solution to come from the grass roots and denigrated politicians. He did not seem to recognize that, if the movement he wants to develop takes flight, he or others in leadership become politicians, if only by default.
While the film did not offer a clear way forward, Awwad spoke about non-violent resistance. He told the audience about a group of Palestinians and former Israeli soldiers who were wounded together by rubber bullets while dismantling a barrier in the West Bank. Pressed further on the way forward, Awwad expressed mixed feelings about the tour he was on with the film. He really wants to be back home to set up a peace camp, to work on non-violent resistance. For him, respect for the common humanity of Jews and Arabs does not preclude the struggle.
The film and the two Parents Circle participants toured four Canadian cities between May 26 and June 1: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg. The tour and production of the film were arranged by World Vision, a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization which supports Parents Circle-Family Forum. It works with a number of Palestinian organizations, including Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and the Union of Agriculture Work Committees and with Israeli organizations such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and Rabbis for Human Rights.
Quebec hearings sparked hate incidents
“The Bouchard-Taylor Commission provided a lightening rod for public expression of open bigotry and petty grievances against the province’s minorities,” resulting in a “sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, especially when the Commission’s hearings were at their height.” That is the analysis provided by the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada in its 2007 annual report on anti-Semitic acts. While there is not a comparable accounting of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents, it is certainly the case that the experience is the same.
There were 1,042 anti-Semitic incidents identified in 2007, an increase of 11.4% over 2006. Back in 2003, there were only 584. Most other countries saw a decline in such incidents between 2006 and 2007. On the positive side, there was a slight decline in violent incidents and vandalism. The increase was in harassment. Minority groups need to stick together in the fight against intolerance, and hence it was heartening to find that, of cases where the source of the incidents were identified, Arab involvement declined from 68 cases to 24 in 2007.
Most incidents occurred, as expected, in Ontario, the most populous province. British Columbia was second and Quebec a distant third: Ontario, 582; British Columbia, 291; and Quebec, 61. In spite of the relatively smaller number of Quebec incidents for the year, last November, the mid-month of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission hearings, two-thirds of the Canadian incidents occurred in Quebec.
A survey by Léger Marketing, released this February, found that 41% of Quebeckers but only 11% of other Canadians, agreed with the statement, “Jews want to impose their customs and traditions on others.” This underlying prejudice is not aimed just at Jews, as illustrated by the Héroux Code of Conduct forbidding stoning, genital mutilation, and face covering. Quebec is clearly an important battlefield in the fight against prejudice in spite of the significantly fewer number of incidents than in Ontario and British Columbia.
Rachel Corrie does Toronto
The play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” has come to Toronto. It is based on the diaries, e-mails, and poems of Rachel, a 23-year-old American who took part in an international solidarity activity in Gaza, trying to block an Israeli bulldozer which was endeavoring to destroy a doctor’s house.
“Rachel Corrie” premiered in London to favorable reviews in 2005, but in the following February the New York Theatre Workshop canceled the play because of objections from local Jewish leaders. Instead, it ran off-Broadway in December, 2006. The following December it played Montreal and in Vancouver it was on from January 25 through February 9 this year.
Toronto’s Canadian Stage Company announced the play for their 2007 season, but opposition from Jewish members of the company’s board led to it being dropped. It was picked up by Theatre Panik, where it opened in Toronto on May 29, to run through June 22. Niki Landau, the Jewish co-artistic director of Theatre Panik, told Toronto’s National Post, “I’ve been to the Occupied Territories. I saw what she saw.”
An Arabic translation of the play was seen in Haifa this March 16, the fifth anniversary of her death.