BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
George Floyd has changed the world. His tragic death created a bond of international solidarity that no force on Earth can stop, no matter how some try.
As a person of Middle Eastern descent living in the diaspora, I have always taken an interest in the situation in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians I met would tell me they were from Jordan or Lebanon (which was not untrue) until they knew I was non-judgmental. To be Palestinian, in the eyes of many, meant that one was a terrorist.
A few months ago, the great African American scholar Cornel West was refused tenure at Harvard University, he believes due to his stand on Palestinian issues. At the University of Toronto, renowned human rights lawyer Valentina Azarova was denied a position, it appears, due to her advocacy for Palestinian rights.
As a writer, I became reluctant to even mention Palestinian rights in my columns because this was always met with a scathing indictment from Honest Reporting Canada, the media watchdog that seems to attack anything that is even remotely critical of the State of Israel.
As a public-school teacher, I never bring up the Israel-Palestine issue and only reluctantly comment when my students directly ask me.
This has been the environment in the North American press and in academia for decades, despite the fact that the number of deaths of Palestinians has exceeded the number of Israelis killed by order of magnitude, despite the fact that Palestinians have continued to be forced from their homes, and despite the fact that they do not have equal rights, even if they are Israeli citizens.
Something is different now. Israel has disproportionately bombed Palestinian civilian populations many times in retribution for homemade rockets being fired by the terrorist organization Hamas. This time Western journalists are actually challenging the narrative of Israeli officials and making an effort to provide a balanced view of the conflict. Comedians John Oliver and Trevor Noah have questioned the heavy-handed response from Israel, and we cannot forget that the alternate media, from which young people increasingly get their news, has also been openly critical of Israel.
Italian dockworkers have refused to load weapons bound for Israel onto ships. World leaders, including those from Western Europe and even Canada, pushed Israel for a ceasefire. The United States, Israel’s largest weapons supplier, asked for negotiations.
It is also important to note that many Jews are among the most staunch and courageous critics of the State of Israel. They have suffered condemnation from their own communities for decades, yet they remain true to an understanding of scripture that recognizes a God of compassion.
Despite the current situation, I believe in a united future for Israel/Palestine. Though my grandparents left the Holy Land more than 100 years ago due to religious persecution, I know in the depth of my being that Semitic people, whether we are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, share an ancient bond as children of Abraham. Regardless of how we are told to hate, we know that we are family, and we will find a way to peace.
The world has clearly changed. We’re seeing the same global response we saw after a police attack on a peace march led by Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. It’s the same response we saw during the peace movement that ended the Vietnam War. It’s the same momentum we saw in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The same energy that saw people take to the streets in May and June of 2020 after George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin is moving us. We cried out “Black Lives Matter”, but we understood that this was a cry of solidarity for oppressed peoples around the world, and we knew that this included the Palestinians.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac