Massive rally in Toronto organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Oct. 29, 2023.
Massive rally in Toronto organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Oct. 29, 2023.

Protesting a Genocide

The Grind: What is happening in Palestine and what are you asking the Canadian government to do?

Awwad: For the past 108 days [as of Jan. 22], the Zionist state of Israel has been exercising a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. So far, they have murdered over [25,000] Palestinians and committed countless war crimes, including using white phosphorus, bombing hospitals, targeting journalists and preventing aid from entering the Gaza Strip. At this point, only 10 per cent of the aid that’s needed is entering. 

Israel is also committing atrocities in the West Bank, where they have imprisoned over 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners. They have prevented them from receiving any medical attention from the Red Cross, and they have been torturing them. Released political prisoners have talked about having broken bones as a result of torture and not having that treated for weeks on end. This is a continuation of the 75-year long ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. 

So, we are asking for an immediate and permanent cease fire on the ground. We are demanding the lifting of the almost 17-year long blockade on the Gaza Strip. And most importantly, as it relates to the Canadian government, is asking for an end to the complicity that they have played. And what that means is having an arms embargo placed on Israel, having economic sanctions, and cutting diplomatic ties. 

The Canadian government allows different weapons companies to export weaponry. Parts are produced here and then exported to the US to then go into F-35 planes or to go into drones that are then used for the genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza. 

What are your reflections on organizing in the Toronto context? What sort of obstacles have you encountered and where have you found support?

What I’ve observed in the last three months is people coming out en masse against this genocide. And what’s been interesting is I think that this has included both Palestinians, Arabs and people from the Muslim community, but it has gone beyond that to include everyday people who can see how terrible these war crimes are. 

For some people, they’ve been on the Palestinian side for many years, but this is a moment where they are no longer able to be silent. They are mobilizing and self-organizing and doing work [including at the neighbourhood level] to really try their best to get the Canadian government to abide to these demands. 

We’ve also observed quite a bit of repression from the state and a lot of racist rhetoric from politicians. We’ve seen that the Toronto police has escalated repeatedly with organizers and protesters and … that has taken the form of criminalization by arresting people and then the doxxing that comes after. 

The support that we’ve received from allied communities, from comrades who were in joint struggle with us, [it] is difficult to describe the amounts of gratitude that I personally have. 

People may have seen media coverage and gotten the impression that these protests are hateful and antisemitic. What do you say in response? 

For starters, I think it’s important to remember what people are protesting, and people are protesting an active genocide that’s taking place. 

I don’t think we should ever associate a religious faith with a state. Critiquing a state’s action should always be permissible and welcome, particularly when that state is committing war crimes and murdering people en masse. 

I also think that the representation of these protests has been very biased. In part, the way the media and politicians have spoken about folks organizing for Palestine in the last while has been in an attempt to dehumanize us and criminalize us off the bat. Where, again, the protests are asking for a life of dignity for Palestinians, which should not be a radical ask in any way. 

The miscategorization makes it so there can be a continuation of this narrative that ‘this is very complicated’ and ‘I don’t know enough,’ when in reality there is nothing complicated about genocide. There is an entity that commits the genocide, and a people who are subjected to a genocide. I think these categorizations are to make it so people are afraid of protesting, and that people who do protest are doing it at a high price of potentially being arrested or categorized as being hateful. 

I think people should ask: why is the state working so hard to silence people who are saying we are against genocide and against any role that the Canadian state has in facilitating this genocide? Why isn’t there more critique of the ways in which the state has tried to silence people saying that?

This article appeared in the 2024 Feb/Mar issue.