Palestine action shows the limits of modern democracy

On March 9, 2024, a protester leads a chant with a bullhorn on the corner of Albert Street and College Avenue, calling for an end to the genocide of Palestinians. Photo by Jayden Thompson

On a cold morning in late October 2023, a contingent of Regina residents prepared to occupy member of parliament (MP) Andrew Scheer’s constituency office. We huddled together outside a nearby community centre to finalize the details of our plan before walking over.

Our reason for being there was simple: to demand Scheer pressure the Canadian government to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Our group made its way into the building and, once inside, I read out the names of Palestinians killed by Israel since October 7, 2023, struggling through pages of members from single families and babies with zeros beside their names, indicating they hadn’t reached their first birthdays. As we chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!,” the staff went behind a closed door at the back of the office and contacted the police.

Scheer still hasn’t called for a ceasefire, which doesn’t surprise me, but that doesn’t mean what our group did was of no use. Even though Canadian elected representatives aren’t aligned with community members who want to see an end to the genocide of Palestinians, pro-Palestine organizing is exposing the cracks in the bourgeois political system and the mainstream media.

Media disinformation

Valerie Zink has been organizing for Palestinian liberation in Regina since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. She spent time in the West Bank in 2003 and the Gaza Strip in 2005, and after witnessing the Israeli occupation first hand, she felt a duty to fight for Palestinian liberation back home. Since Israel’s current genocidal campaign on Gaza began in October 2023, she’s been organizing with Palestine Solidarity in Regina. The group’s focus in the fall was to advocate for a ceasefire and end the indiscriminate killings of Palestinians, but as the Israeli government has continued their genocidal assault, the group expanded their mission to include educating people about the history of Palestine and pushing the Canadian government to stop supporting Israel. 

She says that one of the primary reasons people don’t understand what’s happening in Palestine is because of mainstream media’s distortion of events. For example, the New York Times lied about Hamas “weaponiz[ing] sexual violence” on October 7, 2023 and CNN repeated unsubstantiated claims that Hamas beheaded Israeli infants on the same day, lies that were parroted by U.S. president Joe Biden. However, Zink has noticed that “people are becoming more critical of the messaging in mainstream media.” Many people have seen videos coming from Gaza of a father carrying the body parts of his children in plastic bags and mass graves at hospitals – images that will forever be seared into viewers’ brains. However, Zink points out that “for a lot of people, it’s hard to sustain [a high level] of outrage and pain as this goes on with no end in sight.”

Pro-Palestine organizing is exposing the cracks in the bourgeois political system and the mainstream media.

A couple hundred kilometres northwest in Saskatoon, Nicola Classen started organizing with Palestinian solidarity groups after noticing the coverage from mainstream media outlets like CBC and CTV were not accurately covering the genocide. According to an investigation by The Breach, CBC’s The National featured 42 per cent more Israeli voices than Palestinian ones in the first month of coverage after October 7, 2023, and, in contradiction to CBC policy, the outlet barred employees from sharing information on social media about Israel’s war on Gaza that did not come directly from the public broadcaster. Another investigation by The Breach found that CTV sent an internal email to reporters barring them from using the word “Palestine” in their reporting, as the “nation does not currently exist.” 

To get better information, Classen started looking to journalists reporting directly from Gaza. “I primarily get my news from Palestinian journalists like Bisan [Owda] and Motaz [Azaiza], and the ‘Let’s Talk Palestine’ Instagram updates and podcast,” they say. “I specifically stay away from big media outlets like the New York Times because their coverage is so egregious.” The Intercept recently published a leaked New York Times memo that instructed journalists not to use the terms  “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” “If we want real news, we have to be going to the source,” Classen stresses. 

Also in Saskatoon, Palestinian PhD student Mohammad Abushar notices similar trends. He says people are starting to see through the biased mainstream coverage of Israel, but they still don’t understand the root cause of the conflict. 

“The narrative of the occupation of Palestine is actually different from what people know right now,” Abushar explains. To understand this context, one has to go back before October 7, 2023, before the 2018-2019 Great March of Return, the blockade of Gaza, the Oslo Accords, the 1948 Nakba, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and back to the 19th century when Zionism as a colonial objective emerged. That’s a lot of history to cover and mainstream media is simply not doing it. 

Police cracking down on pro-Palestine protests 

Abushar has been open in speaking about Palestine and educating people, and for this, he says he’s been targeted by the Saskatchewan government. Abushar was part of the large group that shut down the provincial legislature in November 2023 in an attempt to get the government to call for a ceasefire. Even though he didn’t orchestrate the protest, the Saskatchewan government sent him a letter explaining that he’s no longer allowed into the legislature without prior security clearance.

Abushar isn’t the only one facing legal troubles for speaking up. Also in Saskatoon, on January 23, 2024, Tayyaba Farooq was arrested while protesting with Saskatoon for Palestine. Farooq and others were protesting at a McDonald’s, which is on the Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel (BDS) list for its complicity in Israeli occupation and apartheid. 

Reflecting on the incident, [Farooq] feels that “the police will practice their authority where they feel like they can or where it makes them feel good.”

Farooq says it wasn’t long before management called the cops and she was detained. She repeatedly asked the police why she was being detained and an officer told her that she “appeared” to be leading the protest, she recalls. The police didn’t charge her. Instead, they issued her a ticket for trespassing and told her she got off easy. 

Reflecting on the incident, she feels that “the police will practice their authority where they feel like they can or where it makes them feel good.” Farooq has also protested other businesses that aren’t pro-Palestine, like Starbucks which sued its workers after their union published a pro-Palestine tweet in the fall of 2023. At that action, she recalls being told that the employees were scared of the protest. Farooq contends the protests were directed at the corporations, not the workers. She has seen the reaction to other protests and wonders why some are acceptable and legitimized by our political establishment, but when it’s Black, brown, Arab, and Muslim protesters, it’s scary. She attributes this to good ol’ fashioned racism and Islamophobia.

Classen shares this opinion. Like Farooq, they’ve also dealt with the police. Classen said they and a dozen others protested MP Kevin Waugh for his ties to Israel, including taking a trip to Israel sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, at a Christmas reception for his constituents in 2023. According to Classen, security was informed of their presence as they attempted to hand out informational leaflets to attendees. They say the police became physical with them, throwing a protester to the ground, and that approximately five police cars arrived to remove them. When Classen asked the police why they came, the response was they were there to “protect private property.”

Protesting is a right

If protesters are told they scare people and are arrested and barred from the legislature for their activism, what does that mean for our right to protest? If we can only voice our discontentment with governments and institutions in ways they deem acceptable and cause them the least amount of pressure to change, that means we only have that right on their word and not in actuality. Democracy being restricted to voting is democracy in word only, not in action. To Farooq, the state’s repression of pro-Palestine protests makes her feel like “nobody’s voice matters, nobody’s beliefs matter, nobody’s rights matter. Everyone is controlled.”

For all people who know that the taking of innocent lives in Palestine is wrong, our task is to take power and transfer it into the hands of the masses. For the masses to take power, the majority of people must realize that systemic change is not only possible but necessary.

Plains Ojibwe activist Ashley Zhingos says she’s never thought of herself as a free person and hopes others realize how unfree they are. “Whether they support Palestine or not, people can’t deny that their governments care more about shipping routes than children’s lives.”

For the masses to take power, the majority of people must realize that systemic change is not only possible but necessary.

In October 2023, the Saskatchewan government announced they were giving $100,000 in “emergency aid” to Israel, while the federal government authorized $28 million worth of new permits for military exports to Israel between October 2023 and January 2024. It seems Scott Moe and Justin Trudeau are aligned on some things after all! Though the federal government ceased authorizing further transfers of weapons to Israel in March 2024, previously authorized exports are still being sent. Both federally and provincially, money that could be used to fix our crumbling infrastructure and to fund education, social housing, and health care is instead being given to U.S.-backed Israel to further their occupation and genocide.

Fighting the colonizer

Like Abushar and Farooq, many activists are criminalized before even beginning to fight for liberation. In comparison, Farooq says in Palestine “the resistance fighters are free to fight for what they believe in and what they stand for […] They’re free to fight for their country. They’re free to fight for their people … The resistance is the ultimate freedom because they choose to fight for each other.”

Although it makes some uncomfortable, the resistance includes Hamas and the brigades in the West Bank that have taken up arms, not just because they can, but because they have no other choice living under Israeli occupation.

“The neo-colonial state will always call those fighting for freedom terrorists,” Classen says, adding that Hamas reminds them of the Black Panther Party in the U.S., armed resistance fighters who brought life-sustaining services to their communities.

Armed resistance is legitimate, not just morally, but under international law as well. If you’re unconvinced, listen to people in Palestine who support Hamas and other armed resistance groups. That support is strong. According to a poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in March 2024, 71 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank support Hamas’ operation on October 7, 2023.
In another poll conducted in November 2023 by the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), 80 per cent of respondents said they view the role of the Al Aqsa brigade very positively or somewhat positively, and 84 per cent view the role of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (a paramilitary organization that rejects a two-state solution) very positively or somewhat positively. Supporting Palestinians means supporting those fighting for liberation from colonial oppression.

“The neo-colonial state will always call those fighting for freedom terrorists,” Classen says.

Zhingos thinks that the reason people in Canada, and the West more broadly, fear Hamas is because they are scared of the decolonial process. “If colonized people can resist there, what will they do here?” she asks rhetorically. “People’s anger at Hamas can’t be rooted in truth anymore when there’s been hundreds of days of Israeli assaults on hospitals and schools.”

Decolonization is violent, but that’s because colonialism is violent. When we see the terror the Israeli Occupation Forces inflict on Palestinians, it’s not that foreign – the RCMP does the same thing to land defenders in Canada. We only need to look at the RCMP response to Wet’suwet’en to see the similarities. Israel is a settler-colonial project just like Canada. When we watch the crimes committed by Israel, we should rightfully be disgusted, but as difficult as it may be to admit, when we look into the eyes of an Israeli settler, we are looking in a mirror.

This is why it’s important for all of us to continue organizing and talking about Palestine, especially when it feels daunting. That includes being willing to face feelings of discomfort and fear. Zhingos has noticed when reaching out to their white friends that “the first words out of their mouths are ‘they can’t get arrested’ or ‘they’re too anxious’.” Zhingos says she wants people “to care about someone they will never meet. It’s not enough for you in your own life to say what’s happening is wrong, get out there and help.” 

That means not just honking when driving past a rally but stopping and joining. If you’re worried you don’t know enough, go anyway. You’ll learn once you’re there. The same AWRAD poll shows that 78 per cent of Palestinians say they have more faith in humanity because of international solidarity. Be the kind of person who restores that faith for those going through the worst experiences a human can go through. Be brave.

As for Scheer, after the police arrived, we coordinated with the office staff to get him on the phone since he was away in Ottawa. Our group huddled around the phone so we could listen. Near the end of the conversation, we heard a toilet flush. Not only did it seem like Scheer spoke to constituents while on the can, though we heard a flush, none of us heard him wash his hands. Scheer and all Canadian MPs are complicit in genocide for their support of Israel, and just like how he didn’t wash his hands after using the toilet, Scheer’s silence means he won’t be able to wash the blood off his hands, either.


Nigel Hakeem is a writer, bookseller, reality TV enthusiast, and Marxist organizer from rural Saskatchewan. He currently lives in Vancouver, B.C.

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