Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Canada: a colonial power

The latest issue of the Ryerson Free Press contains a number of themes. One of them is Palestine at 60 years of Occupation. Over the course of the past few months, there have been celebrations staged by pro-Israel organisations and Nakba commemorations by the occupied and their supporters.

Recently, much of the international news coverage about Palestine has centred on the hundreds of students who have been stopped from leaving the country by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

While seven students on Fullbright scholarships were able to leave from the intercession of Condoleeza Rice, the Associated Press reports that hundreds of other students wont likely be as lucky and could have lost their shot at an education.

Opponents to the occupation of Palestine have a gamut of issues to choose from when engaging in advocacy. However, there may be no more unifying issue on which to focus than education. And, indeed it is an issue that needs international attention and pressure. The Right to Education Campaign, a campaign from Birzeit University in Palestine, says “Israel's systematic obstruction of education in the West Bank and Gaza Strip not only violates the human rights of individuals, it is an attack on the development of Palestinian society as a whole.”

Here are some statistics from the Right to Education Campaign:

349 students have been incarcerated from Birzeit University since Nov 2003
87 are currently incarcerated, 35 of whom are yet to be found guilty of a criminal act
52 have been sentenced
19 are awaiting trial (plus 5 released on bail)
10 are in Administrative Detention (a system of incarceration without charge, currently a student has been imprisoned for 3 years under this system)
6 are under interrogation

In December 2007, the head of Birzeit University's Student Council was charged with belonging to an 'illegal organization' and 'holding a position of responsibility' within this organization. He is currently held in Ofer prison, and will be incarcerated for at least 1 yr on what is a legalistic means to punish young Palestinians engaged in political activity.

3 Faculty members were jailed by the Israeli army between December 2007 and March 2008 from An-Najah National University in Nablus.

Currently incarcerated from An-Najah:
- 6 staff
- 1 security guard
- About 80 students

After the closing of Rafah crossing in June 2007, 722 Palestinian university students studying abroad were trapped in Gaza - about 30 study in US universities, and 10 in the UK. Another 2,000 students enrolled in foreign schools were also trapped. They are a part of the 7,500 Gazans who need permission to continue their work, education or medical treatment outside of Gaza. In January 2008, there were still 625 Gaza students trapped in Gaza and unable to continue their studies.

Jesse Rosenfeld, a reporter based in Ramallah, wrote in yesterday's The Dominion a piece reminding its readers that the Harper government removed Israel from its list of countries suspected of using torture last January. Israel was removed at the same time as the United States. Amnesty International Canada was “disappointed that Canada would take countries off the list for diplomatic reasons”. Of course, tales of torture committed by both the US and Israel are relatively easy to locate.

Tomorrow, the Canadian government is publicly apologizing for its involvement in establishing the residential school system, in conjunction with various religious groups. Canada’s residential school system was created to assimilate the Indigenous population and it left a legacy of abuse and suffering for its thousands of survivors.

Canada’s government is a colonial one. It’s unsurprising that it would side with other colonial powers like Israel or the US. However, as the State embarks on its journey down a path of apology toward Residential School survivors, it will not be taken seriously if it doesn’t address colonialism within. Canada needs to start to dismantle its own colonial structures and alliances if any attempt at rectifying its past will be successful.

Let’s start with dismantling the Indian Act. Then, Canada should become a force that advocates for other colonized people rather than siding with the governments that oppress them.