“This isn’t really a new war, it’s been going on for a long time,” says Abdel Karim, a Palestinian student studying finance at UTM. “Talk to any Palestinian here and he’ll say, ‘Okay, so they dropped some bombs, in a couple weeks it’ll stop and then it will happen again.’ It’s the same thing.”
The sequence of events following Dec. 27 2008 when Israel launched its ongoing offensive attack against Gaza, was predictable. The Arab-Israeli conflict captured the focus of the international media. As numbers totaling the dead and wounded spewed from humanitarian agencies, calls for diplomacy from the international community went unheeded.
The Palestinian student community here in Toronto has come to expect this usual unfolding of events.
Like most third generation Palestinians living outside the territories, Abdel has spent time growing up in different countries. Born in Croatia, Abdel moved to the U.S. when he was three months old. Just six years ago, his family decided to immigrate to Canada. Despite never having set foot on Gazan soil, Abdel says, “I am Palestinian before anything.”
In the past, when the territories succumbed to military violence, Abdel would contact his two cousins attending Khan Younis University. Any attempt to reach them since December has been futile due to electricity cuts, making communication impossible.
Hamman Farah, a recent graduate of York University, has managed to maintain contact with members of his extended family in Gaza City including his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and other distant relatives. Relaying their sentiment since the attacks, he describes their fear: “They are terrified. There is a shortage of bread, and the water is dirty. They have to boil it to clean it up […] There is a constant debate whether to stay home, or go somewhere else.”
“My family keeps telling me, ‘We are miserable here, we want to leave but we can’t.’ They describe Gaza today as hell on earth.”
Hamman was born in Gaza City, and spent much of his childhood in Gaza and the United Arab Emirates before immigrating to Canada in 1991.
Before the Israeli blockade made traveling to Gaza problematic, Hamman used to spend every summer there. According to him, Gazans lead a “ghetto life,” as most are poor and have little opportunity while constantly under surveillance.
Both Hammam and Abdel find activism to be the best means to cope with the turmoil back home. Abdel is president of the Arab Student Association at UTM and Hamman participates in fundraising and awareness raising activities with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.
Rafeef Ziadeh, a third-generation Palestinian, activist, and PhD candidate at York University, also identifies with the cause. “Most Palestinians are born into the Palestinian struggle from a very early age,” he says. “Whether they are born in Palestine or a part of the Diaspora, the issue touches Palestinians and non-Palestenians and it is resonates especially with students.”
Ziadeh attests that the general sentiment of Palestinian students in Toronto is directed against the Canadian government and its decision to remain detached from the crisis while supporting Israel. Canada was the only nation on the U.N. human rights council to oppose a motion condemning Israel’s attacks.
At the end of the third week of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, the death toll has passed 1,000. Israel has brought in reserve forces, pushing into more populated urban centers. Meanwhile, the Hamas rockets launched into Southern Israel and blamed for the invasion continue, casting a shadow on the success of the Israeli mission.
A coalition of student groups opposing the Gaza invasion will be meeting today (Thursday) at Sid Smith room 1073 starting at 4:00 p.m.