Sunday, March 15, 2009

Canada in 8 days

Well, we're back, and I think finally caught up on sleep after a tour that saw us through 8 different cities in as many days. As I noted to a friend who suggested I was "amazing" for doing this trip with both kids in tow: some call it amazing...some call it insane. Thin line.

I should say I feel a little guilty-ever since I've begun twittering, I've found myself devoting less time to blogging. Its like I'm cheating on my blog! I admit it-I'm having an affair with Twitter!

Back to our trip:

We began our whirlwind in Buffalo, NY where I was invited to speak at the University of Buffalo fundraiser for Gaza-during which an iconic Palestinian painting by Ismail Shamout, "Victory Dance", was auctioned off.

From there we flew to NYC for the night, and the following morning to Edmonton, Canada in Alberta for my first speaking engagement as part of a national (and apparently global event-40 cities worldwide) Israeli Apartheid Week. It was Edmonton's first IAW and was very well organized.

It was also the coldest city of the lot- also the city where Noor had the pleasure of experiencing her first snow (sheer joy for the first 40 seconds-until her fingers began to go numb!).

Yousuf took the opportunity to go sledding (on a cardboard box- an hour before our flight out-see action shot below!).

We were hosted by an extraordinarily devoted local group of activists-whose house I fear sustained permanent damage as a result of my offspring (who would have thought a 14 month old could do so much damage?)

From there we moved on to Calgary, where I addressed a packed auditorium on the realities of the "Gaza Zoo*", emphasizing throughout my talks the consistency and constancy with which Israeli policies have played out there-regardless of who has been in power. Policies I suggested were aimed at deliberately forestalling any prospect for viable Palestinian statehood-something never explicitly outlined in any agreement.

We were again met by an enthusiastic group of organizers there, who saw us off to our third stop, Toronto, where IAW was launched in 2005. I caught up with old friends there-including my nursery school teacher, Um Bashar, now retired (whom I had not seen for 28 years!).

Toronto had the most packed crowed. I spoke there with fellow journalist and photographer Jon Elmer, who was in Gaza reporting at the same time I was and who gave a moving presentation.

One picture in particular stands out in my mind- of a clearly distraught mother nevertheless tutoring her child-on a cardboard box outside their demolished home.

Toronto was also the city where I was interrupted in the middle of my presentation by staunch zionists.

From there I went on to Kingston, where we celebrated Yousuf's 5th birthday (and not a picture to prove it! (HINT HINT TO EVERYONE WHO TOOK SNAPS AND PROMISED TO EMAIL THEM!! :)) and finally, Montreal, where I was met by the organizer of the tour, the tireless Laith Marouf and his lovely family (below, a cheeky Yousuf poses next to little Yafa, Laith's daughter, atop of Mont-Royal). After my speech there, a woman stood up to the microphone and made a comment that really touched me. She told me was a native Canadian/aboriginal and that she was married to a Palestinian. They frequently discussed the similarities between their plights. But she reminded him-and me- how lucky we were to at the very least have preservfed our language and our culture. She tearfully explainedh how her native language has essentially been lost, save for a few words, through the brutal segregation and elimination of her people and their social fabric.

I should take this moment to mention that IAW is not your ordinary awareness week. In its few years of existance, it has been met by staunch resistance and a hateful campaign attempting to vilify it and its organizers by status quo defenders and hypocrites on all levels-a testimony to its significance and its success.

Posters of the event were banned on certain campuses, and donors urged to condition their funding of universities on banning the week. Even top-ranking politicians have gotten involved-including a former professor of mine at the Kennedy School (now head of Canada's Liberal Party) who I am sorry to say I ever took a course with.

From a recent oped in the National Post on the subject, "the poster announcing Israeli Apartheid Week was banned at Carleton, University of Ottawa and Wilfred Laurier University. B'nai Brith took out advertisements urging university presidents to ban Israeli Apartheid Week. Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have denounced the event. Jason Kenney also threatened to pull funding from immigration settlement programs administered by the Canadian Arab Federation on the basis of their record of advocacy for Palestinian rights"

On our way back to the, I was stopped briefly for a secondary security screening. As the two immigration officers were taking care of my paperwork, one asked if I had just come from Palestine after seeing my passport. I told him no, that I hadn't, and that the borders to Gaza were sealed in any case.

"No one can get out either?" asked the second officer.

"No one" I replied. "And if they manage to, it is somewhat of a miracle".

"Damn, if I wasn't allowed out of here, I think I'd kill someone!" he snapped.

Then, some uncomfortable laughter and acknoledging nods.

That, in short, was a briefing on our trip to Canada! I wish I had more photos but my batteries went dead and everyone who promised to send shots they'd taken never came through :(

In roughly 3 weeks we are packing up our things-again-this time leaving Durham for good and moving upwards, literally: Yassine will start his Cornea fellowship this July in Baltimore, but in the meantime, the kiddos and I are heading (make that: attempting to head) to Gaza while Yassine will go visit his family in Lebanon.

As usual we will have to play things by ear and gamble on when and whether Rafah Crossing might open to Palestinian residents. Will definitely be blogging and tweeting between now and then and all along the way.

* Gaza Zoo is a reference to the term coined by good friend and scholar Darryl Li in a piece he wrote for Adalah describing the Gaza Strip: a situation where the freedom of animals is never up for discussion; rather, the objective is to tame them through careful regulation of leash and diet.


Blogger Tika said...

What a nice journey... I guess your kids also enjoy it... as it will be part of their beautiful experiences in life :)

6:17 PM  
Blogger Santa Rosa New School Aikido said...

Some day people will look back to this time and wonder how so many could be so blind and so vile.

Thank you. I hope all goes well on your trip to Gaza. Best wishes to your and yours.

7:47 PM  
Blogger nicolachampagne said...

I'm glad it went so well.... well, except for Toronto... Thank you so much for sharing. It's an amazing life in an amazing (if terrible) time. Good Luck

1:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Salam Laila

Great to know you had a good time in Canada.. it certainly looked cold!!

I'm wondering if you watched any of these documentaries:

The Heart of Jenin
Occupation 101

SubhanAllah, seeing films like these bring hope in a way.. hope that InshAllah one day this occupation will come to an end

7:14 AM  

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