Photostory: A year in the life of Montreal’s Palestinian solidarity movement

March 2002: The Palestinian dance group Jabali Nar performed along with a host of international performers to an overflow audience. Organized by Montreal’s Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP-Canada) the proceeds went to the children of the Qasmieh and Rashidieh refugee camps in southern Lebanon. MAP-Canada organized the project in collaboration with the Lebanese organization Najdeh, the French organization Enfants réfugiés du monde, and the Union générale des femmes palestiniennes.

For one year, photographer Darren Ell attended a large number of the many events organized by Palestinian solidarity groups in Montreal, Canada. His introductory essay about the project offers a background to this photo story.

March 2002: In the wake of continued Israeli atrocities in the Occupied Territories, the Montreal organization Parole Arabe brought together hundreds of citizens for an evening of education and activism intended to pressure the Canadian Government to live up to its official policy of opposing the occupation. In the photograph, invited specialists give an overview of Palestinian history and explain the official Canadian Government policy.

March 2002: In March, thousands of demonstrators took to one of Montreal’s main streets to express their outrage at continued atrocities and house demolitions in the Occupied Territories. Demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights are frequent in Montreal, attracting hundreds and often thousands of citizens from a broad cross-section of the community. Police are alerted and traffic is rerouted to allow protesters to stream down Montreal’s busiest downtown streets, allowing passers-by to hear their message. The events are often reported in the mainstream, alternative and student media, carrying the message even further.

April 2002: A massive demonstration, uniting over 10,000 people, marched for justice in Palestine. The demonstration was organized by a coalition of dozens of Montreal organizations: The Coalition for Peace and Justice in Palestine. Montreal’s union movement came out in force, led by the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ).

June 2002: Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU) sponsored a speaking engagement by Israeli IDF reservist, Elad Lahav, one of a growing number of refuseniks denouncing the Israeli occupation. Like his fellow refuseniks, Lahav has served time in prison for his refusal. He believes in Israeli’s right to defend itself, but felt that the occupation did not serve this purpose.

June 2002: Despite the June rain, hundreds of protesters gathered and marched through the streets of Montreal to demand an end to the occupation in an event entitled “For Palestine We Speak.” Following the march, well-known Quebecois artists voiced their opposition to the occupation in English, French, Arabic and Yiddish. In this photograph, celebrated author Michel van Schendel recites poetry as his hommage to the people of Palestine.

June 2002: Standing in front of the Melodium Choir at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory, Rezeq Faraj, president of Palestinians and Jews United (PAJU), addresses a crowd of over one thousand people at a concert for Peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Rezeq spoke of the difficult plight of the Palestinian people and of the need for peace in the region.

August 2002: Montreal’s Women in Black and the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation [e-mail] organized protesters at Concordia University to protest the occupation and human rights abuse in the Palestine. In this photograph, Leila Faraj, former director of MAP-Canada, addresses the demonstrators. These pivotal organizations and the demonstrators present on this rainy day brought special attention to the devastating impact of the occupation on women and children in the Occupied Territories.

September 2002: Canadian Member of Parliament Svend Robinson has often openly denounced the Israeli occupation. Mr. Robinson has visited the Occupied Territories a number of times and even confronted IDF soldiers at checkpoints who were unwilling to let him enter Ramallah. In this photograph, Mr. Robinson is being honored by PAJU for his outspoken criticism of the Israeli occupation and his support for Palestinian rights. It is worth noting that Mr. Robinson was stripped of his Middle-East portfolio in the New Democratic Party for his activism on the Palestinian question.

September 2002: Every Friday at noon since September 2001, continuing to the present day, a large group of activists attend a vigil in front of the Israeli Consulate in Montreal, voicing their demands for an end to the occupation. Montreal photographers Josée Lambert and Shahrzade Arshadi documented one entire year of these demonstrations in a photo exhibit entitled “Beau Temps, Mauvais Temps.” The photos are a testament to the dedication of a broad range of the Montreal population that demands an end to the occupation.

September-October 2002: In October 2002, Rezeq Faraj accompanied an important delegation of activists and community leaders to Palestine to give them a first-hand look at the on-the-ground situation. In preparation for the trip, Rezeq explains to the delegation the system of Israeli bypass roads that have made life so difficult for the Palestinian people. PAJU member Bruce Katz also gave a highly informative presentation on the diplomatic history of the Israel-Palestine crisis, explaining the reasons behind the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

September 2002: Palestinian activist Laith Marouf is seen here addressing a crowd of young protestors at Concordia University. The demonstration was organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) to protest the arrival of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu had been invited to speak at the university but was denied entrance to the university by protesters. The demonstration briefly turned violent and several Palestinian supporters were expelled from the University. As well, the university administration adopted a 3-month moratorium on public debate on the Middle East. Talking on television later that day, Mr. Netanyahu drew similarities between the demonstration and acts of terrorism. The day after the demonstration, Mr. Netanyahu’s intended speech was published in Canada’s largest circulation national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. In the speech, Mr. Netanyahu denounced terrorism around the world, neglecting to mention that his government and its principle supporter, the US, are among the greatest terrorist regimes in the world.

October 2002: On their return from Palestine, members of the delegation to Palestine gave a number of moving and widely attended accounts of their experiences. The delegation witnessed firsthand the crippling impact of closures, checkpoints, bypass highways, roadblocks, wall construction, house confiscation and demolition, curfews, violent human rights violations and attempts to repress the peace movement. The evening was part of a larger international solidarity event in Montreal, the Journées québécoises de la solidarité internationale, sponsored by AQOCI, Alternatives, SUCO and MAP-Canada. Here, Gervais L’heureux, director of SUCO and President of AQOCI, addresses the crowd, explaining how the situation in Israel-Palestine increasingly resembles Apartheid in South Africa, and that the time has come for an international boycott against Israel. View a PDF report of the delegation in English or in French.

October 2002: In a beautiful evening of poetry and music, Montreal author Danièle Ouanès, recites her Chronique de Ramallah (L’Harmattan, 2002), her poetic and moving testimony of time spent in Palestine during the Al Aqsa Intifada. The proceeds from the event went to Al Rowwad Cultural Center in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.

November 2002: For three consecutive years, MAP-Canada has organized a very popular 5-week cultural festival featuring the arts and culture of Palestine entitled Rhythms from Palestine. The many events of the festival — concerts, poetry readings, film screenings, photography and painting exhibitions — occur throughout the city. Here, Leila Faraj, former director of MAP-Canada, introduces the photographs of Steve Sabella, Palestinian photographer from Jerusalem. Steve’s exhibition featured a magnificent collection of photographs of the children of the West Bank and Gaza. Entitled Life is Splendid, the exhibition shows us children who despite the cruelty of the Israeli occupation, retain the charm and beauty of childhood. (Photo: Eric Mayou)

December 2002: A woman consults the schedule of the screenings of films on Palestine during the festival “Rhythms de Palestine.” This year’s films included six new Palestinian documentary and feature films, all presented at Montreal’s prestigious National Film Board Theatre. (Photo: Eric Mayou)

March 2003: The Montreal Palestinian community’s many organizations participate in a wide variety of international solidarity events in Montreal. Palestinian supporters are carrying the Palestinian flag during a massive public demonstration of solidarity against the US aggression in Iraq on March 22, 2003, which drew a crowd of 200,000 people.