In the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians live under Israel’s brutal siege, which is marked by air raids, military checkpoints and blockades of food and medical supplies. The Canadian government provides extensive political and economic support to the Israeli apartheid regime.
In August, Israel announced that they were blocking mail to Gaza. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is calling for mail delivery to be restored to Gaza. The Union is calling on Canadians to back efforts to break the siege by sending their Gaza-bound mail via the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Article 25 of the fourth Geneva Convention guarantees the right to personal correspondence with family members under occupation. “As postal workers, we know very well that cutting off mail creates suffering and hardship for people, who are isolated from their loved ones,” said Denis Lemelin, National President of CUPW. “How many more abuses will the people of Gaza have to endure?”
NB Media Co-op’s Marie-Christine Allard interviewed Fredericton activist Ruth Breen to find out about her solidarity work with Palestinians through CUPW.
MCA: When did you personally start thinking about the issue of Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination?
RB: I started really thinking about it around [CUPW’s] last national convention when a resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign was brought forward. Personally, I didn’t know enough about the issue so I needed to self-educate and educate within my union. It begins as simply as buying fairly traded Zatoun olive oil and can grow to any degree of activism.
MCA: Could you explain BDS, and why CUPW decided to support it?
RB: Boycott involves boycotting Israeli products that are made with the benefit of the oppression – the exploitation of the Palestinians. Divestment is to divest funds in Israeli companies, and sanctions are to pressure the government to bring on international sanctions against the Israeli government.
If you look historically, the trade union movement has been very involved in international solidarity on many fronts. The first boycott, divestment and sanction [campaign] that jumps to mind was in the case of South African Apartheid, so it is pretty much modelled after that. About five years ago, there was a call from Palestinians to have a boycott [of Israeli products] and demand sanctions [against Israel]. It’s very important that the call is coming from the Palestinian people – they are asking for our help. For CUPW it is the right thing to do, in keeping with our National constitution.
CUPW is endorsing and working with the organizers of the BDS conference in Montreal on October 22-24. This will be an important opportunity for activists from many backgrounds to discuss what BDS means in their life, community, and country.
MCA: What would you tell someone who questioned a trade union’s role in taking a stance on the issue of Israel/Palestine?
RB: A worker is a worker, wherever you are. We are all in the struggle for equality, human rights and dignity. It would be very elitist for us as workers to negotiate a great collective agreement for postal workers in Canada and then presume our work is done. We aren’t just active in this international solidarity front; we’re active in many other areas where there’s conflict and oppression. It is really about workers supporting each other.
MCA: CUPW has been actively supporting the Canadian boat to Gaza. Can you explain what this is?
RB: CUPW is endorsing the Canadian Boat to Gaza and several postal workers are on the working committee. It’s a committee that was struck from civil society within Canada by activists who were on the Gaza Freedom March last year and others that have been active in the struggle. After the attack of the Turkish ship there was more awareness. The Free Gaza Movement is organizing an international flotilla of humanitarian aid to challenge Israel’s blockade this fall, so we thought it would be important to have a Canadian boat in that international flotilla, especially given that the Canadian government is complicit on many levels in the Israeli apartheid. It is an important thing for Canadians to take on.
MCA: What are you hoping to achieve with the Canadian boat in the international flotilla?
RB: From the very beginning, as soon as you start talking to people, it raises awareness. It brings media attention to Israel’s illegal actions. Canadians are talking about whom we are, how we choose to define ourselves and how different that is from how our government is acting on our behalf. We will bring humanitarian aid to the Gazan people, but also bring products out of Gaza and recognize their right to trade. Their right to trade should be recognized. This flotilla, as with the BDS campaign is an effective non-violent direct action against the violent actions of the Israeli state which are violations of international law.