The Palestine Solidarity Committee of Saint John has sent a letter to Saint John’s mayor and councillors expressing concern over the city raising the Israeli state flag on April 17, in the wake of a violent raid by Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
The letter states the flag raising “can be distressing for many Palestinians living in Saint John, as it serves as a reminder of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe that occurred on May 15, 1948.”
Palestinians around the world remember the Nakba as the moment when up to a million Arab Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by armed groups, the Haganah, that later formed the state of Israel.
One of the objectives of the Saint John letter campaign as stated on its website is to raise “the issue to the attention of the Mayor and Councillors who may not have been aware of the impact of their decision to fly the flag.”
The flag raising was part of the commemoration of Yom Hashoah, also known as the Holocaust Remembrance Day, a national memorial day in Israel and observed by Jewish communities around the world. Over a dozen people from Saint John’s Jewish community joined Mayor Donna Reardon and some members of the city council at the flag raising in front of the City Hall.
Bruce Washburn, the president of Sharaai Tzedek Jewish Community in Saint John, spoke about the need to “promote the awareness of our natural prejudices and work hard to nurture community and relationship with those unlike ourselves.”
According to Washburn, “The transformation of Saint John into a multicultural society in just the past decade demonstrates the tolerance and potential of our community as we entertain more and more inquiries from people wanting to share our living space and lifestyle.”
At the city council meeting later that day, Reardon reiterated the flag raising as a “remembrance of the 6 million Jewish victims that lost their lives during the Holocaust.”
It’s important to remember and mourn the loss of Jewish people’s lives and others who perished during the Holocaust, but some Saint John residents say there are better ways to do it, especially following recent events in Jerusalem.
In early April, the Israeli military indiscriminately attacked Muslim Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, resulting in dozens being injured and hundreds arrested. On Saturday, April 8, at Saint John City Hall, more than 50 people took part in a protest as part of global outcry against the attack.
Councillor Paula Radwan, voicing the concern raised by the Palestinian community, spoke against religious discrimination in Israel, and the contradiction of remembering one’s community’s struggles at the expense of others.
“It’s sad to see that at this time of many celebrations for many people that there’s a regime that is using laws and practices discriminating against religion like Israel,” she said.
“It is really wreaking havoc on the Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians while they are at prayer. So I hope that this war crime will be punished and that next year; that not just Christian, Muslim, but also Jewish communities can actually have peaceful gatherings,” said Radwan.
In a video posted two days later, Radwan explained that a vigil is the more appropriate way to pay respect to Holocaust victims as the raising of the Israeli flag is not inclusive.
Canada’s Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, through Twitter, said she “strongly condemns the acts of violence against Palestinian worshipers in Al-Aqsa” and called for an immediate end of violence on the eve of Passover and during Ramadan.
Ottawa simultaneously condemned retaliatory rocket attacks against Israel.
The federal government also criticized Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich’s statement that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Francesca Albanese, denounced the violence as “blatantly excessive and unjustified use of force” against Palestinian Muslims who gathered for Ramadan prayers exercising their right to worship.
According to Albanese, Israel’s attack on Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque is in violation of international law that all parties must comply with without exception.
“Failure to do so fuels and perpetuates the culture of injustice and impunity,” she said.
At the rally on April 8, Helmi Yousif, an activist from the Palestine Solidarity Group, called on the Canadian government to take concrete steps to hold Israel accountable over its actions.
“We can’t remain silent in the face of such injustice,” he said. “Let us all join hands and work together to put an end to aggression and bloodshed in Palestine”
Aoife Hazen, a writer from Saint John, joined the protest movement as her way to challenge “settler colonialism.”
“If we want freedom for anybody, we need freedom for everybody,” she said
Ishak Dora, a student at NBCC from Qatar, explained his reason for participating.
“For me it’s personal because my grandfather is still in Gaza. I have family there, facing not only oppression but fear of attack, unprecedented, unpredicted. You don’t know where you’re gonna get hit. This is the only thing, the least I can do to spread the word.”
Ahmad Ibrahim, an engineer of Palestinian descent who grew up and was born in Canada, encouraged people to start taking politics more seriously.
“Because at the end of the day, we are one community. We are one country. We all come from two people: Adam and Eve. Everyone should be standing together towards fighting evil. We should be able to highlight what evil is and who the good people are. Who the oppressed and the oppressors are,” said Ibrahim.
Data Brainanta is a recent newcomer to Turtle Island from Indonesia who writes for NB Media-Coop. He is also the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) president of the National Farmers Union–New Brunswick.