On July 13th, the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) Toronto chapter was supposed to hold a scholarship launch party to honour and celebrate the artistic expressions of Palestinian youth in Canada and the United States. The PYM’s Ghassan Kanafani resistance arts scholarship aims to provide a space to uplift the Palestinian narrative and explore the complexity of our identity in diaspora through creative mediums. Our launch at Trinity St. Paul’s United church was intended to engage the community and share the work of local Palestinian artists. It was to be a night of poetry and music, a celebration of our cultural heritage, a nod to our histories and the beauty of our interconnected futures. Unfortunately, right-wing supporters of Israel successfully pressured the church to cancel shortly before it was supposed to take place.
As part of their efforts to shut down our event, B’Nai Brith and the Jewish Defense League – which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States – orchestrated a campaign to slander the legacy of our scholarship’s namesake, Ghassan Kanafani, one of the most renowned Palestinian intellectuals and writers of his generation and a leading activist in the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Kanafani’s contribution to Palestine and the world’s literary landscape is profound, centralizing the plight of the Palestinian people and humanizing our collective experience of dispossession, statelessness, and oppression. Kanafani continues to be celebrated for his contribution to the Palestinian cause, using his pen to highlight the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom. The smearing of Kanafani is designed to silence discussion of Israel’s brutal military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories and the racist political system there and inside Israel itself – which not only seeks to gradually ethnically cleanse Palestinians from our ancestral homeland, but erase our cultural identity and any sign of our presence on the land.
Efforts to suppress the Palestinian narrative and the voices of Canadians and others who support Palestinian rights is widespread and should be deeply alarming to anyone who cares about human rights and freedom of speech. Right-wing Israel lobby groups and individuals continuously demonize Palestinian human rights activists and their supporters. Palestinian youth such as myself have been targets of vile racist slander and character assassination intended to intimidate us and prevent us from speaking out, including with well-funded cyber bullying campaigns that use McCarthyite tactics. B’Nai Brith has attempted to have me expelled from the university I attend due to my involvement in Palestinian human rights work. Student organizers are constantly under surveillance and targeted with threats. In the U.S. a similar atmosphere prevails on campus and dozens of states and Congress have passed laws intended to suppress the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, a grassroots Palestinian-led human rights movement inspired by the U.S. Civil Rights and South African anti-apartheid movements.
One of the most painful aspects of Palestinian existence is that, wherever we find ourselves, the simplest acts that many have the privilege to take for granted often become the greatest impossibilities for us. This is certainly true for Palestinians in the homeland, where Israel’s apartheid policies often make something as routine as going to school, work, or the doctor, a near-impossibility. It is also true for the generations of Palestinian families forced to pass their years in overcrowded refugee camps in neighboring countries due to Israel denying the UN-mandated Right of Return following the mass expulsion that took place in 1948 during Israel’s establishment, where upwards of 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes by Zionist militias and the Israeli army, known to Palestinians as the nakba (catastrophe).
Fortunately, the ascendance of social media and increased internet connectivity has ensured that a growing number of people of conscience around the world are awaking to the brutal indignities that continue to be inflicted upon the Palestinian people. As a result, Israel and its supporters are increasingly desperate to quash advocacy for Palestinian rights. But the tide is turning. While Zionist organizations may have bullied the church into cancelling our launch, we are proud to report that the event took place in a different venue on Saturday, July 14th, with an amazing attendance and performances. Inspired by Kanafani and Palestinians on the ground in Palestine struggling for their freedom today, we will continue to write back, to speak out no matter the odds. No military or colonial might or attempts to intimidate us can withstand the surging tide of justice and history. We say it because we know it to be so: Palestine will be free.
To obtain copies of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts anthology published from scholarship winners and finalists, please go to https://www.pymusa.com/anthology-and-support ..
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