In response to the recent escalation of ongoing Israeli state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians in occupied Palestine, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, along with the Coordinating Council in Support of Palestine, organized a rally on the steps outside of the performing arts centre Place-des-Arts on May 30. Several community activists, academics, and associations—including the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada and the West Island Palestinian community—joined SPHR McGill in giving speeches to a crowd of roughly 200 attendees in solidarity with Palestinian liberation.
One speaker at the rally, Jamie*, a member of SPHR McGill, spoke about gendered violence against Palestinian women, detailing several Israeli state policies and how they impact the lives of many Palestinian women.
“This [Israeli] occupation thrives on the attempt to destroy Palestinian society from within, and women usually bear the brunt of these attempts,” Jamie said. “Palestinian women have endured institutionalized and systemic destruction of their lives. They have to deal with routine violence from civilian settlers and the Israeli occupation forces. This includes nighttime raids in their homes, the arrest of their children, [and] the detaining of mothers.”
Jamie condemned the systemic discrimination against Palestinian women, noting that it infringes upon their ability to lead fulfilling lives in their communities.
“This gender-based violence of the Israeli state is deliberate, systemic, pervasive, and it happens at every level of Palestinian lives from birth onwards,” Jamie said. “This is ethnic cleansing and it is genocide.”
Sarah Abdelshamy, an organizer from SPHR McGill, asserted that solidarity with Palestinians is crucial to generating substantive change.
“The Palestinian cause is an anti-imperial one,” Abdelshamy said. “We all have a responsibility to reflect and reconsider our understandings of solidarity, because solidarity requires work and consideration and action.”
Norma Rantisi, a professor of geography and environment at Concordia University and a member of Academics for Palestine Concordia, argued that academic institutions play an important role in the struggle for Palestinian liberation and called on universities to divest from Israeli institutions and companies.
“I applaud [SPHR McGill] for their fight against the role that academic institutions are playing to prop up colonialism […] by calling for an anti-racist stance in relation to Zionism and for divestment,” Rantisi said. “For too long, Palestine has […] been sidelined in anti-racist and decolonial action. The battle [for] liberation […] means sanctioning our government, but it also means sanctioning […] universities and schools here in Canada, where the story of Palestine is silenced or ignored, and criticism of Israel is criminalized.”
Next, Mostafa Henaway, a representative of the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, called on attendees to put pressure on the Canadian government to take on a more influential role in following Palestinians’ calls to action.
“What is fundamentally important is that our solidarity is not just symbolic,” Henaway said. “It is not just about not being complicit. We have a role in fundamentally changing materially the struggle of the Palestinian people [….] They have asked us […] to be the global picket line [….] Our role is to make sure that our governments no longer support and become complicit in aiding Israeli apartheid.”
Jamie added that they hope to see the McGill administration apologize for their May 17 Media Relations Office email that prematurely responded to a petition calling on the university to divest from Israeli companies and update their discrimination and racism policy—a move that drew criticism from students and academics alike.
“I think what I want to see from McGill is an apology for that racist email [and] for not recognizing Palestinians on the ground who have been brutalized by the Israeli state and for not even saying the words West Bank, or East Jerusalem,” Jamie said. “I want a clear and concise apology for that with no double-speak.”
*Jamie’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.