SFPIRG series offers Canadian perspectives on Palestine-Israel conflict

The event addressed how we can discuss the conflict in a local framework.

The Simon Fraser Public Interest Group (SFPIRG), hosted a film and discussion series over the past two weeks called, “Palestine and the Creation of the State of Israel.”

The series, which featured talks titled “A Brief History,” “Life Under Occupation,” and “Breaking the Silence: An Ex-Israeli Soldier Speaks,” aimed to educate people on the Palestine-Israel conflict and raise awareness about the suppression that the Palestinian people face.

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians began in the 20th century, and concerns the displacement of the Palestinian people after the establishment of the state of Israel. This extremely complex issue has since manifested itself in incidents such as the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six Day War, the First and Second Intifadas, and the current conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The series put forth an additional message, tying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to another form of oppression rooted deeply in Canada’s own colonial history — the oppression of Canada’s First Nations.

Kalamity Hildebrandt, SFPIRG member and the event’s organizer, stated, “For us, [social and environmental justice and the fight against oppression] means looking at all the different kinds of systemic powers and balances that are shaping our environment.”

She continued, “SFPIRG is committed to decolonization. We see a parallel between what is happening in Palestine and Israel and in Canada’s own history with regards to indigenous people being displaced from their land, confined to tiny portions of their traditional territories, and subjected to all kinds of violence.”

The series also addressed the reasons why Canadians should stay informed about the conflict in Palestine and Israel. Hildebrandt explained, “Globally, we are accountable to each other. As global citizens we should care when huge numbers of people are being oppressed — decade, after decade, after decade — especially when it results in countless deaths and grinding day to day suffering, such as what we see happening in Palestine.”

Hildebrandt stressed the conflict’s relevance, as it is a continuing issue in the modern Middle East, covered by daily news broadcasts.

However, Paul Sedra, SFU professor of history in Middle Eastern Studies, pointed out that there is very little in the media geared toward educating the public on the history of the conflict.

Sedra said that people need to look past conventional understandings around the conflict, and instead, become acquainted with the historical background.

“It’s absolutely essential for people to avoid the conventional wisdoms about a conflict that is rooted in religion, or rooted in ethnic differences.” Sedra continued, “This is really a conflict which is very much about politics and politics in the modern period. As long as we understand how the politics developed, and the history of that, we can understand the conflict itself and then begin to move towards a resolution of it.”

Looking at the current Gaza conflict, Sedra considered the broader questions that the struggle has presented: “I think there is a key question of how is it that we cope with violations of human rights. On an international level, how is it that we as Canadians should react to these sorts of violations of human rights that we saw in the Gaza conflict?”

SFPIRG suggests that, by looking back at our own history of indigenous oppression, Canada can take a stronger national stance on the current situation in Gaza.

Hildebrandt said she hopes that the discussion series will serve as a starting point for people to become better informed on the past and current situation of the Palestine-Israel conflict. She expressed that the main message SFPIRG hoped to convey with the discussion series was that people need to care, to be engaged, and to learn.