Banning the keffiyeh harbours support for genocide

Censoring pro-Palestine symbols is a political stance

a man with his child
PHOTO: حثل / Pexels

By: Kaja Antic, Staff Writer

Across numerous mediums, there’s been a rise in censorship of Palestinian support through clothing and accessories, coinciding with the increased violence by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians. Not only is this an infringement on freedom of expression, but it also silences those bringing attention to the ongoing genocide, uplifting the voices of those in favour of Israel’s crimes

Those in power hold a double standard when it comes to celebrating Palestinian and Jewish cultures. This April, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Ted Arnott announced the keffiyeh was effectively banned in the Ontario Legislature. The Palestinian keffiyeh is a traditional scarf, usually worn as a headdress, which has olive trees and fishnets in its pattern, reflecting roots to land. Despite calls for him to overturn this ban, he has refused, saying it makes an “overt political statement.”

Shortly after, Vancouver mayor Ken Sim announced his support for the Burrard Bridge being lit up in support of “Israel’s 76th Independence Day.” Sim emphasized the city’s aim to “uphold fundamental freedoms of speech and the ability to peacefully

protest.” Yet, Palestinian identity and resistance remains controversial to the Canadian government — so much so that wearing a cultural headdress is disallowed. The keffiyeh is said to date back to 3100 BC, much before the establishment of Israel. Jewish people also used to wear keffiyeh, “because they saw it as part of the authentic local lifestyle.” It was only later that the keffiyeh “became an expression of Palestinian resilience against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” The hypocrisy goes to show how support for Israel is presented as neutral, while support for Palestine is seen as offensive and antisemitic. 

The keffiyeh ban is just one part of a wider issue with Palestinian censorship. Sarah Jama was formerly a member of the Ontario NDP, and was ejected from the caucus in October due to her comments criticizing the Israeli genocide of Palestinians. She was also censured by the Ford administration, which forbade her from speaking in the provincial Legislature, even if called upon to do so by the Speaker. This not only prohibits Jama’s support of Palestine in the Ontario Legislature, but also forbids her from speaking on any issue brought to the Assembly — silencing any advocacy for her riding of Hamilton Centre, which holds a population of 100,100 people.

The Ontario legislature is not the only political environment to ban keffiyehs. Parliament in the Australian state of Victoria has also forbidden members from wearing keffiyehs. Canada and Australia are British colonies, and while both have claimed to be committed to reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples, their censorship indirectly supports settler colonialism in other regions like Palestine. 

Outside the political sphere, there’s been a sharp rise in backlash for speaking against the Israeli apartheid state since October. Others have been punished for mere expressions of culture. For instance, a grade seven student in Halifax had to involuntarily remove the keffiyeh they wore for their middle school’s “culture day” after being called to the principal’s office. Allegedly, he was told the scarf is “a sign of war,” despite trying to explain its cultural significance. While keffiyehs have multiple patterns, some feature olive leaves, as “The olive tree has deep historical and cultural roots in Palestine, and its branches have been associated with peace and prosperity for centuries.” This principal also falsely associated Palestinian symbolism with war — an incorrect correlation that’s increasingly being pushed to undermine Palestinian sovereignty. 

Banning the keffiyeh and censoring pro-Palestine messages obscures the violent actions of the Israeli government and amplifies the voices of those in support of the genocide. These entities are complicit in silencing opposition, and are standing on the wrong side of history in an effort to not offend a nation that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

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