Protest arises against city’s commemoration of Israel Independence Day

Vancouver illuminated City Hall and Burrard Bridge in blue and white lights

PHOTO: PHOTO: Amrit Kamaal / The Peak

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

Content warning: mentions of genocide and graphic descriptions of violence.

On May 14, Vancouver City Hall and the Burrard Bridge were illuminated with blue and white lights by the City of Vancouver to celebrate “Israel Independence Day.” While the day represents the establishment of a Jewish homeland for some, it is also a reminder that mass displacement and violence against Palestinians created the state  and continues to be ongoing. Palestinian rights activist groups and Vancouver residents gathered at City Hall to protest the city’s decision to put on the commemorative lights — but the lights still shined. 

The coalition of protestors expressed outrage that the city would choose to commemorate a country that has killed at least 36,000 Palestinians since October. Approximately “1.7 million Palestinians, nearly 75% of the population, are estimated to be internally displaced — with many having been displaced multiple times” by Israel’s invasion. 

Members of Independent Jewish Voices, “a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine,” joined the protest. The Peak corresponded with Rebecca Haber, a local member. 

“To me, it signals from the city an endorsement of Israel’s actions, which are violent and are causing unbelievable suffering of Palestinians,” said Haber. “We see the deaths, the injury, displacement, starvation, so in that, I do think it just shows a lack of regard for Palestinian life and dignity.”

Another local Palestinian rights activist, Tamer Abu-Ramadan, told the Vancouver Sun, “I find it offensive that after seven months of complete silence on Palestine, the City of Vancouver would add insult to injury by lighting the Burrard Bridge with the colours of the state committing what the International Court of Justice has ruled is a plausible genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim issued a statement on May 14 reading, “It’s important to note that this illumination does not imply or express support for the politics of any country.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains firm in his stance on Israel’s “right to defend itself” after Hamas’ attacks on October 7, while “strongly emphasizing the importance of taking all measures to protect civilians and to minimize casualties.” Trudeau also stated he was “horrified” after the recent bombings of civilian tents in Rafah, leaving dozens of civilians to burn alive. He stated that “Canada in no way supports the military operations by Israel in Rafah.” According to CTV News, Trudeau did not reply on what Canada’s actions will be after the attack. 

The city’s website said they “reserve the right to decline requests from countries where there is political unrest or conflict.”

“It was surprising and disappointing that the city wouldn’t exercise that right,” Haber responded. “It definitely sends a signal.” Haber added, “What we need to be focusing on is the suffering and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

“Things that may take away from that attention are definitely a problem,” she stated.

Trudeau also stated,This year’s celebrations of Israel’s independence come at a particularly challenging time for Jewish communities.” He added, “In recent months, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in antisemitism across the world, including right here in Canada. This must not continue.” Haber stated this response conflates “Israel with Judaism, and so when that happens it can lead to a place where people see criticism of Israel as antisemitism.

“That’s just so problematic and not correct,” she said.

Haber highlighted the importance of speaking out against countries like Israel that are killing tens of thousands of people, including over 14,500 children. “It’s very dangerous if you feel that you can’t criticize that or speak out against that because of a concern for antisemitism,” she expressed.

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