Students, labour, academics: Growing Canadian solidarity with Palestine

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The COSATU delegation to the Gaza Freedom March.

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Events across Canada underline the growing concern on and around Canadian campuses for issues relating to Palestine and in particular, around Palestinian academics and labour unions.

From May 18 to June 2, Dr. Amjad Barham, president of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), will be touring Canada and Québec to speak and meet with academics and other members of the labour movement.

The speaking tour, entitled "Building Solidarity from South Africa to Palestine." (see below for details), includes Barham representing the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) as well as Tahir Sema from the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU), an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

Officials from the Canadian Association of University Teachers will meet Dr. Barham when the tour reaches Ottawa. CAUT already has a collegial relationship with PFUUPE: last year the two organizations signed a reciprocal membership agreement, and CAUT is assisting the PFUUPE in its application for membership in Education International. Last November's CAUT Council adopted a general motion from the floor to investigate and report back on ways to support academic colleagues in Palestine.

"Dr. Barhams's visit to Canada will allow us to explore further ways we can work with PFUUPE to develop its capacity to defend the academic and professional rights of staff in the West Bank and Gaza.," says CAUT President Penni Stewart.

This speaking tour will be an important opportunity for debate and discussion on the question of how we as academics and trade unionists can stand in solidarity with Palestinians. The tour will be an occasion for questions and debate around issues such as: Why are trade unionists around the world increasingly comparing the situation in Palestine with that of South African apartheid? What is the situation of Palestinian academics, students and workers today? Why has there been a call by Palestinian trade unions for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) modeled on the solidarity movement against South African apartheid? What is the role of trade union activists in what is happening in Palestine and South Africa today?

This solidarity tour is aimed at fostering relationships between Palestinian, South African, Canadian and Québécois trade unionists in the hopes of building on the already considerable work of Canadian and Québec solidarity campaigns. It is also an important opportunity for public education on the experiences of workers and trade unionists in Palestine and South Africa.

"Faculty for Palestine is very excited to hear that Dr. Amjad Barham, will be touring Canada as part of an important labour solidarity tour which will also feature a South African trade unionist." says Alan Sears, a sociologist at Ryerson University who is active with Faculty for Palestine, a network of more than 450 Canadian faculty at more than 40 universities and 15 colleges across the country, which organizes primarily around the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (including academic boycott), the right to education under occupation and building ties with Palestinian colleagues, students and staff, and defending freedom of expression on Canadian campuses around Palestinian solidarity. In Québec, similar work is being done by a group called CUWU (College and University Workers United).

Sears continues: "Dr. Barham is the President of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees and a strong supporter of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. In a context in Canada in which student-led divestment campaigns against investment in Israeli apartheid are shaking up many of our university campuses and challenging with Israeli institutions, the tour promises to be an excellent space for strategic debate, analysis of apartheids, and further organizing."

As was the case in the struggle for divestment from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, student groups on a growing number of campuses have been taking leadership positions in the movement for divestment from companies involved in violations of Palestinian human rights and the occupation of Palestine. Students Against Israeli Apartheid at the University of Toronto, York University and Carleton University correctly point out that these "complicit companies create military technologies used in the murder of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure and the daily humiliation of Palestinians." As the growing educational campaigns during Israeli Apartheid Week spread to more campuses each year, they stimulate increased discussion and debate around these issues which lasts much longer than just a week.

At the campus where I work, a student group (Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights) joined with other community groups to help support the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative (canadaboatgaza.org), a civil society campaign to challenge the blockade of Gaza. While not directly an academic or labour union issue, the illegal blockade of Gaza of course affects students and university staff along with everyone else. Despite marginal improvements since last summer`s flotilla, aid deliveries to Gaza are still a fraction of what was needed before the blockade was imposed in 2007. As my colleague, Ziad Medoukh (head of French and director of the Peace Centre at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza) notes, schools supplies, computer equipment and books are still among the goods which are severely restricted and only sporadically available under the blockade of Gaza. Despite high levels of participation in primary-secondary education and healthy enrolments at the five universities in Gaza, the hopes and aspirations of a whole generation in Gaza are being needlessly stunted due to senseless restrictions which have nothing to do with anyone's "security". Those who finish their studies and earn scholarships abroad are often caught by restrictions on human mobility which cruelly curtail travel for academic, medical, commercial or family purposes. While there is now hope that the Rafah border with Egypt will open (and stay open) for people and goods, Palestinians also have the right to free ship traffic through the port of Gaza - the only Mediterranean port which is closed to shipping - and to the use of their own territorial waters.

Ziad Medoukh adds that the Palestinians of Gaza are left with "a hope in international civil society solidarity which is organizing throughout the world in order to try, through peaceful actions, to break this blockade, in particular with, the ‘French Boat for Gaza', ‘Canadian Boat for Gaza', an ‘International Boat for Gaza' campaign - a whole flotilla for Gaza. We in Gaza, given our current situation, are impatiently awaiting the arrival of this international freedom flotilla... with one clear message: the blockade of Gaza must and will be lifted."

More and more Canadians, on campus and in our communities, are heeding this sort of call from Palestinians, be they in Gaza or from the West Bank. Whether it is by working on civil society campaigns like the Canadian Boat to Gaza, by joining student-led initiatives on campus for boycott, divestment and sanctions, or simply by showing up and listening what our academic colleagues and fellow trade unionists from Palestine have to say, the growing involvement of Canadian faculty for Palestine is a cause in which we can all participate.

Labour tour: Building solidarity from South Africa to Palestine

The speaking tour will begin at the Convention of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) in Montreal (May 15-19), then travel through Ontario, to Regina and Vancouver. CAUT members and affiliates will be welcome as part of the discussion at the different solidarity tour venues across the country.

TORONTO: Saturday May 21, 6:30p.m.-9:30p.m., Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham St. (Bathurst subway). Thursday May 26, 7p.m.-10p.m., CUPE Ontario Convention, Sheraton Hotel, 123 Queen St. West

WINDSOR: Sunday May 22, 2p.m.-5p.m., Oak Room, Vanier Hall, University of Windsor.

HAMILTON: Tuesday May 24, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., McMaster University.

LONDON: Wednesday May 25, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Tolpuddle room, 380 Adelaide St. North (at King)

REGINA: Thursday May 27. 7:30 p.m., Regina Union Centre, 2709 12th Ave

VANCOUVER: Sunday May 29, 6p.m., Maritime Labour Centre, 1880 Triumph Street, Vancouver (Victoria and Triumph, two blocks north of Hastings St.)

MONTREAL: Wednesday June 1, 7 p.m., Centre St. Pierre, 1212, rue Panet (metro Beaudry)

OTTAWA: Thursday June 2 7pm. CUPW National Office, 377 Bank St.

Ways you can support this important tour:

Sponsor the tour, host the trade unionists, organize members to come out to the event in your community, donate funds, publicize the tour or write about it in your newsletter or website.

To Sponsor, Donate or Participate in the Tour, please contact:

More information about the tour can be found here

David Heap is Associate Professor (French and Linguistics) at the University of Western Ontario, active with both Faculty for Palestine and Labour for Palestine, as well as the national steering committee of the Canadian Boat to Gaza, see tahrir.ca

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