Mississauga protest against West Bank annexation plans marred by anti-Semitic chants
A recent protest held at Celebration Square in Mississauga is making headlines after the alleged use of an anti-Semitic chant, but organizers say it was a peaceful event.
The organization of high schools students, Sauga for Palestine, held a rally on July 4 in protest of the proposed annexation by Israel of certain parts of the West Bank territory, which under the Oslo Accords, are supposed to be under autonomous Palestinian control. Israel, citing historic claims and other territorial rights, has disputed various international laws and other rulings that have designated the country as an occupying force in certain parts of the West Bank that are deemed Palestinian.
The decades-long dispute was the backdrop for the recent protest in Mississauga.
Anti-Semitic chanting in Arabic caught the attention of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group that translated the words captured on a phone video as, “Palestine is our country, and the Jews are our dogs”. Later in the video a group of protestors is also heard saying, “sacrifice our soul and blood for Palestine” and “martyrs by the millions march to Jerusalem.”
A screengrab from video taken during the July 4 rally in Mississauga.
In Islam, the predominant religion in Palestine, dogs are seen as impure, making the words a direct insult to Jewish people.
The Jewish advocacy group has filed a hate-complaint with the Peel Regional Police (PRP) against the organizers of the protest.
The Pointer reached out to Sauga for Palestine and one of the co-organizers said, “After everything we said at the protest, that was the highlight, which is unfortunate.”
The Pointer has agreed not to use the name of the organizer because of a fear of more backlash and because many of the other organizers are minors.
“We were there first and foremost protesting against annexation that was going to take place in Palestine,” said the organizer.
During the protest, according to the organizer, there was no anti-Semitic chanting and after final remarks and the march had concluded many people stuck around to sing the Palestinian national anthem and participate in traditional dancing.
After the protest had officially concluded is when the organizer says an individual was heard chanting the anti-Semitic remarks, which were echoed by others in the group.
“The second they said it, I turned around and I said stop.”
B’nai Brith questions that claim and told The Pointer that no formal apology from the organizers of the protest has been issued. CEO Michael Mostyn said, “nobody said anything against it, nobody stopped this chanting, it’s all on video.”
He says it’s disturbing to know that a group of high school students participated in this act of anti-Semitism. After filing the complaint with Peel Regional Police, he is hoping that education can be part of the resolution moving forward, as well as criminally prosecuting those who chanted the remarks.
“It has nothing to do at all with the fact that individuals were looking to make a political statement of their own political opinion, the issue is the hatred being directed at Jews in Canada,” Mostyn said.
A look at the land proposed to be annexed by Israel. The move has ignited historic tensions in the region.
On its Instagram page, Sauga for Palestine condemned the chanting that happened at their rally, stating “Sauga for Palestine does not stand for nor support anti-Semitism, but rather we stand with our Jewish siblings and friends and apologize for what was said.”
The main intent of the rally was to support the rights of all Palestinians, but due to the actions of some people it ruined the good intentions of the organizers and most of the participants, The Pointer was told.
“I’ve never really had any connection to my family back home just because we aren’t allowed there, so I thought that organizing this would help me not only help my community and raise awareness, but also help me with my own identity,” said the organizer.
Tensions in the Middle East are a common topic in today’s political landscape. The modern disputes over territorial rights involving Israel and the Palestinians are more than a century old.
To understand why the planned annexation of parts of the West Bank hits home for Palestinians and the high tensions between Jewish and Muslim residents in Canada, The Pointer reached out to Gavin Brockett, Associate Professor of History and Religion at Wilfrid Laurier University.
The area that is known as modern day Israel used to be part of a mixed ethno-religious empire.
“The Ottoman Empire did have a system of ethnic and religious relationships that largely allowed people to live together without these modern ethnic conflicts breaking out,” Brockett explained.
During the early 19th Century, the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe was a catalyst for issues that marked periods throughout history. The French and Russians, who fought alongside the British in the First World War, were given control over parts of the Ottoman Empire, while much of it was taken over by the United Kingdom, which committed to an independent state for the Jewish people in Palestine under the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
However, already living in that land for thousands of years were many people of Arab descent who practiced Islam. They called themselves Palestinians, a name borrowed from the Roman Empire when they occupied the territory 2,000 years ago.
Those that identified as Palestinian had a complex relationship with Jews coming to live in what they deemed to be their home. But the investment in the area and the growth of many emerging societal features that benefited the entire area was seen by many as a positive element of the Balfour Declaration.
“It increasingly became apparent in 1920-30’s that Zionist, a Jew who sees this land, Zion which is Jerusalem, as their homeland, and so Zionists were determined that this would become their home,” Brockett says.
Palestinians started to become more concerned that the increasing number of Jewish people settling in the area might affect them negatively so they started opposing the Zionist migration.
“It was like having two children that won’t get along together and trying to please both children that you had made promises to,” said Brockett of the French-British solutions for both groups.
The WW1 powers occupied the territory known as Palestine until May 1948 when a mandate was passed giving the territory to the Jewish people, and the modern state of Israel was born, but no Palestinian nation was created.
There were three adjacent areas that were occupied by Arab armies; The Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights. The armies were led by neighbouring Arab majority countries; Jordan, Egypt and Syria.
In 1967, wars broke out between Israel and the three Arab countries. Israel captured all three territories, but did not gain control of the people, just the land.
Israel and Syria have fought battles over the Golan Heights which led to its control under the Israeli government. In 2019, America broke ranks with most of the international community when it recognized the Golan as part of Israel’s sovereign state, upsetting Arabs living there.
Settlements by Jewish people in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank have continued, which has been a major cause of concern for those who do not consider these areas to be under the control of Israel.
In 1993 the United Nations declared that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was to be established and eventually this would lead to the establishment of a sovereign country, but this has not happened.
Modern Day Conflict
The rally in Mississauga was intended as a protest against the proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank that would have been formalized this month, and would bring those territories under official control of the Israeli government.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American President Donald Trump have paved the way for the move, despite almost unanimous condemnation by the international community, including Canada. It has been reported that Netanyahu has held off on the formal annexation because Trump has not given him the go ahead as the U.S. continues to struggle with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Both leaders are viewed by European, Canadian, and Middle Eastern countries as being heavy-handed in their disregard for Palestinian opposition to the planned annexation and the continued settlement of parts of the West Bank by Jewish families.
Backlash against the move has been supported widely, especially the Palestinians and others in the international community, who feel the right of Palestinian statehood is slipping away.
Posts from the Sauga for Palestine Instagram account.
The organizer of the protest who spoke with The Pointer said that annexation is against international law. Since Palestine isn’t recognized as its own country, Israel believes parts of the land can be used for Jewish settlement and should come under the official control of the country, as there are historic claims to early Jewish civilization in the area.
“I’ve been teaching the subject for 20 years now and it’s just as unsolvable as it was 20 years ago,” said Brockett.
Both sides have endured trauma from the other and both are to blame, he said. The most important lesson to take away from this situation is that this is not a religious conflict, but a conflict about land.
Being Pro-Palestinian should not be seen as anti-Semitic and being Pro-Israeli should not be seen as Islamaphobic. If the conflict is about land occupation, then bringing religion and cultural differences into it takes away from the issues at hand.
Many countries, including Canada, recognize the Palestinian Authority as a government under President Mahmoud Abbas, which has authority over much of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization is the representative of the Palestinian people.
“Canada is committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” says the Canadian government on its website.
This is the most frustrating part for the Palestinians and those protesting annexation. If many countries believe that Palestine should become a country then why are other nations sitting back while the Palestinian territories continue to be swallowed up, the organizer asked.
In November 2012 the UN granted Palestine non-member observer State status which allows it the right to self-determination, sovereignty over natural resources, human rights and peaceful settlement of the questions surrounding territorial rights.
But hateful comments can have the effect of setting the Palestinian cause back, and might raise concerns for many Canadians who want to see peace in the Middle East.
There are many Jewish citizens, in Canada, Israel and around the world, who are strongly opposed to the proposed annexation and have voiced disagreement with Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
But observers have said that, instead of seeing the Jewish community as a key ally, a small minority of Palestinians and other Arabs get drawn into historic conflicts that only make future peace harder to achieve.
Hate crimes and racism in Peel
Unfortunately, anti-Semitic displays are not new in Peel Region. In 2017, a group of Palestinian protestors gathered at Celebration Square in Mississauga chanting in Arabic remarks that intended to antagonize the Jewish community, regarding a historic battle between the two groups.
“Jewish and Muslim community members reported the highest victimization numbers though both groups experienced marked decreases in incidents of hate-motivated crime victimization between 2017 and 2019,” a recent report by Peel police stated.
Despite the reduction in the two cities, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 62.8 percent across the province in 2019 compared to the year prior, according to B'nai Brith Canada. The numbers were led by Toronto, with 32 percent of its hate crimes targeting the Jewish community, and York Region, with 30 percent.
Hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim communities are the most common type of hate-motivated incident in Peel.
Last year in Peel, 14 crimes targeted the Jewish community and seven targeted the Muslim community.
It is believed that several factors have contributed to the decline of hate crimes between 2017 and 2019, including the arrest of an individual who was responsible for a large number of mischief-related crimes in 2017 and 2018.
Both B'nai Brith and the organizer of the event denouncing the proposed annexation by Israel said their objectives are to move toward harmonious coexistence, here and abroad.
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