From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime

Tijana Martin, The Canadian Press


*Written for York University’s Excalibur. Published in print March 04, 2020, but not released online.

Unified chants reverberated through the streets of Toronto on February 17, 2020. With Family Day coinciding with the date of the rally, generations of loved ones gathered to march the 4 kilometres from Christie Pits to Queen’s Park, in solidarity with the land defenders of the Wet’suwet’en territory.

On December 31, 2019, the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction to clear the way and begin construction of their pipeline project—a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline running through B.C. and cutting across traditional Wet’suwet’en lands.

The Wet’suwet’en peoples, however, never ceded their land rights to the Canadian government.

Despite this, on February 6, 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began moving in. The RCMP made arrests of peaceful protesters sitting in at the pipeline construction site, which then incited demonstrations of solidarity across the nation. Over two dozen protesters have since been arrested, with numbers still rising.

This past Family Day, residents from across the Greater Toronto Area gathered at the heart of the city to show support and solidarity with Indigenous land defenders.

Families marched through the streets with signs reading “Reconciliation is dead,” “No consent, no pipeline,” and “Wet’suwet’en Strong,” amongst many others. Ralliers carried inverted Canada flags and chanted “Shut down Canada,” in response to the aggression demonstrated by RCMP officers towards the civil disobedience being practiced on Wet’suwet’en land.

Many protesters at the march were sporting the keffiyeh, a checkered scarf popularized as a revolutionist symbol in 1930s Palestine, during the revolt against British colonizers. Protesters of the British regime wore keffiyehs to hide their identity when clashing with authority. The British Mandate then banned the printed scarf as it was a symbol of the rebellion, so all Palestinians began to wear them in solidarity with the rebels. It remains a symbol of resistance to the day.

“From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” chanted the thousands attending the Family Day march, expressing solidarity with Indigenous communities in so-called Canada and with the people of Palestine.

An Indigenous student at York University, who wishes to remain anonymous for safety purposes, said, “Indigenous peoples from Turtle Island and Indigenous Palestinians have long been united in our struggles against occupying colonial forces.”

Similar to the settler-colonial violence occurring on Indigenous land, Palestinian land has long been occupied by Israeli settlers. After World War II, Jewish people displaced by the war sought new land to call their own. In 1947, the United Nations ruled that the contested land of Palestine will be split into three territories: a Jewish territory, an Arab territory, and an international trusteeship regime in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian people, however, never agreed to give up their land.

Despite this, Israel was declared a state in May of 1948 and war broke out over the unceded land. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, with many more refugees undocumented. The occupation is ongoing.

“Palestine is the ultimate testament to the lengths colonial governments will go to delegitimize and eradicate Indigenous peoples and undermine our sovereignty. There will be no freedom for any of us until there is freedom for Palestine,” said the student.

With the shared struggle and trauma of knowing what it’s like to have one’s land torn from them, both Palestinians and Indigenous people often stand in solidarity with one another, as demonstrated at the Wet’suwet’en Family Day march.

“As a Palestinian woman living in Canada, I am a settler on this land, not by choice but due to a process of colonization that forced my grandparents to move out of Palestine and onto lands that are not theirs,” explained another student, who also wishes to remain anonymous for safety purposes.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to be living in this country,” she said. “But I have a complicated relationship with Canada when I know it is a settler-colonial state that denies Indigenous people basic human rights.”

Canada’s disregard for Indigenous sovereignty mirrors the occupation of Palestine. The longing to return home is what continues to drive the fight against settler-colonialism.

“I am yearning to return, to breathe the air of my homeland, to see the home of my grandparents and to pick fruit from trees that belong to me and my ancestors,” said the student.

“We will not let the oppressor strangle the life out of us.”

This story has been updated for clarity.

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