Award-winning Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, has asked Canadians advocating for the rights of Palestinians if they are similarly involved in the plight of First Nations people in Canada.
Hass raised this question during a cross-Canada lecture tour co-sponsored by the ecumenical justice group, Kairos, and the NGO, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Sept. 27-Oct. 8.
Hass, who is the only Israeli Jew living in and reporting from the Occupied Territories, said she has seen parallels in the history of displacement and continuing discrimination of Palestinians and First Nations people in Canada.
Hass has been reporting in the Occupied Territories since 1993 for the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. She lived for three years in Gaza and has been residing in Ramallah since 1997. A fearless reporter, she has incurred the ire of leaders in both Israel and Palestine for her incisive stories about injustices arising from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I’m really shocked to hear about the forms of dispossession and discrimination involving First Nations people,” Hass told a Kairos gathering held Oct. 5. at the Holy Trinity Anglican church in Toronto. “I am shocked to hear that 20 per cent of aboriginal newborn babies have fetal alcohol syndrome.”
John Bird, aboriginal justice and right relations coordinator for the United Church of Canada, who attended the gathering, acknowledged that the plight of aboriginal people “is not one that matters to mainstream Canadians” and that “very few know the history of (their) displacement.”
Julie Graham, Kairos education and campaign coordinator, said there are some who believe that aboriginal people are “worse off” than Palestinians because they are “invisible.”
But while Hass drew some similarities between the struggles of Palestinian and First Nations people, she urged caution in demonizing Israel, saying the Middle East conflict is more complex than it appears. “Do not make Israel a unique case of wrongdoing, as if (it) is an island of evil in an ocean of goodwill,” she said.
Hass said people must know that “Zionism didn’t appeal to the majority of Jews” and Palestine only became an option after they were expelled from Europe.
Her own parents were Holocaust survivors who arrived in the new state of Israel as refugees in 1949. It was then that they learned Palestinians had been expelled from their homes by Jewish authorities in 1948.
Today, she said that there are Israeli Jews who defy prohibitions by Israeli authorities to enter the Occupied Territories, where they learn more about the living conditions of Palestinians hemmed in by a barrier (wall) constructed by Israel in 2004. “They are breaking the (Israeli government’s) goal of separation,” said Hass.