As war rages in the Middle East, Kingston and the Islands MP and pro-Palestine organizers tried to establish common ground this past Monday.
Ten people staged a sit-in inside MP Mark Gerretsen’s office on the afternoon of Oct. 30, to demand he sign a letter calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The Queen’s branch of Students for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) was involved in organizing the sit-in with members, who were also present in the office. Gerretsen later met with SPHR on Nov. 1, which was postponed from its original date on Monday.
“They weren’t able to meet with me because they weren’t able to get all the people together, but then a few hours later ended up showing up at my office,” Gerretsen said in an interview with The Journal.
The protest was part of a wider movement of sit-ins which took place across 17 cities in Ontario. The protesters had four demands, including for MPs to sign a letter advocating for a ceasefire and that Canada stop shipping arms to Israel. In 2021, Canada exported roughly $26 million worth of military goods to Israel.
Kingston Police were present at the sit-in, and approximately 20 individuals demonstrated outside Gerretsen’s office. Protesters held signs and read the names of Palestinians who lost their lives in Gaza until 6:30 p.m. No arrests were made during the protest.
“I want to meet with Mark because he needs to sign this [letter] and he needs to do what’s in his power to stop this violence against people in Gaza,” Marion Gosalves, an organizer of the sit-in, said in an interview with The Journal.
According to Gosalves, who isn’t part of SPHR, the organizers of the protest contacted Gerretsen multiple times during the sit-in. Gosalves said Gerretsen refused to meet with them, and instead asked them to attend the meeting with SPHR on Wednesday.
Non-SPHR sit-in organizers weren’t originally in contact with SPHR members. The non-SPHR organizers only learned of Queen’s students’ involvement around 4 p.m. on Monday.
“What’s happening now is a continuation of decades of killing Palestinians. Trudeau and our Member of Parliament, Mark Garretsen, are complicit in this,” Gosalves said.
Following the sit-in, Gerretsen met with organizers and the SPHR in a meeting on Wednesday morning. During the meeting, Gerretsen committed to monthly meetings with the Palestine Solidarity Group of Kingston to continue conversations on anti-Palestinian racism.
“Though [Gerretsen] didn’t clearly state whether he would sign the letter to the Prime Minister or not, Gerretsen will be following up with us to reaffirm his commitments to our presented demands,” an SPHR representative said in a statement to The Journal after the Wednesday meeting.
For Gerretsen, Canada’s focus should be on supporting delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza through pauses in military operations. Though he agrees Canada plays a role in ensuring Israel follows international law, Gerretsen said a ceasefire isn’t plausible.
“Why would a terrorist organization whose stated objective is to eliminate Israel be interested in a ceasefire?” Gerretsen said. “The most important thing here is to deliver humanitarian aid, and to those that are affected the most by this, the innocent civilians in Palestine, that’s the primary objective here.”
In the eyes of Palestinian supporters, Canada must take a stronger stance against Israel to stop the death of more Gazan civilians.
“While we had this [protest] so many people died, so many people were killed by Israel. And it’s hard, I’ve been crying a lot today,” Kamryn Marsh, another organizer of the sit-in said in an interview with The Journal.
Marsh’s college roommate Suha Jarrar is one of many individuals who died overseas. Jarrar was heavily involved in advocacy for Palestine. Her mother, a Palestinian legislator, was detained many times by the Israeli authorities without being charged over the years.
“When Suha passed away two years ago, Israel didn’t grant her mother release to go to her funeral. She wasn’t allowed to go to her daughter’s funeral,” Marsh said.
Marsh’s friendship with Jarrar pulled her into Palestinian human rights advocacy 15 years ago. For Marsh, Canada has a responsibility, surpassing humanitarian aid distribution, to stop the violence in the Middle East
In a United Nations General Assembly vote which called for an immediate truce between Hamas and Israel, Canada was one of 45 countries abstaining from voting.
“[Gerretsen is] one of the very few methods that we have to be able to communicate as citizens, as constituents, that we don’t support a genocide and a massacre of Palestinians,” Marsh said.
Though deeply disturbed by the dehumanization of Palestinians, as a long-time advocate, Marsh believes something in the world has shifted.
“The support I have seen in the last few weeks across the globe, I never thought in my life I would see this kind of level of support for Palestine,” Marsh said.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described that Suha Jarrar was detained multiple times. In fact, it was Suha’s mother who was detained multiple times.
Incorrect information appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of The Queen’s Journal
The Journal regrets the error
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