Members of the International United Churches of Canada visit An-Najah
A delegation of the International United Churches of Canada in Toronto visited the University as part of a trip around the occupied Palestinian territories. The United Churches of Canada, which has maintained a steadfastly liberal position, is Canada’s second largest church after the Roman Catholic Church and its largest Protestant denomination. The twelve representatives of the Church have all very different backgrounds that range from a psychotherapist, a filmmaker, and a college teacher of humanities, a retired nurse and a lawyer for the city of Toronto. Their trip was scheduled in direct relation with their desire to learn more about the current situation of Palestine and the boycott and divestment of Israeli military products. An initiative presented by the church’s branch in Toronto that will possibly extend to a national level if the other regions give it a positive vote in a conference that will take place in August.
During their two-day stay in Nablus the delegation had the opportunity to talk to the Mayor of Nablus, Mr. Adli Yaish, and to Bassam Shakaa Former Mayor of the city, as well as to visit the university, the Askar Refugee camp and get an insight into the old city.
During a talk with Saed Abu-Hijleh, Director of the Public Relations Department of An-Najah, about the dimensions of anti-semitism, he stated that “Zionism has done more harm to anti-semitism than anything else in the world. After a while, if you’re not educated, you start not making a difference between Jews and Israelis. That’s why we need more American Jews to raise their voices”. He recalled the fate of some of the victims of the occupation, among them his own mother, Shaden Abu-Hijleh, who was 62 years old when she was murdered in October 2002 while sitting at home with her family. About Asem Yousef, a recently deceased student of An-Najah and volunteer at the Zajel Youth Exchange Program he remembers: “When we went to bury Asem in his village, soldiers searched the ambulance at the checkpoint which was carrying the corps with dogs and arrested his brothers. After one hour they let the ambulance go”.
For Vicky, a representative of the United Churches of Canada in Toronto, one of the most shocking experiences of the trip up to that moment was the group’s visit to Bethlehem, which coincided with the assassination of two youths. The group witnessed the procession leading to the funeral and listened to the relatives sharing their experiences with them. Joanne, a retired nurse who has worked in a number of countries –among them Afghanistan-, tells about their struggle at Huwara checkpoint upon their arrival to the city, “I was amazed by how rude they are at the checkpoint. What they were saying was bad enough but how they were saying it was even worse”.
Emily, employed at the Ministry of Health and Longterm Care and her husband George, a lawyer of the Municipality of Toronto, are here in response to a personal interest. They said, “In Canada we don’t get an accurate image of the conflict. In general we get no information of Palestinians dying by Israelis, but there’s a lot of coverage about the last blast in Tel Aviv. We get the Israeli point of view of the story, even if a newspaper article is overall balanced, the headline and the first paragraph, which is what most people read, are almost always pro-Israel”.
The reasons for this one-sided coverage are hinted by Karin Brothers, a housewife actively engaged in documenting the conflict. “The Jewish lobby is indeed very powerful, not only in the US but also in Canada”, she says. “A significant amount of electoral money comes from the Jewish community, to the extent that right after the massacre of Jenin, about 96% of Congress was in favour of Israel. They created something like an Israeli solidarity vote to support Israel. It’s at that moment that Israel’s lobby showed their muscle”. She has no doubt about the influence of the Jewish community both in politics and within the media: “Any politician would be targeted if he turned his back on Israel.