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Turtle Island to Palestine – Colonialism is a crime

Patty Krawec

May 25, 2021
On May 21, 2021 about 150 people in my city joined with others gathering in cities across Canada and the world in solidarity with Palestinians. For 11 consecutive days we had watched the destruction of Gaza. I say consecutive because the violence and destruction reaches back decades as the Israeli state continues to push Palestinians out of their homes and encroach further and further into their land. Ongoing violence that is punctuated by escalations but never really stops.
As an Anishnaabekwe this story is all too familiar. The RCMP raid the land protectors at Wet’suwet’en territory. Angry fishermen burn Mi’kmaq lobster boats. Militarized police use water cannons in sub zero weather. Tanks rolled into Oka during a 91 day standoff. OPP continue to arrest people at 1492 Landback Lane. And when the police used tear gas, something prohibited for use in war, against protesters in Ferguson it was Palestinians who recognized the brand and sent advice for how to counter its effects and limit exposure. We are familiar with being enclosed and having our movements restricted, with limits placed on where and how we could work or sell product and products. We are familiar with those who go missing; missing into prisons or child welfare or mental hospitals or just missing. There are, after all, many ways that those of us whose existence puts us in the way can go missing.
The Kashmir Gulposh, a transnational collective working towards peace and prosperity in the Kashmir region, worked with members of the local Palestinian community to hold a vigil and in recognition that we all exist on Indigenous land, reached out to the Indigenous community. Members of the Indigenous community reached back.
Justice is our demand – No peace on stolen land!
The event was held in the shared territory of the Michi-Saagig Anishnaabe and the Haudenosaunee. These two peoples have different ways of living and different cosmologies or religious beliefs. After periods of conflict, they developed a treaty called the Dish with One Spoon which encompassed a huge geography stretching from the St. Lawrence Seaway and around the Great Lakes up to the Lake of the Woods. This treaty bound not only the Anishnaabeg and Haudenosaunee but also their allies, so anyone who wanted to travel through or live in the area was also bound by this agreement much as people today are bound by the Treaty of Ghent and don’t do business in Manitoba as if they were in Wisconsin. The basic principles of non-interference and reciprocity allowed these very different societies to live in the same territory, it ensured that each had their needs met, and that neither exploited the resources of the area or the people living in it.
It was in that spirit that I welcomed those who had gathered: members of the Kashmiri, Palestinian, and African diasporas, Indigenous people, and settlers. I welcomed those who came to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine who wanted the same things that the Anishnaabeg and Haudenosaunee worked out a way to do: to live in their own way in their own homes beneath their own olive trees, to live in peace in one territory without interference. It is important to note that Palestinians and Jews had lived in peace for centuries in Palestine, and that it wasn’t until the Balfour Declaration and creation of the Israeli colony that things began to unravel.
Brick by brick, wall by wall – Apartheid has got to fall!
In my remarks I talked about an open letter that James Baldwin had written to his nephew, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of emancipation. He wrote that “it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”
Those who colonize and settle and push others aside. They want to be innocent. To say they did not know. To be so far removed that they do not even need to look away because they never looked in the first place.
The innocence is itself the crime.
Bricks and walls created and maintained that keep us physically segregated from those who wish to maintain their innocence. Bricks and walls that contain and control Black and Indigenous people, Palestinian and Kashmiri, we who are not permitted to be innocent but are always dangerous and threatening. Except for our children, our children are innocent and must be taken from us in order to remain innocent because as adults, as adolescents, we are only threats.
Bricks and walls that sever us from our history. That allow the innocent the pretense that we never existed, or if we did exist, we didn’t exist in this particular spot, or if it was this spot, we weren’t using it. Bricks and walls that replace our history with stories of how we lost the land fair and square, that it doesn’t matter anymore anyway, that we need to get over it. I did not know that there were rituals done in Africa that so that those who were sold into slavery would forget they had once been free. But they did not forget. The rituals were, perhaps, for those who sold them, an absolution. Those who colonize and settle and push us aside also have rituals of forgetting.
We do not forget.
Gaza must have food and water – Israel, stop the slaughter!
On my way to the rally, I heard an interviewer on CBC ask a Palestinian if Hamas should bear some responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. He had talked about the destruction in Gaza, the weaponry that Israel has and the international financing and how it far outstrips what Gaza is capable of. The interviewer reasoned that knowing this, knowing that any attack on Israel would provoke this kind of response did not Hamas bear some responsibility? He tried to answer her, but she wanted an admission of guilt and interrupted him several times. We are already dying he said. We are hungry and have unsafe water. We die for lack of medical care and are prevented from getting to hospitals. We are already dying and nobody notices nobody does anything nobody cares. We are already dying. As western journalists often do, she asked the wrong question. Instead of placing blame we should be asking what is the extent of their desperation that they would take this step, this risk?
We beg and plead to be seen as human, as worthy. We think that if we could just show them that we bleed like they do. Laugh and cry like they do, rejoice and mourn like they do. We think, maybe they don’t know, those innocent and well-meaning people.
Their innocence is itself the crime.
Trudeau Trudeau can’t you see? Palestine will be free!
Several speakers followed me. Robert Fantina is an author and journalist who writes extensively about U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, with a focus on Palestine. He serves on the boards of Canadian Voices for Palestinian Rights (CVPR) and Canadians for Peace and Justice in Kashmir (CPJK) and spoke about Canada’s role in perpetuating and supporting the colonial violence in Palestine. A Kashmiri woman spoke about shared struggles and shared goals, the global impact of colonial power. Palestinian community members took the stage. Two young men led chants. A young woman read the names of dead children. Another urged Canadians to do something, to talk to their leaders, to ask them about their position on Palestine. She reminded us that an election is coming up and asked us to remember, these are your leaders she said. Your leaders. Your responsibility.
Do something.
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!
In their essay, Decolonization is not a metaphor, Eve Tuck and K Wayne Yang assert that decolonization is not interchangeable with other ideas about social justice and human rights. It’s not something we do along with accessibility and anti-racist work. At the core, decolonization means restoring land and recognizing sovereignty. These are the fundamental harms of colonialism and therefore frame the solution. Land Back. Land Back here, in Palestine, in Kashmir. Everywhere that colonization has encroached and stolen and taken what was not theirs. It means living where you are as if the land had been given back, prioritizing Indigenous land and knowledge, protocols and relationships.
Decolonization is not a metaphor, and neither is solidarity.
Labour unions provide a place to address these inequities. They provide a structure in which we can have conversations about priorities. We can develop and articulate positions and then give weight to those demands through public and political pressure. We saw this happen in 2018 when students organized against the changes to Ford’s sex ed curriculum. Their actions coordinated with the ETFO legal challenge as well as pressure by groups like PFLAG and the Conservatives abandoned the roll back that they had promised. We see it in the ongoing work of the Fight for 15, which is not even a living wage in many places anymore. Labour unions provide the kind of structure that can move awareness campaigns from hashtags and marches to articulated policy recommendations that change systems and not just individuals.
But too often when we talk about inequity, we are not talking about breaking down the oppressive paradigms. We are talking about better inclusions within these paradigms. Instead of undoing what no longer serves us, we shore up what does serve us even when it does not serve others.
Just as settler colonial governments from Turtle Island to Kashmir and Palestine annex land and move their own people onto it, settler unionism annexes jobs and displaces racialized workers. And just as colonial governments frame their violence as defence or national security, labour frames its actions as protecting Canadian jobs in the face of immigrants who would steal our jobs. In the face of Indigenous people who block construction or pipeline jobs. In the face of Palestinians who threaten jobs.
Decolonization is not a metaphor. It means restoration of land and sovereignty. And solidarity is not a metaphor. It means thinking about what you are enacting on Indigenous land and racially marginalized people both here and in Palestine because Palestine is Indigenous land.
Unless labour stands behind those who are experiencing oppression, solidarity will only and forever be a metaphor. Unions cannot stand only for their members, seeking what is best for their membership in a colonial state that relies on the oppression of others in order to function. In that way labour is, and has been, part of the colonial project.
Winning rights within an oppressive system is not anti-oppressive work. What kind of solidarities are developed when our interests rely on stolen land and exploited labour? What is possible when we imagine a solidarity that does not consist of bringing everyone inside an oppressive system?
We need to develop meaningful relationships. It always comes down to relationships. Solidarity is about showing up to actions, but it is also about developing meaningful relationships between actions. Relationships with the people who are most impacted by the harms this society relies on. Relationships with those that our jobs pay us to care for, to teach. To work with them as interns, not allies. To be there to learn and support their sovereignty. We work together to undo what no longer serves us,
We need solidarities that cross labour and activist lines.
We need solidarities that reckon with the realities of exploited labour and stolen land. We need solidarities that recognize innocence is the crime.
Free Free Palestine! Viva Viva Palestina!

Patty Krawec is an Anishnaabe Ukranian activist, co-host of the podcast Medicine for the Resistance, and host of the online book club Ambe: A year of Indigenous reading. Patty is a writer and speaker and for 16 years was an active member of CUPE Local 2328, including serving terms as union steward, secretary, and co-chair of the Health and Safety Committee.
Photo credit: Kashmir Gulposh *
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