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Pro-Palestinian activists don’t feel safe in Halifax

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Po-Palestinian activists in Halifax feel pressured to remain silent about Israeli apartheid and suppression of their fellow Palestinians in Palestine. 

Here in Nova Scotia this manifests in the form of intimidating threats they experience while going about their daily business in the city. It is also exemplified in the overly aggressive policing during the Nakba Day car rally last week.  

Things are bad enough that the two young Pro-Palestinian activists I spoke with earlier this week asked to remain nameless for this interview. 

They point to backlash against journalists who called for less biased reporting, and the AP journalist fired for a years-old social media post to justify their request for anonymity. Fears for the physical safety of loved ones in Palestine are also part of their considerations.

“It’s all very silencing. We feel like our hands are tied, but we also know that we have a responsibility in a country like Canada to speak out,” says one of the young activists.

There is a reason Rana Zaman has been one of the few local people to publicly speak out against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. In a way she is protecting us, because she doesn’t want the same thing that happened to her to happen to us, they say.

Rana Zaman had her 2019 federal NDP nomination and a Nova Scotia Human Rights Award abruptly taken away after the surfacing of some old over the top tweets in which she angrily compared Israeli suppression of Palestinian demonstrators with Nazi behaviour during the second world war. Tweets she had since apologized for over and over.

It’s that same suppressive climate that allowed Halifax police to come down so heavily on the 200 or so participants in the Covid-safe Nakba Day car rally. 

17 tickets were issued at the event. Nine were for offences under the Health Protection Act, two for offences under the Emergency Management Act and six for offences under the Motor Vehicle Act. People were even ticketed for honking, a Haligonians tradition in celebration of weddings and sports team victories.

“My job was to make sure people were safe. We care for the safety of our community, and our messaging really emphasized the precautions to ensure that people were safe. We weren’t trying to undermine the law at all,” one of the women says. 

“But I actually got ticketed, I was one of those people who got ticketed by the police. I was directing traffic while wearing my mask, I was wearing gloves, and I had hand sanitizer in my hand. The officer was very aggressive in his approach. He kept asking me if I knew the powers he had, in a really intimidating way.” 

“They ended up ticketing a guy and putting him in cuffs for honking, in plain view of his young daughter who sat in the back and was crying,” she says.  

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In a way the lack of empathy is the most chilling thing about the police response, says one of the women.

“The rally came into play over the course of four days, and it didn’t happen in a vacuum. People were witnessing the bombardments and hearing from their families going through these things. In some cases their families have had to evacuate their own homes. They carry this weight in their hearts, and then to be so grossly violated by the police, that I think is the saddest and the most heinous part of the whole situation,” she says.

Meanwhile, a maskless man who spat at rally participants and called them terrorists was merely shooed away, they say.

Such things happen often, the women say.

Just this past weekend, a Palestinian man was attacked by two white men. He went to the hospital because of his injuries, they tell me. 

One of the women recounts a man who follows her around and harasses her. One time, when she was out postering, he became so aggressive that two bystanders came to her aid. When later on he accosted and yelled at her in a drugstore she called the cops, but they basically just shrugged it off, she says.

What’s remarkable is how despite all this the tide of grassroots public opinion in Canada and Nova Scotia is turning towards support for the Palestinian cause, they say.

“Social media has been a huge amplifier for Palestinian voices. Now we hear from people who are experiencing these attacks directly on the ground, uploading the images from their cell phone. People are seeing these images that they wouldn’t necessarily see on mainstream media, and they’re following people who are on the ground with thousands of followers,” they say.

“Before, in terms of the media reporting on the situation, there was always that middleman. Despite the censorship, on Instagram, on TikTok, things are changing for the better. People are more aware of what’s going on now.”

See also: Judy Haiven: Halifax police not letting a good injunction go to waste

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