Though the numbers continue to be counted, it is estimated that more than a one thousand residents attended the Nakba 73 car rally held in solidarity with Palestinian lives. The rally was just one of several held across Canada and around the world under the banner of #Nakba73. 

Nakba, Arabic for ‘catastrophe’, is the word used to describe the Zionist settlement project that expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands in 1948. Ongoing resistance and international criticism of the nation state of Israel have grown louder as the reality of an apartheid state meant to control, subjugate, and displace Palestinians and Arabs in the region has become impossible — and morally untenable — to ignore.

Tensions have boiled over recently after Hamas extremist groups fired rockets at Jerusalem. Most either failed to reach their target, or were mitigated by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence grid. So far, Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.

The Israeli military retaliated with its own volley of rockets targeting the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Palestinians in the area did not get the benefit of an advanced rocket defence system. According to Al Jazeera, at least 192 people, including 58 children and 34 women have died in Gaza to date. Many more are injured.

Palestinian organizers and allies in Waterloo Region started planning for an in-person rally early last week to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. The rally was to enforce strict rules for attendees to be physically distanced and masked. However, organizers were discouraged by Waterloo Regional Police under the threat of charges. The car rally was their work around.

KW Palestine named this action by the WRPS as “police intimidation’ and a “long-standing political tactic used to silence Palestinians and other racialized bodies”.

(Photo provided by Hiba El Miari)

Attendees gathered at three separate starting points in Kitchener and Waterloo to begin the journey to Victoria Park. Some drove and others walked. For nearly two hours, the city’s soundscape was filled with cheers and horns, protest signs and Palestinian flags waving as cars moved through the streets.

On Sunday May 16, 2021 attendees at the rally contacted KW Palestine on Instagram stating that they were being visited by WRPS officers inquiring about the identities of individuals sitting in car windows and standing in sunroofs. 

In an email statement, WRPS spokesperson Cherri Greeno wrote, “While the majority of those in attendance conducted themselves in a peaceful manner, a small number were reported to be conducting themselves in a way that put the community at obvious risk. Members of our CIRT team did conduct follow-up calls for reports of dangerous stunt driving related incidents that occurred during the event, which caused significant risk to members of the community. No tickets were issued at this time. Follow up will continue.” 

(Photo provided by Hiba El Miari)

WRPS did not comment as to why they chose to respond a day after this alleged significant risk to the community had already passed. KW Palestine has remained in contact with those being visited by the police, offering both advice and access to legal support. 

In reflecting on the impact of the rally, organizer Hiba El Miari offered praise for the community and disappointment in our local leadership. 

“The support Palestinians received from the KW community was incredible,” El Miari said. “It clearly showed that there is a thirst for a Palestinian voice and a platform and that Palestinians constitute a huge part of the KW community.”

Data from the 2016 census indicate an estimated 1000 Palestinians live in Waterloo Region.“I keep asking myself what made people, outside of the Palestinian and Arab community, show up for support,” El Miari said. “The only answer I always get is what Ghassan Kanafani said: ‘The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever they are, as a cause for the exploited and oppressed.’”

Deafening silence from leaders

Regional councillors and mayors took the time to acknowledge the closing of Ramadan with tweets and public statements acknowledging the Eid earlier in the week, yet were silent about the violence in the West Bank. 

Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky has yet to give any comment regarding the bombing attack on the Masjid Al Aqsa, a mere week before Eid, or general comment on this most recent outbreak of violence. He has, however, given insideWaterloo a statement on the car rally itself:

“I support the rights of people to protest, however in the pandemic times under provincial regulations, I ask people to use the internet for online protest events and petitions, that allow people to participate virtually and safely.” 

Meanwhile, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic thanked the organizers in his statement for “protesting in a manner that kept public health measures at the forefront… and maximized their opportunity to convey their message and support about the tragic situation in Palestine.” 

He offered further comment, becoming the only mayor to date to specifically name the Palestinian community. 

“My thoughts are with all the residents in our community who have family and friends throughout this part of the Middle East and I join others in the call for all sides to immediately implement a ceasefire and work towards a peaceful and permanent solution.”

(Photo provided by Hiba El Miari)

Kitchener Centre Federal MP nominee and Palestinian-Canadian Beisan Zubi has been a leader in her community and active supporter of KW Palestine. Zubi attended the car rally giving a rousing speech at the Conestoga Mall meeting point before drivers headed out on the road. 

Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo has been a strong and vocal advocate for all local liberation movements by marginalized and oppressed communities. MPP Lindo named the Transform Wilmot rally and the Nakba73 car rally as teachable moments for our local elected leaders on the impact of their silence. 

“Elected leaders have to take a second and consider why they are scared to comment. How could you see those pictures and images and not say anything?  If local leaders are going to commit to anti-racism, anti-oppression they can’t be partial. They must understand and respond to the ways racism operates,” Lindo said. 

Lindo also pointed out the difference in treatment between the solidarity car rally, and the anti-lockdown rally that saw protesters march past Grand River Hospital the prior week.

“When you have to consider that the police treated anti-lockdown protesters marching past the hospital, housing our most vulnerable, differently than protesters driving slowly in a cavalcade,” Lindo said. “It’s easy to speak in large and general umbrella terms. It’s easy to say ‘racism has no place here.’ The hard work comes when you have to confront a particular example of racism.” 

Call to action

“The car rally was a great show of solidarity. However, more needs to be done from our government,” El Miari said, referring to calls to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel.

“Since 2010, Canada has exported $75 million worth of military goods and technologies to Israel despite continued reports of human rights violations by the Israeli state against Palestinians. Human rights watch and B’Tselem, an Israeli human right organization, have called Israel as an apartheid state,” El Miari said.

The BDS movement has three fundamental demands: the first one is ending the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated by UN resolutions.

“The government has to acknowledge this and impose sanctions on the state of Israel and immediately end all sales of arms. This must be Canada’s commitment to its citizens and to human rights,” El Miari said.

Reflecting on the solidarity rally, El Miari offered these final words in our interview.

“Finally, gigantic efforts from local organizations were put into enabling and facilitating this car rally which demonstrates a true embodiment of intersectional solidarity under Palestinian leadership continuing the historical legacy of Black and Palestinian ally-ship and hopefully opens the door to new relations.”

– Hiba El Miari
(Photo provided by Hiba El Miari)

With files from Fitsum Areguy.