Hope, disappointment, self-censorship: What it’s like to be a Palestinian Canadian

Idris Elbakri (right) with family is one of the millions of Palestinians scattered around the globe. He counts himself among the lucky ones who were able to come to Canada, where he is now a citizen. He reflects on the benefits and stresses of being a Palestinian Canadian. See the CTIP interview…

I am a proud Canadian Palestinian. Palestine is my homeland and Canada is my adopted country. I love both.,” says Idris Elbakri now living in Winnipeg.

Elbakri recently shared publicly his conflicting thoughts on his experiences and emotions as a Canadian citizen. “But not everything Canada taught me was positive. I have learned to self-censor and muzzle. I cannot speak frankly and honestly through my pain and the pain of those I love,” he wrote in a heart-felt first person article for CBC. “Oppressed and dispossessed people cannot be raw and unfiltered… (…) Our raw and real experiences can get too uncomfortable for our audiences, and the accusatory label of antisemitism is just a press release or social media post away.”

He shared the pain he and other Palestinians feel as they are dehumanised by media reports about the conflict.

In this short thoughtful OFIP video interview, Elbakri reflects on how his involvement welcoming recent refugees to Canada has helped him better understand the stresses his own parents were under as refugees longing to return to their own country. He also discusses how the recent revelations about the residential schools and Canadian settler colonialism have given him new insights on the Israel/Palestine issue. “Canada is imperfect“, he says, “but it gives me hope.”

According to the 2016 Census there were 44,820 Canadians who claimed Palestinian ancestry. Many have come from third countries – like Jordan, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon – places where their parents or grandparents sought refuge when hey were expelled from their own country – Palestine – in 1947/48. Each one has a story of family expulsion, pain and suffering.

For many of them it is a frustration to see that Canada, their adopted country, continues to ignore Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

What makes Palestinian Canadians different from other immgrants?

For many years, Canada has been accepting immigrants from all over the world. In 2020 alone, we accepted more than 300,000. While most are very happy to have come to Canada, all have a nostalgia for the old country, friends, other family, foods and culture. Many return from time to time to visit their former country. A few even return permanently.

But not Palestinian Canadians. Alone among the hundreds of thousands of new Canadians, Palestinian Canadians are denied the right to take up residence in their original homeland. Why? Their right to do so is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.

In contravention of international law, Israel denies that right to Palestinian refugees. In fact, Israel makes it very difficult for Palestinians to even visit Israel, the West Bank or Gaza. Why? To protect the idea of a “Jewish State”. That Jewish State was created by expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1947/48, turning the Jewish minority into a majority. Israel remains a Jewish state today by the expedient of keeping the millions of Palestinian refugees around the world permanently at bay.

Canada’s role? Missing in action again

Canada frequently intervenes on issues relating to human rights in other countries – frequently in response to appeals from its own new Canadian citizens. Canada has taken up the cause of Ukrainian-Canadians, Indian-Canadians, and Hong kong Canadians who have called on the Canadian government to defend their rights.

Canada was one of the original signatories of that Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada even voted in favour of UN Security Council Resolution 193, which supports the Palestinian right of return.

But on the right of its Palestinian Canadian citizens to return to their homeland, as so often before, Canada has been missing in action.

Post script – another attempt by the Israel lobby to bully CBC

In the OFIP video interview above, Elbakri mentions briefly the challenges he had in getting the CBC to publish his article, apparently because it included the word “Palestine”. CBC staff resisted at first, no doubt anticipating strong objections from Israel’s defenders. As if on cue, Michael Fegelman, director of Honest Reporting Canada, launched a ferocious attack on Elbakri and on CBC for publishing what he labelled “outright falsehoods”. Read it here.

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Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org

7 comments

  1. Given that freedom of information and speech is the foundation of democracy, in my humble opinion these outfits pose a threat to such, particularly as the average Joe Public is not even aware that he has been conned.

    1. Hey Bob,
      Thanks but I don’t think I understand what you mean. Are you saying that Honest Reporting Canada is a threat to democracy?
      I don’t agree with their point of view, of course, but aren’t they just exercising THEIR freedom of speech? Its up to those who disagree with them to convince other people they are wrong….

  2. Good to hear that the CBC is giving more exposure to Palestinian voices.

  3. I can tell you from my experience with Canadian Palestinians. For some years I was a property inspector. About half a dozen times I did a house inspection, where the buyer was a Palestinian, age about 35 years old. Sitting around at the end, I always stirred the conversation to Palestine/Israel.Once I told them that I’m Jewish and have much knowledge of the situation and I’m in solidarity with Palestinians, almost all of them confessed that they know next to nothing about their recent history. Their parents will not talk about this subject, being traumatic, shameful and perhaps fear. They all agreed enthusiastically to have me send them info about what happened and happening. For awhile I sent some articles re Israeli horrors, plus at times I invited them for an evening with a speaker about the subject.

    Without exception, not one of them ever even acknowledged receipts of my emails.or invitation. No doubt they were afraid to get engaged online, out of fear that the Canadian or other may be following them, and also not being sure if to trust me, in case I’m trying to trap them.

    I know for fact that there is much fear among the Canadian Palestinians to express political views.

    1. Hey Mr. Sigman, if things did happen as the article said, I would join you in condemning it.

      I don’t support attacking Canadian Jews for the transgressions of Israel. Whether they are wearing a Kippah or not should be of no consequence. If a Canadian Jew supports Israel, I would try to explain why I don’t and if given the opportunity, would try to explain why I dont think he/she should do so either. If a Canadian Jew is critical of Israel, I would explain why I agree with him/her.

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