Palestinian Canadian high school students stage walk-out on Nakba Day demanding equal treatment by Ottawa schools

Over two hundred students from several Ottawa schools have come together to demand that Ottawa’s high schools treat their Palestinian students with respect and decency. The protest was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement of Ottawa (PYM) but included many non-Palestinians as well. Read more…

In what appears to be an Ottawa first, Palestinian Canadian students in several Ottawa high schools walked off class publicly demanding that the school boards live up to their claimed values of equality and non-discrimination. The date was chosen to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba (Nakba Day was on the following Sunday) but the lively demonstration reflected some deeper issues with the the school board.

“Palestinians are not respected by the Ottawa School Board”, reported Tuleine X…, one of the the organizers of the protest. “For example, my school has flags from dozens of countries in our cafeteria, but I was told we were not allowed to have a Palestinian flag. We want to change that.

The protest was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) of Ottawa, and started off in schools of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board but soon spread to some schools in the Catholic School board as well. One of the protests, at Saint Francis Xavier Catholic school was covered by CTV news which included a short video clip of the protest.

“We are not a political movement”, she continued. “We are only asking that the school board treat us equally, which is what the Board claims is a core value”.

Above: the call for the walkout circulated on Instagram.
PYM’s 8 demands of the school board were clear and respectful.

Local MP Chandra Ayra (Liberal, Nepean) appeared at the demonstration in support of the students. More information about the demonstrations, including photos and a full list of the demands, texts of chants, etc., is available on Instagram here.

Zionist reaction

Zionist reaction was swift. Bnai Brith criticized MP Ayra for showing up. Honest Reporting Canada (HRC) attacked CTV for covering the protest at all, alleging that protesters were making “extreme and false claims” including claiming that Palestinians live under “occupation”. (HRC seems to ignore that both the Government of Canada and the UN Security Council agree with the protesters that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are “under Israeli occupation’.)

In a public letter, Andrea Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa claimed that the school board is “allowing their students to be indoctrinated with hate under the guise of freedom and justice.” Freedman says the Ottawa Federation gets “repeated complaints and concerns from parents and in most cases… extreme dissatisfaction with the (school board’s) actions to protect their students’ safety.”

Our demonstration is not against Jews or Judaism”, retorted Jabir X…, another PYM organizer. “We are demanding that Palestinian students be recognized as having equal rights to their culture and freedom of speech.

In response to criticisms on social media, one of the PYM organizers responded on Instagram, “when we advocate for Palestine, we are not targeting Jews as the Jewish religion is of equal importance to us as Christianity and Islam.. etc. Additionally, we have a large group of supporters that are in fact Jewish, and their support means the world to us. Calling out Zionism and apartheid has nothing to do with religion:)”

School Board stands up to pressure from Zionist lobby

It appears that the students have made their case with the school board.

In an email sent to the local Jewish Federation earlier this week, the Ottawa school board said “The board will not interfere with students wearing Palestinian flag colours, displaying flags on their person or wearing a keffiyeh. The OCDSB values representation and is committed to ensuring that classrooms are places where all students are comfortable with their identities known and acknowledged.”

“We continue to dialogue with educational authorities,” said Tuleine X., herself a co-founder of the Ottawa branch of the Palestinian Youth Movement. “We want to ensure that they put those values in to practice when it comes to their Palestinian students”.

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.

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