Adjusting to Toronto, Reflecting on Palestine

After being back two days, it still feels strange to be in Toronto. The weather is so un-desert like, and the streets are completely green. Even with the recent disaster in which CCRI destroyed a significant portion of our garden, our yard is infinitely more green than Ramallah or Kalandia camp. But where the real culture shock comes from is the different priorities here. For instance, over breakfast today my housemates and I found ourselves discussing how we can better utilize our waste – food waste, but also human waste, with the goal being reducing our ecological footprint as close to zero as is possible. In contrast, the garbage solution in Kalandia is someone periodically sets the dumpsters on fire. And whereas we discuss the purchase of rainwater barrels to irrigate our garden, in Kalandia water is stored in barrels because the camp is only supplied with water one day per week – and without water storage houses simply would have no running water on the other days. In other words, while here we discuss water and waste to reduce our eco-guilt, in Kalandia these issues are dealt with out of necessity, and with much less grandiose intentions. This contrast shows how being environmentally conscious is itself a privilege, and relies on a degree of relative stability which much of the world’s population do not enjoy.

Toronto is not a conflict zone. This does not mean there is no conflict or oppression in Toronto; as I return there is a manhunt on where the police are trying to locate an alleged 20,000 “illegal” migrants in the GTA. But conflict does not dominate society here – there are no prolific armed groups, there is no fear of an uprising that would drastically change the political situation.

In some ways, Palestine is a more honest place than Toronto. Oppression is less well concealed, perhaps simply because the situation is more extreme. But also because of the strength of resistance there, specifically the strength of communities which refuse to simply disappear into the rest of the Arab-world. There is nothing Zionists would like more than for Palestinians to disappear, and become Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, or Jordanian. But they refuse, and you can see evidence of this refusal in the force of arms levelled against them, and also in the apartheid system which denies most of them entry to the holy city.

In the end, Palestine has forced me to re-consider the national question – the question of whether identification with a nation is always statist, imperialist, oppressive. The answer I think is – not always. There are some nationalisms which are – probably not essentially, but because of their historical situation – anti-colonialist. Even with all the problems with the PA, the collusion between the PA army and the IDF, and the immense inequality and corruption in the Palestinian territories – I still don’t feel the same way about officers or soldiers there than I feel in any other place. This is because the Palestinian territories is not a state, and the soldiers and officers are essentially the same people who fight in the resistance when Israel pursues armed incursions into PA territory. For now, the “state of Palestine” seems something like an anti-state, although there are certainly forces which desire it to turn into something like a normal statist entity.

Back in Toronto, life is good – no occupation, proper water and sewage, recycling services, and many trees. But on the other hand, comparatively little strength in community – the police or army can route around wherever they please in Toronto while searching for undocumented workers, with no fear of being attacked by local militias, and no fear of kids pelting them with stones. People are linked together through work,  social media, and through activist organizations – but they live far from the people they know, and they don’t necessarily know their neighbors or have a good idea of what is happening on their street. As Hamza says, everything good brings something bad with it – and I can see this when contrasting the political and social situations between the Annex (my neighborhood in Toronto), and the neighborhoods I frequented in the West Bank and inside the Zionist entity.

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