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Nelson residents urge council demand Canada call for permanent Gaza cease fire

Four people spoke at Nov. 21 council meeting
L-R: Sian Hughes, Mary Ann Morris, Bessie Wapp and Zaynab Mohammed spoke to Nelson City Council on Nov. 21, asking it to request that the federal government call for a permanent cease fire in Gaza. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

When Mary Ann Morris worked with the international group Community Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian occupied territories in the fall of 2022, she says it was common to see Israeli soldiers in the street, snipers on a roof, and tear gas canisters fired.

This was often in response to groups of unarmed young boys throwing stones at the soldiers, she told Nelson City Council on Nov. 21. She observed this while she escorted Palestinian children to school as part of her volunteer peacemaker work.

“We witnessed soldiers in full combat gear with their faces frequently hidden by balaclavas, yelling at adults and children alike, gesturing at them with their guns to clear the streets, close the shops, remove the Palestinian flag.”

Morris was one of four Nelson residents asking city council at its Nov. 21 meeting to request the federal government call for a permanent cease fire in Gaza, full access to humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages.

She said city council came out in support of Ukraine when it was invaded by Russia, and urged council to do the same in support of Palestine. She said the discrepancy she saw between the lives of the Israeli settlers and Palestinian was stark.

“We looked upon their stately homes complete with air conditioning and drip irrigation gardens through the barbed wire fence while we stayed with Palestinian families in housing made of tin, plastic and cloth, and obtained water from one communal spigot and ate by candlelight.”

Since Morris spoke to council, a four-day ceasefire was declared starting Nov. 24. On Nov. 27 it was extended until Nov. 20. As of Nov. 28, some hostages have been released and Israel has allowed limited shipments of fuel and other aid into Gaza, according to reporting by The Canadian Press, but has not allowed thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war to return to their homes.

Morris was one of four Nelson area residents who asked city council to request the federal government take a stand in favour of a permanent cease-fire, humanitarian aid and hostage release in Gaza.

The four residents appeared at the council meeting as part of the public participation segment in which speakers are restricted to three minutes each and council does not usually respond with questions or comments.

In the past two weeks, 81 B.C. municipal leaders including three from Nelson have individually signed a letter to the federal government with these requests. However, only two municipalities — Burnaby and Maple Ridge — have voted to take this official position.

Bessie Wapp, another of the four presenters, referring to a statement by Jewish Voices Canada, told council that the slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” does not constitute a call to anti-Jewish violence, but a call for the cessation of Israeli control over Palestinian lives. She said the slogan is not a call for the destruction of Israel but one for human rights.

“When Israeli officials are calling for the slaughter of Gaza, calling Palestinians human animals, it’s worth asking why that genocidal rhetoric is acceptable, and why peaceful calls for human rights are demonized. But Palestinians and our allies are being censured across the world for joining in this cry for justice.”

Zaynab Mohammed told council that she is of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Iraqi ancestry. She said she was the organizer of a pro-Palestinian rally in Nelson in October, which she said was peaceful event where people “came together to listen learn and resist war because collective punishment is a war crime.”

A group of people later came to city council stating that the rally incited hatred.

“It is sad to witness our sentiment for standing for human dignity being skewed like this on a global scale and locally,” Mohammed said.

“My people are some of the most beautiful, thoughtful, passionate, generous, kind and faithful people. Here in the West, we have been given a bad reputation.”

She said it is a politician’s job to take stands, and she asked council to do so in favour of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Sian Hughes said she knows that some people believe the current war in Gaza is a valid response to the Oct. 7 attacks and the hostage-takings by Hamas. She said she disagrees because she “knows about the oppression, disenfranchisement, displacement and even torture the people of Palestine have been living through for decades.”

She said she did not come to council to debate that issue or to ask them to pick a side, but “to stand up for innocent lives and ask that you do the same.”

Hughes said there is no safety for the people of Israel or the international Jewish community if the continued violence in Gaza continues, and there is no safety for Palestinians or Muslims either.

“Even if all Hamas operatives were captured in Gaza, the life loss from this onslaught will create ripples that I as a humanitarian and a mother am extremely scared of.”

This article was updated on Nov. 28 add the two-day extension to the cease-fire.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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