Commentary | Hyde Park: McGill must rally around equality and freedom

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently ordered an inquiry into the attacks against UN facilities in the Gaza Strip, including educational facilities. While Ban Ki-moon, Amnesty International, and many other human rights groups are looking for answers regarding Israeli military aggression in the Gaza Strip, McGill has shamefully excluded itself from the process of seeking truth and establishing justice and equality.

A recent motion submitted to SSMU’s General Assembly that called for the condemnation of Israel’s bombing of educational institutions in Gaza was not even given a chance to be discussed or debated; as it turns out, even human rights can be “postponed indefinitely.”

Students at McGill presented the motion to support the undeniable right that an individual has to education, in Palestine or anywhere in the world. It is critical today that students at McGill and beyond fight for human rights to be understood as universal, and act in solidarity with those experiencing human rights violations around the world, including those in Palestine. Human rights are not selective, and Israeli actions that undermine Palestinian human rights must be confronted.

On December 28, 2008, Israeli military forces bombarded the Islamic University in Gaza (IUG), destroying the Science and Engineering buildings and damaging several others on a campus that serves over 20,000 students in Gaza.

Dr. Akram Habeeb, a professor of American literature at the Islamic University in Gaza, wrote on the morning after the bombing, “Last night, during the second night of Israel’s unprecedented attack on Gaza, I was awakened by the deafening sound of intensive bombardment. When I learned that Israel had bombed my university with American-made F-16s, I realized that its ‘target bank’ had gone bankrupt. As an independent professor, not affiliated with any political party, I can say that IUG is an academic institution which embraces a wide spectrum of political affinities.”

If McGill students, who are so blessed to be receiving an education in a safe environment, cannot rally behind the call of other students across the world that seek this same basic human right we take for granted, what can we say for ourselves as a educational community supposedly based on ideals the of equality and freedom?

It is peculiar that those opposed to this motion did not even allow a debate to occur, but instead attempted to silence those who spoke in the name of those without a voice, the Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.

It is also important to note the tactics used by those mobilizing against this motion, which included massive rallying of anybody on campus who could be marshalled into that cramped room for a vote, no matter what their opinion or education was on the subject matter.

The Canadian Jewish News said in a recent article that the motion was postponed indefinitely “because [SSMU] is not the appropriate forum for debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” This analysis is an evasion, and also wildly fallacious.

Anyone who attended the assembly that evening knows that this motion was suppressed because Israel supporters on campus claimed that it “demonizes Israel.” It is upsetting that there are individuals on campus who put allegiance toward a country before allegiance to fellow human beings in need.

The day must come that we stop distancing ourselves from catastrophes that occur across the world by calling them a “Middle East conflict.” The current situation in Gaza is not a “Middle East conflict” – it is a dire humanitarian issue, and a university is an ideal place for such a discussion to take place. If not here, then where else?

These are indeed challenging times for human rights at McGill, but I take solace in the fact that over 200 other individuals stood in solidarity with human rights. To the students in Gaza who expected solidarity from us, we apologize. Your ongoing steadfastness in the face of the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza is an inspiration for many students at McGill and around the world.

Nadim Roberts is a U3 Political Science student and a member of Tadamon! Montreal, a collective working in solidarity with struggles for social justice in the Middle East. You can reach Nadim at info@tadamon.ca


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