On Tuesday, May 15, over 160 came together at Vancouver's Unitarian Church Hewett Centre for a free community supper organized by the Vancouver Coalition to Commemorate al-Nakba, a strong coalition of Palestine solidarity and social justice organizations in the Vancouver area. The serving table brimmed with pita, tabbouleh, hummus, baba ghanoush, makloubeh, mujaddara, lamb tagine, lentil soup, salads, harissa and baklava as the Palestinian and Arab community and solidarity activists joined together to share food, remembrance and struggle. The evening was emceed by Nadine Kallas of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-UBC and Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian community activist, as those who had experienced the Nakba in their own life shared their experiences, and discussed the ongoing Palestinian struggle against occupation and oppression, and for return to their homeland, Palestine, a right denied for 64 years.
As Kallas noted, "the Nakba is not only a Palestinian story. The experience of displacement, dispossession and colonization is also the story of the indigenous people of this land, as is the experience of resistance and steadfastness." Longtime indigenous activists Frank Martin and Helen Michell spoke of their own experiences with displacement, dispossession and ongoing indigenous struggle in the face of a Canadian state that has been built on the denial of indigenous land and rights.
Abdelmajeed Mustafa recounted the struggle for al-Birwa, his own village in Palestine, during the Nakba and his and his family's experience of displacement and exile. Sireen al-Nashar discussed her experiences as a stateless refugee, a third-generation Palestinian refugee born in Beirut, Lebanon, the experience of her ancestors during the Nakba, and her continued dedication to return. A Palestinian refugee, first to Iraq, and then to Canada from Iraq following the war on Iraq, Khalil Tayem, shared his story and experiences of multiple displacement over years, while Ibrahim Assaf, a Palestinian elder from Haifa, shared his own experience of Nakba and resistance in Palestine and being forced from Palestine to Lebanon by Israeli forces on ships from Haifa port. Bassam Abdel-Dayem put together a video showcasing facts and life in Palestine before the Nakba, and Palestinian inalienable rights.
The evening was not only one of speakers, but also one of cultural resistance. Oud, tabla, poetry and song performances by Ghassan Hijazi, Yazan Shehadeh, Hassene Tmar and Abdullah Khalifeh were highlights of the evening as they played Palestinian music, traditional songs and poetry set to music. Palestinian poet Walid Mohammed Abdelhadi read a poem of his in English and Arabic, and Palestinian filmmaker Sobhi al-Zobaidi discussed and screened his film, "My Very Private Map." The evening closed with enthusiastic chanting for a free Palestine and refugees' rights to return, and a celebratory traditional Palestinian dabkeh dance at the front of the room.
Vancouver's Nakba commemoration continued on Saturday, May 19 as large crowds marched down Commercial Drive from Clark Park to Grandview Park bearing signs and banners, commemoratiing the 64th anniversary of the Nakba and demanding the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Nadine Kallas and Khaled Barakat again emceed the rally, beginning in Clark Park, and led chants alongside Palestinian and Arab student and community activists Hattaw al-Hayali, Noor Attar and Omar Shaban.
Large keys of return, the symbol of Palestinian displacement and commitment to return to their stolen land and homes, towered over the march, designed by the Puppet Liberation Front. Chants rang out calling for freedom for Palestine and for indigenous rights, "From BC to Palestine, occupation is a crime!" Marchers called for justice and Palestine as they distributed flyers and information to Commercial Drive passers-by.
Hanna Kawas, chair of the Canada Palestine Association and host of Voice of Palestine radio program, spoke about Canada's long-time complicity and involvement in the occupation of Palestine, on arrival at Grandview Park. The rally also included three songs from labour choir Solidarity Notes, highlighting international struggle for freedom and liberation, and a talk by Frank Martin and Helen Michell about indigenous rights, land and struggle, and concluded with music, song and debkeh, in a dance of steadfastness and resistance.
The Vancouver Coalition to Commemorate Al-Nakba includes the Alliance for People's Health, Arab Students Association - UBC, Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Canada Palestine Association, CPSHR - Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights, Canadian Boat to Gaza, CanPalNet, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Independent Jewish Voices, No One Is Illegal - Vancouver Unceded Coast Salish Territories, RAGA (Race, Autobiography, Gender & Age Studies) Centre at UBC, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Seriously Free Speech Committee, Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), Solidarity For Palestinian Human Rights-UBC (SPHR-UBC), SANSAD - South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, and Stopwar.ca.