jump to content
In the Network: Media Co-op Dominion   Locals: HalifaxTorontoVancouverMontreal

Setting up a Stand for Justice

strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_date::exposed_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::exposed_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /var/alternc/html/f/ftm/drupal-6.9/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_date.inc on line 0.
Issue: 39 Section: Accounts Geography: Canada, Middle East Montreal, Lebanon Topics: summer war

September 7, 2006

Setting up a Stand for Justice

A battle for a few feet of sidewalk

by Dru Oja Jay

photo: Dru Oja Jay
Montreal, August 15 -- Around 1 a.m., I stop by the 24 hour café that has free wireless internet and, I later discover, Lebanese owners. I'm there to meet a friend, who tells me there is a "Tunisian hippy" who has been camped out in front of the café every day for what at that point had been 13 days, to protest the bombing of Lebanon, pass out information and gather signatures in support of a ceasefire. The man in question is not sporting dreadlocks or punctuating his sentences with "man." It's a kind of joke, because the others sitting and drinking coffee don't have the patience to sit through what they see as the same discussions with people who are making the same arguments as the ones that came before. Fethy the Tunisian hippy, it is surmised, possesses a kind of naiveté or idealism that allows him to return day after day.

I crane my neck to see the middle-aged man in front of the café engaged in a heated argument. Nearby is a large display he has set up: two easels festooned with Lebanese, Quebecois and Canadian flags, display petitions for passersby to sign, along with newspaper clippings about bombing of Lebanon and the demonstration earlier this week. Organizers estimated that 50,000 people attended.

Fethy's interlocutors tell him they're on their way to report for duty in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) the next day in Tel Aviv. The IDF has been shelling southern Lebanon, the Israeli Navy has been blockading the country's ports, and the Israeli Air Force has dropped more than 8,000 bombs. Bridges, airports, roads, apartment buildings and entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, a thousand civilians have been killed, and a million people have been displaced. Some drive their cars out of Beirut, some are forced to walk out of the city. Officially a response to the capture of two Israeli soldiers, Prime Minister Harper has at this point maintained for weeks that the assault is "measured." Hezbollah has responded by firing rockets at targets in northern Israel.

Fethy passes out flyers, asking passers-by to sign the ceasefire petition, and making sure they know about the demonstration planned for Colin Powell's planned visit to Montréal.

When I stop by the next day, he's wearing a kaffiyeh on his head. He laughs, flashes a peace sign, and says it reminds "them" of Arafat. By them, he means the portion of folks strolling on Montréal's "le main" who support Israel's bombing campaign and blockade--its "right to defend itself," as some put it. And who, for whatever reason, oppose his call for an immediate ceasefire.

Within a few minutes of my arrival, a police car pulls up. Someone has complained, again, that he is harassing pedestrians. He chats with them for a few minutes, and they drive away.

Once, when he stepped inside the coffeeshop for a minute, somone knocked down his display. Another time, someone poured water on him and his display. One man argued with him for 45 minutes and became enraged when Fethy would no longer respond. A lot of people, he says, try to provoke him. But he doesn't get mad. "When I gets mad," says Fethy, "I get extremely mad." So he saves his anger.

Various supporters stop by to say hello or drop off flyers or, in one instance, to accompany him to the police station. He needed a witness to testify that one antagonist had verbally threatened his life. One woman, who says her family is Iranian, stops by to cut up sheets of flyers. Making sure that I know that she doesn't support Hezbollah or Iran's theocratic regime, she says she is afraid that the conflict is the first step toward an attack on Iran. She read Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article about the Bush administration considering the use of nuclear weapons.

The head of a local business association has an office across the street. Fethy says that he and others come up with excuses to force him to move from his high-traffic location. The man from the business association "passes by here," he says, pointing, "but he doesn't look at me anymore." At one point, someone claimed that the stakes he was using to plant flags were hurting the roots of the flora inhabiting the large concrete planter near his display. He laughs at repeated attempts to establish that he is blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic. "People are not gazelles," he says, pointing to lampposts blocking the way on either side of his display.

Fethy, whose name I later find out means "victorious one," sees himself as a small part of a larger effort. "When I'm done here," he says, "there are people who work at night." They compile the reams of names and email addresses, organize demonstrations, and petition politicians.

Later on, he takes a break and tells me stories of the political battles of decades past. Arafat's 1974 address to the UN General Assembly. Or how, when he was a young man in Tunisia, he recalls the US opened its doors to Cubans, promising money and jobs. The idea was to foment a revolt inside Cuba. But, he recalls with a laugh, Castro was smart. "He said 'you want Cubans? Ok. Get the boats, open the jails.' And so now Miami is full of Cuban criminals." But soon, he's back to flyering and asking window shoppers, errand runners and tourists to sign the petition for a ceasefire.

They keep trying, buy they won't stop me, he says. "I'll keep coming back, I'll keep fighting."

And by fighting, he means showing up every day to calmly speak to anyone who stops by about what's going on.

Own your media. Support the Dominion. Join the Media Co-op today.

Archived Site

This is a site that stopped updating in 2016. It's here for archival purposes.

The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

»Where to buy the Dominion