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Lebanon Solidarité

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October 17, 2006

Lebanon Solidarité

The Québec-Lebanon solidarity movement is strong and growing

by Dave Johnson

Québecers reacted quickly and strongly to Israel's bombing of Lebanon. photo: Rob Maguire
Merely two days after the initial Israeli attack on Lebanon on July 24, protests were staged in front of the Israeli Consulate in Montreal. The Montreal-based solidarity group Tadamon! was one of the first to call for demonstrations after the conflict began, joined by other groups such as Palestinians and Jews United (PAJU).

Stephen Harper's oft-cited suggestion that Israel's response to the kidnapping of two soldiers by the Lebanese group Hezbollah was "measured"--the response included the complete destruction of civilian neighbourhoods and bombing of infrastructure such as bridges and power plants--elicited widespread and immediate condemnation; polls suggested that fully two-thirds of Quebecers disagreed with the Conservative position. One protest sign at a Quebec City rally read, "Killing children is not 'measured.'"

The gatherings grew significantly as the war raged on, with upwards of 60,000 taking to the streets of Montreal on August 6. The turnout was more modest in Quebec City, with 500-600 protesters taking part on both the August 6 weekend and the last weekend in July, but as Micha'l Lessard of the Quebec City-based coalition Quebec-Liban points out, "the numbers that turned out in Quebec, in July, for a political cause of international solidarity, were good."

According to Lessard, the strong public response prompted the government to make 'nuanced' changes in their rhetoric and position. Ahmad Rustom, an activist of South-Lebanese origin, notes that while "Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay still say the same things, at least they know there were people out there who don't agree with them."

The most important thing, Lessard and Rustom agree, was the awareness that was raised at a public level. In the capital, the solidarity network ("more of a Quebec-Middle East coalition," Lessard says, noting that it is the same group that runs Quebec-Palestine and Quebec-Iraq coalitions) was able to set up tables at many street festivals, which are commonplace during the summer months. There, they were able to meet many members of the public who were looking for information that was not readily available in the mainstream media, such as the fact that protests were being organized.

Protests during the recent conflict did not touch the record numbers set during the build up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, where according to the police over 200,000 marched in Montreal, and 18,000 hit the streets in Quebec City. The difference, according to Lessard, was that there was a lot more discussion about invading Iraq. There was quite a strong reaction from the public concerning the US-led 2003 invasion, he notes, and the media allowed for a fairly open debate on the issues. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon didn't have the same lengthy build-up in public view.

Even if somewhat smaller, "at the public level [the protests] had a very, very big effect," says Rustom. "Lots of groups, unions, political parties such as the Bloc Quebecois, the Parti Quebecois, and [newly founded left-wing provincial party] Quebec Solidarite were involved in the mobilisations," demonstrating a widespread commitment to the issues. And this remains of great importance for the future, he suggests, because "the source of the problem"--the occupation of Palestine--"is still there."

After the cease-fire, the situation is still very dangerous in Lebanon, with economic and social injustices rampant in the region, and the fact that thousands of Palestinian refugees--many born and raised in Lebanon--still lack legal status. The country's infrastructure remains largely unviable, with estimates suggesting it may be twenty years before Lebanon can be built back up to its former state. As many as a million unexploded cluster 'bomblets' litter the countryside, acting as de facto landmines. The bomblets have killed 14 civilians since the ceasefire, adding to the approximately 1,300 killed during the open hostilities, and are preventing many refugees from returning home.

In the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the situation can only be said to be getting drastically worse. Reporter Patrick Cockburn recently wrote that, "Gaza is dying... A whole society is being destroyed," as hundreds are killed by the Israeli occupying forces, houses are destroyed, and connections to the outside world are all but denied for the 1.5 million Gazans, including access to food and electricity. Many, Cockburn reports, are being forced to scavenge garbage dumps for something to eat.

As Rustom notes of the solidarity network's work to raise awareness amongst the public and to work with the media to present the issues in an accurate light, "it will continue to be very important."

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