'Not safe to go anywhere': University of Regina student watching attacks unfold from Jerusalem
REGINA -- A University of Regina student who is living in his hometown of Jerusalem during the pandemic has been watching up close as the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians increase.
Adam Halawani lives in the neighbourhood right next to Sheikh Jarrah, where much of the violence that is happening today stems from. He has been watching it all unfold from his home.
“Walking in the street is definitely not a good choice. You definitely don’t want to be trapped in one of these conflict points,” Halawani said. “It’s basically not safe to go anywhere here.”
He said some of what he has witnessed includes destroying cars, fireworks and live bullets being shot at people, dumpsters being lit on fire and thrown in the street and more.
Halawan said for the most part, citizens are staying at home.
“My office is two minutes away from my house so I go to my office, but even sometimes all hell breaks loose between my office and my house,” Halawani said. “There’s no way to get home so I’ve had to stay in my office until 3 and 4 a.m. more than once this week because of how crazy it was.”
Halawani was born and raised in Jerusalem. He said because of that, part of him is used to some of the violence he’s seeing now.
“That’s the sheer trauma of what we have here as Palestinians,” he said. “We really got used to conflict, and having friends and family and relatives getting shot and dying and getting arrested.”
As of Monday, at least 212 Palestinian had been killed during the week of air strikes, including 61 children.
Halawani said it’s difficult to see how human life doesn’t appear to be respected the same way it is in other countries.
“It’s just children and families, they’re not soldiers,” he said. “Being in Canada and seeing how good you’re supposed to be treated, how you’re actually supposed to be treated like a human and have all these rights, then going back here and having all of those taken back, it feels different. Once you’re in Canada, you feel like you’re a human.”
Halawani is hoping to return to Regina in August in time for the Fall semester to begin.
WATCHING FROM SASKATCHEWAN
In Saskatchewan, many people are keeping a close eye on the situation unfolding in the Middle East.
Brian McQuinn, an assistant professor of international studies at the University of Regina, said it’s important for Canadian citizens to be aware of the situation.
“We have, obviously, very large Jewish and Israeli populations in Canada, as well as a very large Palestinian population,” McQuinn said. “For these people, this is a critical issue. It’s an issue of where do you call home and their own identity.”
He said the situation also has the possibility of destabilizing the entire Middle East.
“Once this conflict gets out of control and if it continues to spiral out of control, it won’t just be an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will begin to involve neighbours. It will begin to involve other countries,” he explained. “It has the possibility of escalating quite significantly.”
McQuinn said this is the most intense Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has happened in seven years. He’s not confident it will be resolved quickly.
“Normally…when we see spikes of violence, there’s the interest of all sides to stand it down,” McQuinn said. “Now, on the side of Hamas and on the side of Prime Minister Netanyahu, there seems to (be) interest to perpetuate this as it strengthens both of their positions.”
“At this time it looks like this conflict might, at the very least, continue the level of violence. Or actually spike and get worse in the coming weeks, and that is perhaps the most worrying part.”
Regina resident Mitri Musleh moved to the city from Bethlehem 50 years ago. He has always watched the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts very closely and focused his master’s degree on the issue.
“I still have relatives living there. I have property there. It’s my home and I always feel a bit of closeness to it,” he said.
Over the past few weeks, he’s been watching closely as the tensions increase. He’s longing for a resolution to surface.
“It’s been sad to see children are dying, parents are dying. Buildings are being destroyed,” he said. “Why is this happening? With all the money we spend on bombing people, why not spend it on trying to figure out a solution for the problem?”
JEWISH CANADIANS FEELING THE EFFECTS
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affaris (CIJA) is an advocacy agent for the Jewish federations across Canada.
Sophie Helpard, the director of government relations for CIJA, said many Jewish Canadian have seen an increase in anti-semitism as a result of the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The Jewish community here in Canada has been devastated by the loss of life and the loss of innocent life throughout the Israel-Hamas conflict,” Helpard said. “They are concerned about the rise in anti-semitism. They wish for a more productive dialogue here in Canada where the Jewish community, like all communities, holds the right of freedom of expression near and dear.”
CIJA said it has been working with different levels of government to ensure the anti-semitism is called out and condemned.
“In order to have that productive and meaningful dialogue about what is a very complex and difficult issue, the conversations cannot include hate or discrimination. They cannot further stereotypes or Jewish conspiracy theories,” she said. “They need to be free from hate of any kind.”