Alberta must drop spurious charges against Palestine protest organizer: CJPME

Montreal, November 7, 2023Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) demands that the Government of Alberta immediately drop all charges against Calgary protest organizer Wesam Khaled. Khaled was arrested on Sunday, Nov. 5 and charged with “disturbing the peace.” The police informed Wesam that the charge against him was because of his use of the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which the police chose to treat as an “offensive antisemitic comment.” CJPME vigorously opposes this interpretation of the chant, which is a simple call for freedom. CJPME considers the charges to be spurious, and insists that they be dropped immediately.

CJPME asserts that there is no legal justification for the charges against Khaled. “We are appalled at the shocking overreach of the Alberta Government in carrying out this arrest, which is an example of anti-Palestinian racism,” states Thomas Woodley, president of CJPME. “By cracking down on legitimate calls for Palestinian freedom, Alberta’s actions threaten to  put a chill on the massive public displays of outrage over Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians,” continued Woodley. CJPME estimates that at least 100,000 Canadians participated in over 30 demonstrations organized in cities across Canada this past weekend. The demonstrations occurred as Israeli violence against Palestinians has pushed the death toll in Gaza past 10,000, with over 4000 Palestinian children killed.   

Justice for Palestinians (JFP), Wesam’s Calgary-based human rights group, issued a statement today asserting, “JFP stands completely opposed to all forms of racism including antisemitism, as have all serious campaigners for Palestinian liberation.” The statement explained that the protest slogan, “expresses the desire for Palestinians across historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, to be free from the systems of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and settler-colonialism imposed on them by the Israeli state since 1948.” Like many groups supporting Palestinian human rights, JFP considers that the only future for Palestine is one with “peace based on equality, justice, and full national and political rights for all the people of that land, from the river to the sea.”

Some pro-Israel activists have tried to brand the “From the river…” protest slogan as an antisemitic chant, and would like to see law enforcement arrest individuals encouraging the slogan. CJPME, for its part, vigorously opposes this interpretation, asserting that the slogan is a call to a future in which all inhabitants of Palestine-Israel can live as free and equal citizens. CJPME notes that attacks on this slogan occur in a context in which pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been widely demonized by pro-Israel groups, politicians, and media personalities, some of which have called for protestors to be charged or even deported. Canada’s special envoy against Islamophobia has issued a statement noting that “it is unacceptable in Canada for Muslims and their communities to fear participating in peaceful demonstrations, wearing a keffiyeh, waving a Palestinian flag, advocating for civilians trapped in armed conflict, or chanting for Palestinian human rights.”

A JFP press statement asserts that the organization has a recording of the entire demonstration, and that there was no hate speech at any point. JFP also points out that at one point during the demonstration, Khaled specifically stated that the organization was “against all forms of racism including antisemitism.” CJPME stands in vehement opposition to Khaled’s arrest, and rejects the actions of the Government of Alberta as an infringement on his free expression. Khaled was released on the condition that he not attend any protests until his court date. CJPME insists on his full exoneration, and an apology from the Alberta government.

About CJPME – Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is a non-profit and secular organization bringing together men and women of all backgrounds who labour to see justice and peace take root again in the Middle East. Its mission is to empower decision-makers to view all sides with fairness and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region.

For more information, please contact: Michael Bueckert, VP CJPME: 613-315-7947 or [email protected].

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

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