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Brantford residents make an emotional plea for change

City of BrantfordBrantford residents make an emotional plea for change

Brantford City Council has rescinded its resolution to “support Israel” after hearing from delegations during its regular Council meeting on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

Fifteen delegations spoke about the effect that council’s resolution (proposed on October 10) has had on its community including Naser Hamed, President of the Muslim Association of Brantford, Anwar Dost, a humanitarian worker and local pharmacist, Imam Abu Noman Tarek, a counsellor and part-time teacher, as well as an humanitarian worker, James Cairns, a Laurier professor in the department of Indigenous studies, law and social justice, and individuals alike.

The evening was an emotional one as delegations asked that council members withdraw their votes.

“I want to say that the motion that you’re considering tonight, I assume has been introduced in good faith with good intentions. The member of council who’s put it on the table for you, I’m sure, was believing that they were doing a good and right thing,” said Rabbi Davis Mivasair. “But it’s a very misdirected, wrongheaded, and foolish notion. I urge you all to vote against it unless it’s withdrawn before the vote.”

The resolution up for debate had sent the City’s condolences to victims on both sides of the attack and condemned the actions “of these cowardly terrorists and their state and non-state sponsors.”

It condemned the action of Canadian residents who publicly celebrated the terrorist attacks and said that Israel has a right to defend its citizens and territorial integrity.

It requested that the government of Canada should consider sending financial aid to the nation of Israel in order to replenish depleted stocks of defensive anti-missile systems.

And finally, the resolution urged the return of all hostages being held in Gaza, and that in solidarity with the nation of Israel, Brantford City Hall should be illuminated with the colours of the Israeli flag until the hostilities cease.

Cairns spoke as an individual and not on behalf of the university, noting that the resolution “badly divides communities and Brantford.”

“The resolution is cruel, divisive and warmongering. Withdraw the resolution immediately. The resolution grieves the loss of civilian life and Israel, so do I, but it says nothing about the roughly 5,700 Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7,” said Cairns. “I mean, how cruel, inhumane, and insulting for the City of Brantford to ignore Palestinian mass death and suffering. The resolution badly divides communities and Brantford and is sending a message to our Palestinian, Muslim and Arab neighbours that their lives, their families and their histories don’t matter.”

Iman Tarek said what has been happening in the Middle East is “absolutely heartbreaking and incredibly painful,” and that the council should have demanded an immediate ceasefire.

“We categorically condemn all forms of violence and terrorist acts against anyone, especially against civilians. We recognize that what has been happening in the Middle East since October 7, is absolutely heartbreaking and incredibly painful,” he said. “Also, what the people of Palestine have been doing for decades, is also terrible and absolutely unacceptable. As I speak, many children, women, and the elderly in Gaza, are dying because of no food, no water, no medications, and no basic necessities. At the same time, they are living with fear of unexpected bombardment that can happen at any time, at any moment. Such unimaginable suffering of anyone and everyone should end immediately and unconditionally. …We should not allow or minimize the suffering of some people over others because of who they are.”

Hamed, who was born in Jerusalem, said that his family was pushed out of the West Bank in 1967 before they moved to Kuwait, that is, until Saddam Hussein invaded. He noted that he chose to come to Canada for peace.

“None of you, I think have the choice to be Canadian, you were born Canadian. But I have the choice to be Canadian and I chose to be here and to come to Canada,” he said. “I chose Canada because it’s always a voice of peace. My kids were born here in Brantford and raised here. I feel for them, they face racism wherever they go. Whether they are Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, anti-Palestinian racism isn’t right. We have people in our community who have been attacked. “I’m coming here to tell you that this motion is affecting the citizens of Brantford, if this motion moves forward, it’s creating division in this community.”

Dost mentioned that when he first came to Brantford in 1976, he was told that it was “a very racist and closed city” but reminded councillors that the Muslim Association has built bridges since then.

“We were called names like “Paki,” terrorists and then when 9-11 came, there was Islamophobia. Over the years, we have burned those bridges and now I can proudly say that we have over 50 Muslim Doctors, 70 dentists, pharmacists, engineers and doctors of philosophy,” he said. “You are in a position of power and city councillors, you’re in a position of power. Your acts and your words mean a lot to this society. You can unite the community, and you can divide the community. By passing this resolution, there will be division in that. I have been trying since 9-11, for the last 20 years, to build the bridge in different churches, schools, synagogues, and all the other people.”

Dost said that they “want to condemn the killing of innocent people on both sides.”

“We want an immediate ceasefire. We want Israel to stop bombing innocent Gaza people, stop bombing the hospitals, mosques, churches, and stop the cease of Gaza, water, food, medicine and electricity.”

Abdulla Qeblawi, a resident of Brantford said that we have an “obligation to not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

“We have an obligation to recognize the suffering conditions that the people of Gaza are made to live under, that they’re not choosing to live under,” said Qeblawi. “We have an obligation because of our history. We have an obligation to tear down the walls, we have an obligation to be that wise voice in Israel’s ear for a better future. That is what we mean when we say free Palestine. We don’t support terror, we want to live in peace.”

Ash Elashy felt sad, mad and angry about what is currently going on in Gaza.

“The killings of the civilians, kids and woman in what the Western media is calling war, in fact, it’s nothing but a genocide and an ethnic cleansing of a nation where the whole world is sitting still and watching,” said Elashy. “I was infuriated when I saw the divided proposed motion by Councillor McCreary, from the city I call home. I’m not here to give a history about Palestine. Everything’s out there. You get to choose what you want to see and what you want to believe with what’s happening right now in Palestine.”

He said that the council’s statements are impacting his community.

“The death of innocent civilians is bad, we cannot pass a motion that will invoke hatred here in Brantford. Whatever the council decides on, with all due respect to everybody, will not make a single impact on what’s going to happen out there between citizens,” he said. “But you’re impacting our community here and we are facing a lot of hatred when you’re isolating our community. You are absolutely putting the Mosque and all the Muslim people here as a target. This has to stop.”

Those present in Council Chambers speak to one another during the City Council meeting’s recess on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

Later, the room filled with tension as Councillor Rose Sicol introduced an amendment aimed to bring balance within the original resolution.

Residents began expressing their displeasure with the amendment and comments made by Councillor Greg Martin, and Mayor Kevin Davis called a recess due to shouting within the chamber.

As the meeting continued and emotions had settled, Sless spoke towards the amendment, saying he would not be supporting it.

“I only know what I’m told, I only know what I hear and you folks have lived this and I don’t have that volume of knowledge that you folks have, that you probably wish you didn’t have. So having said that, from my perspective, I think this is a case of the municipal government getting involved in something that’s none of their business,” he said. “We run cities, we try to get the city operating the way a city should operate. We have a federal government and provincial government and we have them for a reason. They have their purpose, as do we, ours is not to get involved in or insert ourselves in international affairs. That’s why we have a federal government and it’s up to them. We can have an opinion as an individual, but I think as a government, that’s up to Ottawa to deal with this. And I would hope they would deal with it correctly.”

Councillor Linda Hunt offered her apologies for supporting the original resolution and said she would not be supporting the amendment.

“I want to personally apologize for my support with the original resolution. It was through, I would say, lack of information,” she said. “… My feeling is, as Councillor Sless has so eloquently put it, is that the residents of ward four elected me to represent them at City Hall and to deal with matters that are municipal in nature, and no one came out to vote last October, to elect someone to represent their views on matters of international crisis.”

An emotional Sicoli said that her intention with bringing the amendment forward was to safeguard the resolution in case it was passed.

“I brought this amendment forward, because I didn’t know if I had the votes around this table to completely kill the entire resolution and I wanted to do my best to neutralize it in case it did pass,” she said. “I stated before that it was never my intention to support it beyond this point. On October 10, I was the only councillor who voiced my sympathies and my concerns for the Palestinian community, the only councillor. …I meant absolutely no offense by bringing this amendment forward and it was merely a safeguard in case I didn’t have the votes to kill this.”

The vote on the amendment was defeated by a vote of three to eight, with councillors Michael Sullivan, McCreary and Martin voting in favour.

Speaking to the original resolution, Sless apologized for what they put the community through.

“I neglected to apologize for putting you folks through what we put you through, this should have never happened, it should have never gotten this far. It got out of hand and somehow we ended up where we are, and we’re not in a good place,” he said. “Hopefully we leave here in a better place but I think it has to be said that everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks in our community, should not have happened. We’re trying to repair things that should have never been broken.”

The vote on the original resolution was taken and it was defeated with a vote of ten to one with Martin voting in favour.

Delegations speak to members of Brantford City Council after the City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

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