By Dexter LeRuez
A Panel for Palestine event held at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on Nov. 9 aimed to educate students and the general public who want to learn more about the current situation in the region, according to Dalia Chami, one of the event’s organizers and co-founder of the Middle Eastern Students’ Association (MESA).
The event, which took place in a lecture hall at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), was described as “a journey through history, culture and the Palestinian struggle,” in a collaborative Instagram post from the organizers.
The organizers include MESA, TMU’s Palestinian Culture Club (PCC), the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU), Egyptian Students’ Association, Arab Students’ Association and the BIPOC Students’ Collective.
“This event was not to [educate] people who are Arab or Palestinian or Muslim [who already know] what’s happening in Palestine,” said Chami, who is also a third-year RTA new media student at the university. “[The event] was to further educate the people who do not know what’s happening in Palestine but who are allies of the cause and genuinely wanted to learn.”
Chami also said there was no cost for the event because she believes there should not be a cost to raising awareness.
Throughout the night, various speakers from different organizations took the microphone to speak on topics such as Palestinian liberation, the experience of those living in the Gaza Strip and the role culture has in Palestinian resistance.
One of the speakers was Mohammed William of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) Toronto Chapter.
The PYM is an organization that defines itself as “a transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians dedicated to the liberation of our homeland and people,” according to its website.
William hopes that attendees of the event feel empowered to speak up for justice.
“I hope that Palestinian students feel that they can express their identities without fear of being targeted,” said William. “I hope that non-Palestinians feel comfortable and empowered to come out and speak up for justice and call for the end to this genocide and make their voices heard, especially in these troubling times.”
For Palestinian students such as first-year accounting student Zakariya Al-Junaidi, the panel opened up opportunities to be around the community during tough times.
“We are all going through a lot, seeing the photos from back home, our people being killed,” said Al-Junaidi. “Being around our community , talking about our culture, reinforcing our identity and supporting one another was the main motivator.”
Concerns were raised about the safety of the event. William, in particular, explained that backlash was received leading up to the Panel for Palestine event.
Chami explained the organizers had spoken with TMU security to ensure the safety of the event. Additionally, students and community members serving as safety marshals were stationed around the event to ensure the well-being of all attendees.
After the event, attendees ate Palestinian foods such as knafeh from Scarborough-based pastry shop Kunafa’s. The store’s website describes knafeh as “a Middle Eastern cheese and dough pastry drizzled in a sweet, sugary-based syrup.”
Additionally, a market was set up for attendees to buy jewelry and other goods with a Palestinian focus.
Students like Al-Junaidi hope TMU will do more to support events such as the Panel for Palestine.
“It would help for more people to understand who we are as a people and understand what’s going on and spread awareness,” said Al-Junaidi. “I think that TMU should definitely be hosting more of these events.”
Ibrahim Karnaz, a third-year aerospace engineering student, said he believes the school should be highlighting Palestinian events.
“[TMU] offers a lot of programs that are known to help our cause. But I would love for TMU to put more of our [events] in the spotlight,” said Karnaz. “I would love for them to highlight our events because these events are made for other people, for non-Arab people to see.”
According to Chami, 500 people signed up for and attended the panel. She said she couldn’t be prouder of how the event unfolded.
“The audience was better than we could have ever expected,” said Chami. “They were supportive, [fully engaged]…and they cherished every moment.” Chami also said attendees were going through various emotions including anger, mourning, crying and hope for the future.
“It was a beautiful crowd,” she said.