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Talking Radical Radio

Rus­sell Lavis lives in Toron­to and is an ultra­ma­rathon run­ner who uses his abil­i­ties to act in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple, most recent­ly by rais­ing mon­ey for the Help Gaza Breathe cam­paign. Michael Bueckart is based in Mon­tréal and he is a schol­ar, an activist, and the vice-pres­i­dent of Cana­di­ans for Jus­tice and Peace in the Mid­dle East (CJPME). Scott Neigh talks with them about the broad con­text and recent events in Pales­tine, about Help Gaza Breathe, and about the range of forms that sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple can take.

In the last few months, there has been a surge of sol­i­dar­i­ty with the peo­ple of Pales­tine, per­haps an unprece­dent­ed one. This is a result of one of those peri­od­ic bouts of main­stream atten­tion to the issue, sparked in this case by a series of acute­ly oppres­sive actions by the Israeli state and resis­tance by Pales­tini­ans. The most imme­di­ate events includ­ed Israeli efforts to dis­place Pales­tin­ian fam­i­lies from two neigh­bour­hoods of East Jerusalem, Pales­tin­ian mobi­liza­tion to block the evic­tions, and a harsh Israeli crack­down that includ­ed vio­lent raids on wor­ship­pers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque dur­ing Ramadan. All of this sparked a broad­er esca­la­tion in vio­lence, includ­ing rock­ets fired by Hamas and a bru­tal and dead­ly Israeli assault on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of the Gaza strip.

These recent events take place in a broad­er con­text. Though there is plen­ty of his­to­ry that could be told, under­ly­ing the con­flict are past and present impe­r­i­al dom­i­na­tion of the Mid­dle East by var­i­ous West­ern coun­tries, and Israeli set­tler colo­nial­ism and apartheid. Though the appli­ca­tion of the lat­ter term to Israel has sparked con­tro­ver­sy in years past, there is grow­ing recog­ni­tion of its accu­ra­cy, as both B’Tselem, an impor­tant human rights orga­ni­za­tion with­in Israel, and Human Rights Watch, a very main­stream glob­al human rights group, have begun to use it.

For Lavis, his approach to sol­i­dar­i­ty is very much con­nect­ed to who he is. A few years ago, he took up run­ning and instant­ly loved it. With­in a few months, he had run a half marathon, and he has been run­ning longer and longer dis­tances over the years since.

Lavis’ moth­er and sis­ter have both been involved in Pales­tin­ian sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­niz­ing in the past. It was his moth­er, he said, who point­ed out, I have this tal­ent for run­ning. And so why don’t we use it to raise funds for Pales­tini­ans?”

The most recent cam­paign to ben­e­fit from his efforts, Help Gaza Breathe, is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of the CJPME Foun­da­tion – a Cana­di­an char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tion with a broad human rights and human­i­tar­i­an man­date that is sep­a­rate from but sup­port­ed by the CJPME – with the Pub­lic Ser­vice Alliance of Canada’s Social Jus­tice Fund and oth­er part­ners. It is part of a broad­er effort to build a new med­ical oxy­gen facil­i­ty at the Hay­fa Med­ical Cen­tre in Gaza, which is des­per­ate­ly nec­es­sary in the con­text of COVID-19. On May 22, 2021, Lavis ran 110km, and raised $31,000 for the cam­paign.

Bueck­ert grew up in a pro­gres­sive Men­non­ite com­mu­ni­ty in Saska­toon, and from ear­ly on was exposed to faith-based groups with close ties to part­ners in Pales­tine. His sol­i­dar­i­ty work has been schol­ar­ly in char­ac­ter, and has tak­en on more con­ven­tion­al­ly rec­og­niz­able grass­roots polit­i­cal forms. He did a PhD study­ing the boy­cott move­ment against South African apartheid that took place in the 1980s and the Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions (or BDS) move­ment against Israeli apartheid in more recent years. And he is cur­rent­ly the vice-pres­i­dent of CJPME, an orga­ni­za­tion that since 2002 has worked to pro­mote jus­tice, peace, and devel­op­ment both in the Mid­dle East and in Cana­da. CJPME has par­tic­u­lar­ly focused on pol­i­cy advo­ca­cy and pub­lic edu­ca­tion rais­ing con­cerns relat­ed to the occu­pa­tion, apartheid, and oth­er human rights abus­es, and advo­cat­ing for a just polit­i­cal solu­tion.

Bueck­ert is all for express­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty via pro­vid­ing human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance to the peo­ple of Pales­tine, describ­ing it as a very impor­tant com­po­nent, giv­en the chal­lenges.” But he says that sol­i­dar­i­ty must also be about pol­i­tics, about using our voice to chal­lenge our gov­ern­ment to try to change poli­cies which are com­plic­it with the Israeli poli­cies that oppress Pales­tini­ans.” He hopes to see grow­ing num­bers of Cana­di­ans pres­sur­ing their mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, sup­port­ing the labour move­ment call to end arms sales to Israel, and advo­cat­ing in their com­mu­ni­ties and unions for oth­er kinds of par­tic­i­pa­tion in the BDS cam­paign.