Gaza drama comes to Toronto as controversial exhibit opens

  • June 18, 2010
Child at campTORONTO - Amid the darkness of a Christmas evening, a seven-year-old boy holds a candle and a Father Christmas doll at his home during a power outage two years ago, just before the Israeli military launched an offensive on Gaza City.

This picture forms part of a controversial exhibit by the non-profit group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. “Human Drama in Gaza” runs from June 16 to June 28 at the Cream Tangerine Cafe's The Great Hall on Queen Street West. The exhibit is a collection of 44 pictures taken by photographers from Agence France Presse, Getty Images and Reuters during the conflict.

The photos reflect scenes of sadness, death and despair during the December 2008-January 2009 battle as well as scenes of resilience at refugee camps established as safe havens for those left homeless after the attacks.

But B'nai Brith Canada says it's a “one-sided” depiction of the conflict. Anita Bromberg, the group's national director of legal affairs, said the exhibit is “biased” and “not furthering the dialogue of peace.” Given the heightened tensions this month, with Israeli troops killing nine activists on a ship trying to bring humanitarian supplies through an Israeli blockade of Gaza, Bromberg said B'nai Brith is concerned about the “fallout (of the exhibit) on the Jewish community.”

“The dialogue is just not being furthered by these kinds of displays. They're counterproductive and could be a call to violence to the wrong groups,” she said.

Grace Batchoun, vice-president of public relations at Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, told The Catholic Register from Montreal the exhibit is meant to show the human drama in Gaza and how people lived before and after the attacks.

“We wanted them to meet Palestinians and see that Palestinians are just like any other people who are in search of hope and dignity even though their world is crumbling around them,” she said.

Members of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East are not from a particular faith background. But Batchoun said as a Christian, she sees the crisis from a faith perspective.

“As Christians, we are called to speak out for the oppressed,” she said. "We are called to love our neighbours and reach out and feed the hungry.”

“If you're going to promote Palestinian rights, I'm all for it. (But) let's look at the whole story here,” said Bromberg, adding that promoting peace in the Middle East also means “to stop terrorism” and the militant group Hamas which is the governing power in Gaza.

The history of the conflict portrayed in the exhibit dates back to Dec. 27, 2008 when Israel launched air strikes against Gaza. Defence Minister Ehud Barak justified the initial air assaults, saying Israel sought to end Palestinian militant attacks on Israel from inside the Gaza Strip. After the 23-day conflict, 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis had been killed.

Before the attacks, residents in the Gaza Strip, including about 2,500 Palestinian Christians, had been living under a tight Israeli blockade since Hamas took power in June 2007. Critics of the blockade like Amnesty International have called it “collective punishment” which has resulted in a “humanitarian crisis.” The Vatican joined the international chorus of criticism over Israel's military actions in Gaza.

Mary Corkery, executive director of the ecumenical social justice organization KAIROS, was at the exhibit's opening. She said the photos are intended to show the reality of life for Palestinians which is often overlooked. Instead, people are accustomed to seeing images of violence.

“Our role as Christians in Canada is to decide in what way we can best support people there (in the Middle East) who are working for peace, and they don't make the news,” Corkery said.

“The newsmakers are the rockets fired from the Palestinian side and bombings from Israeli forces.”

The exhibit will be continuing its Ontario tour in Hamilton, London and Mississauga before heading to Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

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