Aljazeera’s video profile of activist Tom Woodley, head of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

No 530 Posted by fw, July 24, 2012

“I would like a society where there aren’t these taboos where there aren’t things that you can’t say, where you don’t get your person attacked because you hold a particular viewpoint on something. So this is the society that we need – a society where there is open dialog whatever the question may be. Democracy is a very fragile thing. I didn’t realize how fragile it was until I got involved. And unless Canadians get involved and hold their politicians accountable the politicians will abuse the power that we give to them. And we’ve got to challenge that.”Thomas Woodley

As stated on its website, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is –

The premier advocacy organization for Canadians for our mission: To empower Canadians of all backgrounds to promote justice, development and peace in the Middle East, and at home in Canada. CJPME was established in 2002 by Canadians who wanted to foster justice, peace, prosperity and security for all peoples of the Middle East. CJPME seeks to provide resources and host activities which enable Canadians at all levels to better understand the dynamics of the region, and work toward solutions for the region.

Here is Aljazeera’s documentary, Thomas Woodley- Canadians for Justice in the Middle East, profiling U.S. born and bred Tom Woodley. He relocated to Montreal in the ‘90s to marry Grace Batchoun and is now a Canadian citizen. The video was published on You Tube by CJPME on June, 26, 2010.

Selected passages from the 23:28-minute video follow. All are spoken by Tom, except for the one by Grace.

TRANSCRIPT OF SELECTED PASSAGES

“I knew I couldn’t be silent” — I never expected to be involved in the Middle East. I never travelled to the Middle East until I was 27 years old. But when I finally met people from the Middle East, when I finally went there, when I saw what was happening, when I learned about the injustices, I knew I couldn’t be silent. I knew I had to do something.

Israel’s re-invasion of the West Bank was a turning point in Tom’s life — I started to be an activist starting in 2002. I have to admit it was somewhat through my wife who was first, became very angry about what had happened in 2002 with what Israel calls their “incursion” into the West Bank. Some people call that the end of Oslo. Obviously a lot of things changed in that spring and summer as Israel basically re-invaded portions of the West Bank that they had sort of stayed out of since the Oslo Accords.

…my wife, Grace Batchoun… also happens to be my partner in activism. Her official title is the VP of Public Relations with Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

Grace tells how she became an activist – When someone sent me an email telling me about a handicapped man in Geneen who was run over by an Israeli tank… and that’s when I said “What! This is happening?” Something has to be done. My first reaction was I wanted someone else to do something about it. What are others doing? Let’s contact all the different organizations and see what they are doing. And we did. But after a couple of months we came to the realization if we want something to happen we’ve got to do it ourselves. So the first thing that we did we went back to those organizations and we said “Give us a project. Talk to us about an urgent need.” And one of those organizations came with a project in [place name unintelligible] south of Hebron where they had a cluster of 70 villages who used to depend on the emergency medical services of the hospital in Hebron. So they had the clinic, they had a small clinic, they had the doctors but they did not have the equipment. And we were three people around the table, Tom, myself, and another person and we said, “How much?” They said, “A hundred thousand.” I said, “We’re doing it.” The person next to me said, “Are you crazy. People in our community don’t give money. You’ll be lucky if you raise five thousand.” And within not even three months, we raised $125,000 and we equipped a clinic in [unintelligible].

“You need to talk to elected representatives and that’s difficult” — I think what we decided to do was we looked at what other organizations were doing and we saw the importance of humanitarian work but we really realized that a lot of what was going on was addressing the effect. There are core issues in the Middle East that weren’t being addressed. Their effects were being addressed but the actual core issues themselves, being injustices and the political reasons for the injustices, weren’t being addressed. So we wanted to establish an organization that would really get to the core of the political issues on that. And to some degree your constituency for something like that, your constituency [inaudible] let’s all feel good, let’s all donate money to help these children in these dispossessed areas. It’s a whole lot harder to mobilize people to say “You need to talk to your elected representative. We need to change the position of our government vis-à-vis this conflict on the other side of the world.” That’s quite a different game. And it’s much more difficult, I find, to rally people to your cause and to mobilize people around it.

“Forces within Canadian society are working to create a pro-Israel lobby” — Canada has traditionally had a very positive reputation on the international front. We’ve intervened positively in the past in the Middle East. I think traditionally at least with the Palestine-Israel conflict both sides viewed Canada as a party that was willing to represent the interests of both sides in that conflict. That started to change, and started to change, I’d say, not just with the most recent government but previous governments. So the two governments that were formed by the two major parties in Canada both started to shift that policy somewhat. And I would say by and large it’s because of domestic political concerns unfortunately in that you have forces within Canadian society which are working to create a type of pro-Israel lobby that’s as strong and powerful in Canada as it is in the United States.

“Canadians will respond if we provide enough information” — I think Canadian society, however, over the long term, will reject that. I think that Canadian society is extremely cosmopolitan, extremely open-minded and broad-minded and I think the key in Canada is to just keep informing people, making sure people understand better what’s going on. Now that doesn’t change necessarily something in the corridors of power. You still need to access the corridors of power, whether it be political power or media power. But I think Canadians will respond and Canadian policy makers will respond if we provide enough information and show that we’re numerous enough that politicians have to listen to us.

“The other side is trying to prevent us from speaking honestly” — I risk being labelled all sorts of things just because I speak out for justice and peace for Palestinians and for all peoples of the Middle East. So I risk being accused of some terrible things as do many others. You don’t have to be a member of CJPME to be accused of being an anti-Semite and there are members of Parliament that get accused of being against Israel or in some way antisemitic partly because it’s a strategy to close off dialog. If the other side can prevent people from speaking honestly and intelligently and in an informed manner on these issues the essentially they win.

Aljazeera offers more balanced reporting than Canada’s mainstream media — The bias you will see in Canadian mainstream media would be along the lines of how many articles give voice to this perspective versus how many articles give voice to that perspective. And that’s why it’s been so refreshing to have Aljazeera English enter the Canadian market because they are going to give all perspectives on these issues.

“Canadians must hold their politicians accountable” — I would like a society where there aren’t these taboos where there aren’t things that you can’t say, where you don’t get your person attacked because you hold a particular viewpoint on something. So this is the society that we need – a society where there is open dialog whatever the question may be. Democracy is a very fragile thing. I didn’t realize how fragile it was until I got involved. And unless Canadians get involved and hold their politicians accountable the politicians will abuse the power that we give to them. And we’ve got to challenge that.

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