I have been reinstated to my position of Student Equity Program Advisor at the Toronto District School Board without discipline.
This is tremendous news and a huge step forward for anti-racist and anti-oppressive education. This wouldn’t have been possible without all your support. I cannot express in words how inspiring and healing your support, both public and private, has been. THANK YOU.
Collective liberation means knowing that our struggles are intimately connected, and that we must work together to create the world we want to live in. When combined, our unique intersectional identities, experiences and privilege give us a vast aray of tools to dismantle systems of oppression, and to create a world in which all people, including Palestinians, are seen as indisposable and fully human.
I want to include a summary of some of the collective actions I witnessed, because the mobilization that occurred is nothing short of AMAZING and provides hope and possibilities for the undeniably changing discourse on Palestine:
1. Community members created a public petition in support, amassing five thousand signatures. The petition was supported by over 20 human rights organizations and labour unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Peel Regional Labour Council, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Palestine House, Labour for Palestine, Ontario Education Workers United, Ontario Parent Action Network, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Toronto, No Pride in Policing Coallition (NPPC), Education Graduate Students of Colour, and many others.
2. A group of 50 administrators, anonymous for fear of reprisal, wrote a public letter speaking of their experiences being “admonished for publicly speaking up on behalf on Palestinian lives” and “the failure to provide space and support for staff and students in the TDSB to discuss anti-Palestinianism…”
3. Grassroots groups of educators and community members organized letter writing campaigns. They submitted human rights complaints about systemic anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the school board. They wrote complaints to the Integrity Commissioner about public statements made by a trustee, which they said equated, “being ‘pro- Palestinian’ with ‘suicide bombing’ to silence teachers and resource-sharing in the TDSB.”
4. Jewish TDSB families publicly came out in support, publishing a petition that said: “The resources that Mr. Davila shared were in no way antisemitic, and we’re concerned that this investigation will put a chill on TDSB staff who may fear discussing this issue or possibly other issues that are perceived as controversial.” They concluded with this powerful statement: “Finally, as Jewish parents, we refuse the notion that Palestinian human rights are somehow oppositional to our own — in fact, the opposite is true. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are both features of white supremacy. We call on the TDSB to “walk the walk” when it comes to its leadership role in education that includes an anti-oppression and human rights lens.”
5. A group of more than 80 “concerned educators” identified only by their initials and the name of their schools, wrote a letter of support and identified systemic anti-Palestinian racism at the school board. According to The Star, these educators were very concerned by the TDSB’s use of term “anti-Israel racism” in an email to staff, saying the term (which obfuscates structural power over Palestinians) would have the same effect of shutting down conversations on anti-oppression as would labelling critiques of Canada’s treatment of FNMI communities as “anti-Canadian.”
6. Courageous former students of Forest Hill CI wrote a public letter of support, describing their detailed and distressing experiences of anti-Palestinian racism at the board. According to The Star, students and staff can say they are “pro-Israel” and can openly wear Israel Defense Forces sweaters and t-shirts, while others were unable to support Palestine without consequences.
7. David Moscrop of The Washington Post wrote an opinion piece titled, “A Toronto educator is being attacked for standing up for Palestinians.” He made the statement: “When we look back at this moment, we will be ashamed of the attacks against Davila and ashamed of those who targeted him and those who support him. History will not be kind to bullies.”
The piece concluded with a powerful statement:
“Today we are in the midst of a shift in discourse as more and more of us recognize oppression and settler colonial violence, and as we mainstream the need to remedy historical injustice and prevent future transgressions. Educators are on the front lines of this moral awakening, and they ought not only to impart critical thinking skills to those they educate but also a commitment to justice and solidarity.”
8. Shree Paradkhar of The Star wrote an opinion piece titled: “ ‘All of us are very afraid’: TDSB staffers describe culture of fear after board suspends a student equity adviser who shared resources on Palestinian human rights.” In it she referenced activist, author, and former TDSB Equity educator, Tim McCaskell, who documented the board’s struggles with anti-oppression from the ’60s to 2000 in his book “Race to Equity:”
“Davila’s situation reminds him of the years the board hosted annual anti-apartheid conferences in the ’80s. The South African embassy protested to the board but that didn’t stop the conferences. If a speaker raised the parallels with Israeli apartheid or that Israel was a main ally of South Africa, the pushback did come hard and fast.”
9. Educators and academics across many districts and institutions organized an educational panel titled: “Teaching Palestine.” This panel, a first in a series, aimed to break the fear barrier to #SayPalestine and “increase our courage, and provide history, language and skills to teach Palestine and resist anti-Palestinian racism.” The panel was a huge success with over 1.6K views so far on YouTube and many administrators and educators committing to #SayPalestine.
10. Communities came together and started a Go Fund Me for legal fees. These funds have been and continue to be used to defend my rights, including the human right to stand up for Palestinian rights. Applications have been and continue to be filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Collective liberation is not just a value, but a practice. When we work together across the structures intended to divide and silence us, we strengthen our organizing and we strengthen our relationships. Relationships can save lives, especially when accompanied by resistance to oppressive structures.
To all the Muslim mothers, Palestinian women, non-binary folks and women of colour who are on the front lines of this work, and who provided so much support, thank you.
To Jewish educators and families who organized in support and see this work as an extension to the TDSB’s commitment to decolonization and anti-racism in schools, thank you.
To Black and Indigenous educators who know this struggle is inextricably linked to their own and who continue to engage in this work, thank you.
To those in positions of power who took a risk, thank you.
To all social justice educators who refuse to accept the status quo and reject the Palestine exception, thank you.
And to Palestinian students and staff, I offer my deepest love and enduring sense of accountability.
This investigation revealed a gap in resources and knowledge, as well as an absence of institutional protection for educators who support Palestine. This gap reproduces the violent erasure of Palestinian identities and experiences and contributes to anti-Palestinian racism, which intersects with other systems of oppression, including Islamophobia, white supremacy, imperialism, and settler colonialism.
As shifts in discourse occur, discomfort and fear will increase. We’ve seen this with the Land Back movement, the movement for Black lives, and most recently with the discovery of mass graves of Indigenous children who were forced to attend Canada’s genocidal residential “schools” program. We name the harms confronting oppressed communities not to polarize one another, but to take the first step in transformative justice.
I have been involved in Palestine solidarity work for nearly two decades and have long been targeted for standing up for Palestinian rights. But this is the first time there has been a critical mass of vocal supporters for Palestinian liberation. I hope this offers those of you who are hesitant, the courage to break the fear barrier and offer your daily commitment and actions to resist anti-Palestinian racism, settler colonialism, and #SayPalestine. Our students are depending on it.
7 ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE NOW:
1. Learn more about the oppression of Palestinians through research, study, group discussions and by following Palestinians on social media.
2. Centre Palestinian voices. Anti-oppressive education is not about “balancing” voices.
3. Look for what might be invisible. Palestinian students and staff have multiple intersecting identities that are often erased.
4. Build relationships and alliances that strengthen your understanding of the injustices Palestinians face and the complex challenge of knowing how to hold space and conversations in different contexts.
5. Take leadership from Palestinians in this work.
6. Make time for self-reflection. How are power dynamics, lived experiences, trauma, relationships, desires, and needs impacting your understanding of Palestine and your action or inaction?
7. Liberation and transformative justice are processes we engage in with the aim of not replicating violence. This means making mistakes and learning as we move towards collective liberation.