From Palestine to Turtle Island

The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom


Yazan Al-Saadi

It is extremely difficult to talk about Israel in Canada, even within progressive circles. It’s too loaded and fraught a topic to explain the nuances behind that difficulty, although it should be discussed at some point. It is also difficult to ignore the inherent genocidal and apartheid nature of the Israeli state. I suppose those are the unavoidable characteristics of settler-colonial states, including late-stage ones like the United States, Australia, and of course, Canada.

What differentiates Israel from the rest of its colonial peers is a matter of timing. While the genocidal projects in the US, Australia, or Canada “successfully” marginalized the Indigenous communities generations ago (although the remaining Indigenous communities continue to resist that ongoing annihilation, which should remind and inspire us all that the fight never ends), Israel nonetheless remains the last overt settler-colonial state. And all of us bear witness to its ongoing genocidal process, streamed live to our phones at this very moment.

Consequently, this places Israel at the “cutting-edge” in practice, and it has developed and continues to develop many tools to that effect, such as digital surveillance and hacking, reinterpretation of international law, sophisticated forms of incarceration, and creative ways to kill and maim. Being at the forefront of the practice of genocide ensures that Israel has consistently ranked among the top 10 “defence exporting” countries since the start of the 21st century (ranking 8th worldwide, according to SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, March 2021), and has been expanding in the arms trade and policing market since it entered the market in the 1980s. Remember, this is a nuclear-armed state, smaller than the size of New York, rivalling the arms trade of larger countries like Russia, China, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom.

Yes, the police and army in the US and Canada are well-versed in how to commit brutality and murder; but lately, Israel has refined and elevated the practice, in turn galvanizing other nation-states to learn from them or directly purchase the tools needed to imitate their practices.

The following are further notes and musings behind the art and words of this comic, as well as further threads to follow for readers who are curious or perplexed:

Page 1: If you don’t know who Maya Angelou is or haven’t heard of her poem, “Caged Bird,” then please stop reading and go read her.

The Arabic lyrics snaking out of the prison window are from an actual song sung by Arab prisoners that Sirène snuck in there.

Many international and local NGOs have recorded the number of Palestinians currently held by Israel, and increases or decreases according to events. But there have always been thousands of Palestinians held by Israel since its inception.

Page 2: Obviously, when writing this comic, the daring escape of the six Palestinian prisoners and their capture was the main focus on the news. The quote at the end of this page is allegedly by one of them, said to his lawyer after being caught.

Page 3: Forced labour camps were a major thing in the 1940s to 1950s, the records and numbers of them were reported by ICRC reports at the time (which was classified and then rediscovered and rereleased by Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta in 2014).

Page 4: These quotes are reproduced from the research work of Dr. Salman Abu Sitta. Pretty ironic, at least to me.

Page 5: The stats mentioned here are collected from a range of sources, including the Institute of Palestine Studies, a 2019 report by the Palestinian Prisoners Committee, and Addameer, to name a few.

Page 6: The description of the abuses of Palestinian female prisoners was taken from various sources, including reports by the Palestinian Prisoners Committee, Al-Shabak, and Human Rights Watch.

Page 7: Khalida Jarrar is an exceptional person, and everyone should research her more.

Page 8: There is a growing body of research on how central Israel has become in the global arms, surveillance, and policing industry, all gained through using these tools for decades on Palestinian bodies. The majority of Israel’s production in this industry (~75%) is made not for internal use, but for export.

Page 9: The link between Ejaz Choudry’s murder and the training the Canadian police had with Israel that enabled this murder has been articulated by the likes of the Canadian BDS Coalition, while the other links noted here between Canada and Israel were from a 2015 brief report by Independent Jewish Voices during an anti-militarization campaign, available on their website.

Page 10: The information on this page is also taken from the Independent Jewish Voices 2015 brief, which is a nice summation of the different ties between Canada and Israel. There are mountains of these pamphlets, briefs, reports, and infographics that show the depth of Israel’s incremental genocide and its positionality among the larger international order.

Page 11–12: My feeble attempt at some lyrical poetry or some such, because even when we speak plainly about Israel, it can hit deaf ears and there’s something more impactful with a line that rhymes. Perhaps that’s why the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” terrifies Israel’s supporters so much. *