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Children’s tent brings lessons in life to Palestinian-Canadian mother

How the children’s tent at rallies for Gaza became a lifeline of support for Palestinian-Canadian parents

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Under cloudy skies at Vancouver’s Creekside Park near Science World, Sama Ghnaim scans the park for her seven-year-old daughter Yafa. At least 100 children have gathered here to decorate and fly kites in solidarity with the children under siege in Gaza.

Finally she appears, wearing a bright smile and pink ear muffs, and flings her arms around her mother. On a day that 1.4 million Gazans are under threat of a ground assault in the southern Gaza City of Rafah, she is safe, and happy.

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Sama said that when Israel invaded Gaza after October 7, Yafa knew something was happening. Something she didn’t understand. “She observed our sadness and anguish,” said Ghnaim, who also has twin boys, aged two and a half.

“We were trying to shield them because it was too traumatizing,” said Ghnaim. “We also wanted them to know what is happening. The question was how do we explain it to them, at their level, without traumatizing them?”

When Ghnaim and her husband Ahmad Bisher attended rallies in support of Gazans — something vitally important to the North Vancouver couple — there was no comfortable zone for the kids. “We would be standing there for hours with our strollers. The kids couldn’t handle it.”

So Ghnaim and fellow parents, inluding Attiya Jaffar and Mia Amir, a local Israeli-born Jewish mom, co-founded Parents for Palestine YVR, a multiracial, multi-faith intergenerational group with the aim of making rallies more kid-friendly, and finding ways to navigate complicated conversations.

“We started with a kids tent, where they could do arts and crafts and colour to give them a comfortable space to be,” said Ghnaim.

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What Ghnaim didn’t expect was how important those connections with families of other faiths would be for her, or the emergence of a dialogue that would bring relief, joy and a sense of belonging that extended far beyond the children’s tent.

“We would eat together, and talk. I did not know we would have so much support and solidarity,” said Ghnaim.

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Several hundred people attend a rally in support of the Palestinians in the ongoing conflict in Gaza with Israel, at the Vancouver art gallery in Vancouver, BC Saturday, March 9, 2024. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

For her daughter and other Palestinian children coping with an unfathomable sadness at home they could barely understand, it was transformational. “They saw that it wasn’t just us. It gave them a sense of pride,” said Ghnaim.

Ghnaim, whose family was displaced from Palestine in 1948, said there has been little chance for dialogue with other community members about the plight of the Palestinian people over the years. “You are expected to go on as if nothing has happened, but you are living parallel lives.”

The support she has discovered through Parents for Palestine has meant the end of living with a kind of split identity, and helped her.

“It’s been amazing to see Jewish parents, Palestinian parents, parents of other faiths come together and stand as one. To learn there is no difference between us,” said Ghnaim, who works in curriculum development with SFU’s continuing studies department. “We feel like family, we feel like community.”

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When Yafa asked her, “Why kites?”, she explained, “I told her that in order to fly, kites need to resist against the air, and that resistance pushes the kite up so it can fly. Kites have always been significant for Palestinian children. Within the confines of the siege on Gaza, a kite can soar. There are no limits. Flying is a symbol of hope, and freedom.”

For Ghnaim, it isn’t just the kites. “Each kite they raise symbolizes not just a desire for freedom but also embodies intergenerational resilience. To see everyone come together gives me hope. If this community can come together, then the world can come together to end the siege on Gaza.”

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