Vancouver protesters #BoycottPuma and support Palestinian prisoners’ struggle for freedom

Amid heavy rain, activists in Vancouver came out to support the #BoycottPuma campaign on Friday, 17 September, showing their solidarity with the six Palestinian political prisoners who liberated themselves from Gilboa prison and calling for the freedom of all detained Palestinians. The protest was organized by the Canada Palestine Association, BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, International League of Peoples’ Struggle Canada and the Palestinian Youth Movement.

Participants lined the street in downtown Vancouver in front of SportChek, a large sporting goods chain in Canada, highlighting the international #BoycottPuma campaign. Global sportswear manufacturer Puma is involved in violations of international law and human rights. Puma is the main sponsor of the Israel Football Association (IFA). Not only is this a direct sponsorship of an institution of Israeli apartheid and colonialism throughout Palestine, the IFA even includes teams based directly inside Israel’s illegal colonial settlements in the West Bank of occupied Palestine.

Organizations and activists around the world have joined Palestinian football players and sporting justice advocates internationally to call for a boycott of Puma until it ends its sponsorship of the IFA. The Vancouver protest accompanied the launch of a letter to Puma Canada demanding it end its sponsorship of Israeli apartheid, which has already been signed by nearly 1,000 people across Canada.

The Vancouver protest also showed solidarity with the six Palestinian heroes of the Freedom Tunnel, who liberated themselves from Gilboa Prison on 6 September. While the self-liberated detainees were since re-arrested by the Israeli occupation, their bravery and creativity in liberating themselves by digging a tunnel to freedom beneath Israel’s heavily secured colonial prison has made them symbols of the Palestinian will to liberation despite all obstacles.

Protesters held up spoons, symbolizing the digging of the Freedom Tunnel. Actions around the world have highlighted the spoon as a symbol of Palestinian resistance and steadfastness, digging to freedom with the most humble of tools at hand. In Washington, D.C. and Copenhagen, Denmark, activists left hundreds of spoons outside Zionist embassies, symbolizing the 4,650 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and their ongoing drive for freedom.

Charlotte Kates, international coordinator of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, spoke about the current situation of Palestinian prisoners, highlighting the cases of the six administrative detainees, jailed by Israel without charge or trial, on hunger strike for their liberation, some for more than two months: Kayed al-Fasfous, Miqdad Qawasmeh, Alaa al-Araj, Hisham Abu Hawash, Raik Bisharat and Shadi Abu Aker. She emphasized that the #BoycottPuma campaign — and the boycott of Israel and complicit corporations overall — is also a means of supporting freedom and justice for Palestinian prisoners.

During the protest, demonstrators marked the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, when upwards of 4,000 Palestinians and Lebanese were killed in the Shatila refugee camp and the adjacent Sabra neighbourhood in Beirut by Lebanese fascist militiamen, whose invasion of the camp was overseen by the invading Israeli army, which encircled the refugee camp. The massacre was carried out on 16-18 September 1982, only days after the last Palestinian resistance fighters in Beirut left Lebanon under the auspices of a U.S.-brokered “ceasefire,” paving the way for the slaughter of Palestinian refugees.

Demonstrators also drew attention to the Canadian federal election upcoming on Monday, 20 September, slamming the major parliamentary parties for their ongoing support of or silence on Canadian complicity in Israeli war crimes. The Canadian BDS Coalition and Canada Palestine Association launched the #IVotePalestine campaign to hold politicians accountable.

They also linked the ongoing Canadian support for colonialism in Palestine to the colonial reality across Canada, where Indigenous peoples and nations continue to struggle against ongoing genocide, settler colonialism and resource extraction on their territories. Speakers expressed full solidarity with Indigenous liberation struggles across Turtle Island.

The demonstration ended with group photos of all participants holding up “Boycott Puma: Stop Sponsoring Israeli Apartheid!” signs, as well as all participants holding up the “freedom spoons” that symbolize Palestinian prisoners’ struggle for freedom. Despite the heavy downpour throughout the protest, participants distributed many leaflets to passers-by, engaged in meaningful conversations, and received strong support from both drivers and pedestrians walking by on the street.