It should be noted that those who identify strongly with their Palestinian roots are also strong and loyal Canadians. Palestinian Canadians have integrated well in Canada, establishing their families and opening businesses as well as participating in the arts and sciences and other professions, including blue-collar work as well.
In the absence of a Palestinian State, the unity among Palestinian communities in the Diaspora serves to maintain the Palestinian identity. In certain parts of Canada, Palestinians live in clusters of relatively high density, typically in Toronto and Montreal. Others are scattered across the country. Those in high cluster areas have more connection to their shared culture and language. A key task for the `right of return` activists is to bridge those gaps. Palestinians who live in close proximity to each other are encouraged to form cultural centers, relating to the village, town or city from region where they originated. Many Palestinian Canadians retain their Palestinian identity while identifying themselves as Canadians first, and "Palestinian" as a qualifier to their Canadian identity, as most immigrant populations tend to do.
Few say they have been subjected to overt discrimination based on their ethnicity, but, as they are visibly different through dress and cultural practices, they are often not seen as fully Canadian, and are subsequently often treated as foreigners.
The Palestinian community in Canada has close bonds, which strengthened after the 1990`s Gulf War and the Intifada. Though Palestinian Canadians have generally had a smooth transition to their new culture, there is still an unsettled feeling because of the prevalence of tensions in the homeland. The lack of a formally constituted and recognized Palestinian State persists and contributes to the unease of the Palestinian people.Due to the political instability in Arab countries and often to escape persecution, it was inevitable that Palestinians were dispersed from their homeland. Canada being a welcoming community and country of human rights welcomed Palestinians as refugees and immigrants.
Ours is a remarkable story of achievement in the face of adversity. Our people emigrated in search for the freedom, equality, democracy and universal human rights we no longer had at home. We Palestinians have the highest literacy rate in the Arab world. Immigrating to Canada as students; becoming professionals training for higher qualifications, or as temporary visitors of various types, were logical progressions for most. This is no longer the case. With increasing numbers of Palestinians from all walks of life entering Canada, our communities have come to resemble other settled communities here with a more "normal" distribution of jobs and activities. Hence, it is now possible to find Palestinian shopkeepers, restaurant owners, cab drivers, and builders as well as the traditional professionals, business owners, and journalists.
Palestinian refugee family, c. 1948 (courtesy Middle East Centre Archives, St Anthony’s College, Oxford/1-15011-3).
In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the
British Mandate for Palestine between Jews and Palestinians. In the ensuing Arab-Israeli War of 1948,
a number of Palestinians become Displaced Persons (DPs). In 1949, a few thousand came to Canada
seeking refuge and resettlement.
The Palestinians who came to Canada in the early to mid 20th century found a generally welcoming environment. They contributed significantly to Canada`s social and economic advancement. The Palestinian community remained fairly small in number until the situation changed dramatically after the Nakba in 1948, when Palestinians, compelled by international factors beyond their control, were forced to leave their ancestral lands. Palestinian refugees and formal migrants seeking refuge from the disruption and devastation of their homeland started arriving in Canada in 1947.
The greatest number of Palestinians coming to Canada arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and peaked after the 1991 Gulf War. The largest concentrations are in Toronto and Montreal.
Palestinian Canadians have, for the most part, adapted to and succeeded in Canadian society while remaining loyal to their Palestinian roots. They also have maintained a remarkable level of awareness of, and for some involvement in, their culture and politics. Many political events, particularly after the Intifada that started in September 2000 against the Israeli Occupation, have increased the solidarity work among Palestinian Canadian communities.
Palestinians have their historic home in Palestine, a region on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea that came under the British mandate in the aftermath of the First World War.
"Palestine" is an adaptation of a Greek word meaning Land of Philistines.
Palestinian Canadians are Canadians of Palestinian ancestry. Palestine`s unique political history makes it difficult to determine exactly when the first Palestinians immigrated to Canada and how many came. It is estimated that there are currently (2013) between 50,000 and 60,000 Palestinian-origin residents of Canada. It is difficult to be exact, as it is only relatively recently that Canada started recognizing "Palestinian" as a nationality. Most early sources refer to Arab immigrants generally.
Palestinian refugees and immigrants were referred to according to their place of birth or the countries of their habitual residence - typically where they had lived as refugees, thus making the exact calculation on Palestinian Canadian’s difficult. The records indicate that while a small number of Christian Palestinians came to Canada before 1948, the vast majority had arrived following their expulsion from Palestine in 1948 as a result of the Nakba, with another wave after the war in 1967.
Palestinians are part of the Arab population in Canada. For more information on this subject please see "An Olive Branch on the Family Tree: The Arabs in Canada" by Baha Abu-Laban (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1980), and Statistics Canada.