Many Palestinians and their supporters tried to convince Ryan Bellerose to join their cause, hoping to have him serve as a bridge between the struggles of native Canadians in North America and Palestinians in Israel.
They did not succeed.
Bellerose, even before his recent trip to Israel, thought history proved that Jews were the indigenous people of Israel, and that only their plight matched up with their condition of Native Canadians, Canada’s indigenous peoples.
In a recent interview during his first visit to Israel, Bellerose said that his travels and experiences in Israel only hardened and confirmed his view.
Bellerose called the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel “a good example for my people,” since, he said, Jews were in the land before Palestinians, Ottomans, Arabs in general and other post-biblical conquerors. Much like native Canadians in Canada, Jews have “sacred spots” throughout Israel.
Bellerose, 36, comes from the Metis nation of Alberta. He founded Canadians for Accountability, a Native rights advocacy group. He is also a former player for the Calgary Wolfpack of the semi-pro Canadian Major Football League.
His trip to Israel has been coordinated by Stand With Us, and he called the experience the “trip of a lifetime.”
“Ever since I was a kid, I studied ancient history,” and that exposure fueled his desire to visit here.
He appreciated that Stand With Us on helped him visit almost all of the 15 sites he wanted to visit. Seeing Caesarea, Acre, David’s Citadel and walking up to the Western Wall,” places that he had “read about as a kid,” were especially powerful experiences for him.
In particular, Bellerose said his experience at the Western Wall was “intense” and that its “sacredness as a place was palpable.”
Bellerose’s background is a synergy of native Canadian Metis culture, from his mother’s side, and Roman Catholicism from his white father’s side (though, he said, the Roman Catholicism was primary).
He added that he has mixed feelings about the historical correctness of where many Roman Catholic sites have been located in Israel, though, in any case, the “Via Dolorosa was amazing.”
His native Canadian spirituality teaches that “all lands are sacred.” He said, burial grounds have a special place, and added that he felt the same deep feeling while visiting some sites in Israel as he did when visiting his native sacred sites.
His visit to the Hebron gave him new insight about stories of settlers in the area torching Palestinian olive groves during Lag Ba’omer. He attended a bonfire party in a Jewish area bordering a Palestinian area, and he was shocked that the media manufactured a story, turning a celebratory bonfire into a tale of conflict.
He denied a photographer’s claim that he, Bellerose, was assaulted. He said that at most he was surrounded by some settler youths, implying the photographer exaggerated the tension in a merely uncomfortable situation.
Bellerose did admit that some burning of Palestinian flags occurred and that he urged the settler youth involved to stop, but, he cautioned that this incident was only a small part of a long, largely normal party.
The incident made him much more aware of media bias in their coverage of Israel, something he was not used to with reportage of local issues and Canadian news media.
He is leaving Israel with an impression that solving the conflict is infinitely more complex than what the West is prepared to understand, since the area in dispute is small and it is so difficult to divide and separate the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
In North America, “for us to go 45 minutes to a restaurant is nothing,” emphasizing that in 45 minutes one could be back and forth from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and many other Israeli and Palestinian areas.
Michael Dickson, Israel Director for Stand With Us said that Bellerose is “a plain-talking, articulate voice which counters the shrill attempt by anti-Israel activists to delegitimize Jewish rights in Israel. We support his aim of bringing this message to other indigenous peoples and to the public in general.”