Mr. Zakaria Helles, a Gazan expert in hydraulic engineering, is in Quebec for what was to be a three-month stay to take up a position as an assistant professor at Laval University. But after the relentless bombing and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, he was forced to stay here, far from home, for an indefinite period. Since then, he has been a key figure in the pro-Palestinian movement in Quebec City. On Nov. 7, La Riposte socialiste had the chance to speak with him.

This interview was originally published in French on

LRS: Mr. Zakaria Helles, can you tell us what your personal situation is like at the moment?

Z. H.: First and foremost, thank you very much for this opportunity, this space you’ve given me to talk about myself, my journey and the situation unfolding in my homeland at this very moment. This war in the Gaza Strip is a nightmare for anyone living through it–at least, it is for me. In concrete terms, it’s a truly terrible, horrifying situation. Living here, in Quebec, while my soul and my spirit remain in Gaza… Trying to reach my wife, my five children, not to mention my mother, my sisters, my brothers, all of them, trapped there under the airstrikes still in progress as I speak, with no reprieve. But still, I try to keep in touch with all of them; I call them every hour of the day, every minute, just to make sure they’re all still alive.

LRS: How has your family been affected?

Z. H.: At the very beginning, I lost my house in an airstrike. It was located on the eastern side of the Gaza Strip, not far from the Israeli border, which made it much more vulnerable to bombing. At the same time, between 100 and 150 houses, including several belonging to members of my close and distant family, were wiped off the map, completely razed to the ground. My wife, my five children and my mother escaped death at the last moment, fleeing with nothing but their clothes. They left everything behind, everything! Everything had been destroyed, even my certificates–university certificates, anyway… Everything was left in the rooms, because they didn’t have enough time to remove the valuables. Fortunately, they were soon able to find refuge in the city center, but it was short-lived, because another bombing raid immediately destroyed the building they had just moved into, along with almost the entire Rimal neighbourhood. Thousands of tons of missiles then fell on the shoulders of the people; civilians crouched in their apartments were blown away. No one can imagine what happened that day. The noise, the smoke, the fire–all of it spread around my own family, who were forced to flee a second time. Now they live in a colleague’s house–but it’s far from safe. The Israeli army continually bombs the surrounding area, without even warning the inhabitants. Houses filled with women, the elderly and children are destroyed with impunity.

LRS: How do your loved ones continue to live there?

Z. H.: We Palestinians are constantly faced with a very difficult mission: to stay alive. How do we find water? How do you get electricity? How do you even charge your cell phone? Facilities are often very, very rudimentary. Some schools, for example, once transformed into shelters, were really overloaded by the humanitarian situation! I have two brothers, with their entire families, who were evacuated to one of these schools, a frail building now housing no less than 12,000 people. They told me, “We haven’t had a bath in 20 days.” One of them added: “I had to walk 10 kilometers around here before I came across a working toilet.” Can you imagine that? As the school’s rooms are all reserved for women, the men sleep outside in the courtyard. And you know, it’s winter in Gaza too. “We have no warm clothes, no adequate protection against the attacks, no gas, no medicine for the wounded”, they assured me. One and a half million Gazans have had to evacuate their homes since October 7. In the north of Gaza, the inhabitants of the Beith Hanoun, Beit Lahia and Siafa neighbourhoods were ordered by the Israeli army to head for Gaza City, and then it was the population of Gaza City’s turn who were forced into exile in Egypt! A million and a half! Can you imagine? They were already refugees, then they became refugees a second time! It’s catastrophic.

LRS: But the border with Egypt is closed, isn’t it?

Z. H.: Exactly! We’re stuck between the Israeli army in the north and the Egyptian border below, which is completely closed. People don’t know where to go. In the meantime, they’re living in schools, hospitals and warehouses–all exposed to the bombings. Hospitals, moreover, in addition to being pulverized by airstrikes, are constantly hit by successive power cuts and shortages of medical equipment: yet there are plenty of wounded and sick people in there! The Israeli army has simply advised the doctors still on duty to evacuate. But fleeing would mean abandoning the patients to certain death!

LRS: Do you see this kind of action by the Israeli state as ethnic cleansing?

Z. H.: You know, my compatriots in Gaza are taking refuge in every building still standing. But that won’t protect them for good. There is no shelter. The continuous strikes by the Israeli air force are indeed the fruit of genocidal rhetoric. They are part of a large-scale massacre. This is what I repeat every time I discuss the subject: Gaza has no army. There are no military buildings to remove, so they have to remove what remains–innocent civilians. We have no tanks, no arsenal, no artillery. We have no planes. Their target is the Palestinians, pure and simple.

LRS: More specifically, what do you think of the reactions of Western leaders?

Z. H.: They are totally biased. They invoke Israel’s so-called right to self-defense to justify the butchery being committed on Palestinian soil. No words can describe such an abject situation. I remember how, 600 days ago, the whole world united against Russia. Didn’t all your heads of state collaborate to support the Ukrainians, so that they could liberate themselves and their land? They have spent millions, billions of dollars in support of these people. What right do they have, then, to refuse to do the same when it comes to mine? There’s a blatant double standard here. I come from a people who survive under blockade, in a permanent state of occupation, oppressed by an overpowering army and confronted with the most brutal injustice–all this for 75 years!

LRS: What would you have to say to the imperialist powers who provide economic and military support for the eradication of the Palestinian people? Aren’t they just as responsible as the Israeli state?

Z. H.: Clearly, they have a crucial role to play in this–in particular the United States, which supports Israel to the end, giving it a blank check to prepare whatever its leaders aspire to commit. According to them, Israel’s right to self-defense includes the right to kill the children of Gaza. This is what Mr. Biden, and all his subordinates, are saying in hushed tones. Officials like Blinken, who travel around the region to ensure that the global and regional situation “remains stable”, fear escalation on the Palestinian side purely and simply because it threatens their profits, because it means they could lose control in the Middle East. Where are the international countries that used to go on and on endlessly about the beautiful “international community”, about their “humanism”, these nations dedicated to “emancipating peoples, providing them with the means for a prosperous life”? They lie to us. Because all their rules and laws were put to the test in Gaza. Every one of them ultimately failed.

LRS: What would you say to people who boil down this ethnic cleansing to discord between Jews and Muslims?

Z. H.: No! I don’t believe in that. [At a conference,] a participant asked me if it was a fight between Islam and Judaism. I told him that before the establishment of the State of Israel, 10 per cent of the Palestinian population were of the Jewish faith. No problem with that! They were Palestinians, but had adopted the Jewish faith–just as some other Palestinians, at the same time, declared themselves to be Christians. Even today, 70,000 Palestinians are Christians. Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian Al-Jazeera journalist killed last May by the Israeli army, was also a Christian! And she was on our side of the barricade. All these people live harmoniously with the other communities in Palestine. Incidentally, many Jews here have offered me their warm support, for which I thank them. They told me: “We hate the Israeli government. We hate its decisions. And the existence of a state like Israel is in itself antithetical to our own religion.” Yesterday at the demonstration, as I walked down the stage, a professor from Laval University embraced me. He was Jewish! And he had dared, in his own speech, to chant: “Let’s put an end to the crimes committed in the Gaza Strip!” We have no problem with Judaism. We have a problem only with the Israeli government, which is guilty of genocide and which promotes a doctrine of apartheid.

LRS: Can there be any solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis?

Z. H.: Solidarity, at the moment, is perhaps at its lowest level. But if this is the case, it’s only because what represents the Israeli people, for many Palestinians, is the Netanyahu government. I say to the Israelis: if you aspire to a real union between our two peoples, you should get rid of your leaders! To be free—to make your own decisions freely! I noticed, through some media, that many Israelis were protesting in the streets this week against Netanyahu. They were calling for the repatriation of the 250 hostages held in Gaza to ensure the establishment of a lasting peace. But that doesn’t seem to me to constitute a majority at the moment. We therefore need even more Israelis sympathetic to our cause to flock to the streets of Tel Aviv.

LRS: We have discussed the ongoing tragedy in the Gaza Strip, but what about the West Bank?

Z. H.: The situation there is also catastrophic. Some people, of course, looking at a map, might think that the West Bank occupies a larger portion of the territory than the Gaza Strip. But make no mistake! The entire West Bank is made up of regions disconnected from each other by the settlements Israel has established there. It’s an archipelago, a series of micro-territories encircled by the occupying Israeli army, which helps its settlers expropriate the Palestinian inhabitants. These settlers, moreover, are themselves armed to the teeth by this same army. As a result, they can take their huge machine guns out into the street without being bothered by anyone, and proceed to invade what little Palestinian territory remains. I know several colleagues who live in the West Bank. They tell me quite clearly: the situation does not look good. There are over 500 checkpoints in the region. A Palestinian cannot travel more than two kilometers without being searched by Israeli authorities. But such an observation should not lead to pessimism, because the occupiers must always be aware of one thing, of great importance: we will have plenty of time to rebel, to emancipate and liberate the land. Because injustice can never last. It is brittle. Look at India! Look at South Africa! And Algeria! Yes, I promise you – in my lifetime, I will see the liberation of my people with my own eyes.

LRS: Do you have a message for those who are reading this but don’t really know what to do to support your demands?
Z. H.: Please, don’t listen to your governments. Don’t listen to your presidents. Stay informed about the situation. Get yourself some literature on the Palestinian question—you have to read carefully to unearth the roots of the conflict. Stay away from propaganda, which distorts the real nature of the issues. Try to dig for the truth, to identify the criminals. And above all, mobilize. Go on strike. Take part in demonstrations in your cities. And, why not, all over the world!