Hundreds of people gathered on Friday July 11th in downtown Montreal to demonstrate support for Palestinians and to protest against the recent assault by the Israeli Army on the Gaza Strip. Since Tuesday July 8th, over 180 Gazans have been killed by Israeli air strikes, many of whom are children and over 1,120 Palestinians wounded in what Israel is calling “Operation Protective Edge”.
Emergency protests were organized around the world to denounce the brutal attack on Gaza. Hala Marley, a member of the Montreal-based group Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU) explained that the Montreal protest was started by a citizen initiative that then drew in larger organisations from across the city. Even though brought together by tragic events, there was a strong sense of solidarity and empowerment among the protesters as they held the longest Palestinian flag in the world covered with messages of hope and encouragement for the Palestinian people.
Denis Kosseim, who was representing two Montreal teachers’ unions, encouraged people to get involved in Palestinian solidarity initiatives. “Most of our fellow citizens feel as though they have no grasp on international affairs or even public affairs generally…however all of the solidarity movements have shown that collectively they have an impact. So, my advice to anyone who feels isolated and powerless would be to join a group or an association, anything to get out of your isolation and to discover that you are not powerless”, stated Kosseim.
As chanting filled the streets, protesters stopped in front of the bookstore Chapters/Indigo to denounce its support of the Israeli military and to call for its boycott. Ehab Lotayef explained that Chapters/Indigo is being boycotted because the owners provide funding to people from around the world who volunteer to serve in the Israeli army. The call to boycott Chapters/Indigo is part of the larger BDS Movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israeli Apartheid.
Ehab Lotayef represents the Canadian Gaza Ark Project, which is part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. For the past year and a half, the Canadian initiative has been building a boat to carry Gazan products out of Gaza to deliberately break the illegal Israeli blockade of the strip. However, according to Lotayef, a day before the protest the Israeli Army bombed the Canadian Gaza Ark boat in an attempt to silence activists attempting to break the siege.
Tensions began escalating first in the Occupied West Bank after three Israeli teenagers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Kfar Etzion went missing and were later found dead. According to the International Middle East Media Center, since the settlers went missing on June 12, Palestinians have been facing collective punishment. Over 1,000 Palestinians have been arrested including 200 children, 180 of whom have been detained without charge or trial under the illegal Israeli policy of Administrative Detention. Thousands of Palestinian homes have been raided and 13 Palestinians killed by the Israeli Army and angry Israeli mobs in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among them, a 16-year old Palestinian boy from Occupied East Jerusalem, Mohommed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive by a group of Israeli setters as a revenge attack.
According to the news website Mondoweiss, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has been accused of inciting violence through hate speech encouraging revenge against all Palestinians. Netanyahu told CNN “may God avenge their blood”. Netanyahu immediately blamed the democratically elected Palestinian party Hamas for the death of the three settlers, even though Hamas denies this accusation and no proof of their involvement has been produced. Netanyahu has been quoted as saying “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay”.
Many, including Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, have criticized Netanyahu for using the death of the three settlers as an excuse to weaken the Gaza ruling party Hamas after it formed a Palestinian unity government with the West Bank ruling party Fatah on June 2nd.
As Montreal protesters winded their way through the downtown streets, they called for Israel to put an end to its indiscriminate killing. The march culminated at the Quebec Premier’s Office by demanding that the Canadian and Quebec Governments stop supporting Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Hala Marley from PAJU explained that not very many people know that the drones that kill innocent Gazans are produced here in Quebec. According to the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, over 50 Canadian weapons makers currently export products to Israel.
Amélie Nguyen from the Quebec Association of International Development Organisations stated that “Israel is wrong in what it’s doing. We see that international law is very clear about the fact that apartheid is illegal, that the colonization of Palestine is illegal, that the wall is illegal, and the fact that the constant oppression of the Palestinian people is wrong.”
Jean Lacharité, the Vice-President of the Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) which represents over 300,000 workers, explained that the CSN has a long history of solidarity with Palestine. He urged the Canadian Government to denounce Israel’s war crimes since he believes that the majority of Quebecers support the rights of Palestinians.
The rally got some mainstream coverage from media outlets such as CTV. However, there was a general discontent among the protesters towards the mainstream media’s generally biased and poor coverage of events related to Palestine. As the march went along Saint Catherine Street, Jooneed Khan, a retired journalist from La Presse, remembered the times he participated in protests on that very same street against the war in Vietnam and South African Apartheid. He recalled that mainstream media was absent then just as it is absent now.
This is the third major military assault on Gaza in the past 6 years. Protests also took place in Montreal in 2012 when the Israeli Army killed over 160 Gazans and in 2008/2009 when almost 1,400 Gazans were killed. Rabbi Dovid Feldman from Neturei Karta International Jews United Against Zionism, who has been present at previous Montreal protests, explained that “it might be that people are supporting Israel because they have sympathy with Jewish people since we did suffer in the past. Yet, we always try to explain and educate that supporting the State of Israel is not support for the Jewish people. This is not the voice of the Jewish people. These crimes are not being supported by all Jews. The state of Israel does not represent us all. The entire occupation should cease to exist.”
Interviews conducted and article written by Sawssan Kaddoura, Katherine Garven, and Marcelo Moreno for the Montreal-based radio program Under the Olive Tree.
Under the Olive Tree is a Montreal-based community radio program in solidarity with Palestinians aired live every Thursday from 11am – 12 noon on CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal and on CFRC 101.9FM in Kingston, Ontario from 4pm – 5pm.