An estimated 10,000 people marched Saturday in protest against the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, part of a worldwide movement denouncing recent violence.
The frustrations of the crowd were tangible. Participants walked down Ste. Catherine from Peel to St. Urbain, chanting “Viva! Viva! Intifada!” and “Israel—Assassin! Israel—Terrorist!”
“I feel a little helpless,” said McGill graduate student Kianoosh Hashemzadeh at the protest. “I feel like this is helping me feel as if I am a part of a movement that is against the activity taking place in Gaza.”
According to the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, the aim of Israel’s offensive is to stop the barrage of rockets and mortars being fired from Gaza into southern Israel, numbering about 500 since the start of the 20-day offensive. However, due to the low mortality rate of the Hamas rockets, the conflict has left 13 Israelis and over 900 Palestinians dead. In addition, 4,400 Gazans have been injured to date.
Protester and McGill law student Maha Hussain defended Israel’s right to protect its citizens, but felt the Israeli response to be disproportionate.
“It’s like shooting fish in a barrel; they have nowhere to evacuate to,” she said, referring to Gaza’s borders, which have been sealed for the past 18 months.
The campaign was organized by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, Tadamon! Montreal, and Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR).
Many Jewish groups also took part in the rally, including the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC), Independent Jewish Voices, and Young Jews for Social Justice (YJSJ), a new Quebec Public Interest Research Group-McGill working group.
Elise Eisenkraft Klein, a member of the YJSJ, emphasized the diversity of voices within the Jewish community.
“I think it’s important that the Jewish community is not shown as being a monolithic voice, and that there are opinions that Jews have out there other than [those of] the big organizations and pro-Israel…lobbies,” said Klein.
Speaking at the demonstration, Independent Jewish Voices representative Abby Lippman called on Jewish history to justify Jewish opposition to Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories.
“Silence kills. Jews know this all too well,” said Lippman. “We cannot stay and watch others kill in our name.
“We will stand up in solidarity with all those who are demanding an end to Israel’s attacks in Gaza, to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and to the continuation of violations of human rights and international law,” added Lippman.
Aaron Lakoff, a collective member of Tadamon! Montreal, maintained that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians contradicts Jewish values.
“A lot of people have interpreted Jewish values to be standing for liberation and for justice. And what Israel is doing is actually smack in the face of those traditions and a smack in the face of all of humanity,” said Lakoff.
No opposing groups organized against the protest. However, onlooker Yoni Khajehzadeh was displeased with the march. Identifying himself as an Iranian Jew, Khajehzadeh was concerned the demonstration threatened Israel’s legitimacy as nation-state.
“I’m not saying that everything that is going on in Gaza is right, but what I am saying is that Israel has a right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state,” said Khajehzadeh.
The Montreal demonstration coincided with several held across Canada in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver over the weekend. Tens of thousands have also protested in Britain, France, Belgium, and Spain.
According to Nina Amrov, spokesperson for SPHR, the primary goal of the protest was to mobilize those outraged by the alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza. The organization hopes the demonstration will incite the Conservative government to end its support of Israeli policies that flagrantly abuse international law, said Amrov.
In addition, both Amrov and Lakoff underscored the need to consider the context in which Hamas has been firing rockets, saying the targeted towns – Ashkelon, Sderot, and Ashdod – are where many Gazans lived before 1948 and 1967.
“We’re talking about the Gaza Strip: 75 per cent of the population there are refugees. It’s the world’s largest open-air prison,” said Lakoff.
“People have to go through the largest obstacles in the world just to get basic necessities of life.”