Stretching a 66-metre-long Palestinian flag along Ste. Catherine, over 1,000 Montrealers gathered on Friday afternoon to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in the context of Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza, and to call on the Canadian government to condemn violations of international law by the state of Israel. The demonstration, organized by the Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), began at the Guy-Concordia metro station at 5:30 p.m., and ended in front of the Quebec premier’s office on McGill College about an hour later.
“We come here today as human beings [who] cannot […] watch what is going [on] in Gaza and just be silent, and just say, ‘It’s business as usual,’” said Ehab Lotayef, a spokesperson for the Gaza’s Ark campaign, in an address to the crowd.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza started on July 8, following a chain of events that began with the abduction and murder of three Israeli settler teenagers in the West Bank last month. The operation marks the worst outbreak of violence in the region since 2012.
“The state of Israel is […] killing people by the dozens for its own expansionist and control reasons, citing false security claims that are unjustified, and the world is standing silent,” added Lotayef. “The world is watching as Gaza is being [attacked], and when a rocket comes out of Gaza, they say, ‘Both sides should constrain themselves’? We are here to say to the world, to say to the Canadian government: enough hypocrisy.”
In an interview with The Daily, PAJU organizer Hala Marley noted that the Canadian government is complicit in Israel’s war crimes through its failure to condemn them, a sentiment shared by many demonstrators.
“When they say that Israel has the right to defend itself, […] to condemn one side and not to condemn the other, it’s hypocritical,” said Marley in French. “We’d like the Canadian and Quebec governments to stop doing business with the Israeli government as long as [it] doesn’t change its attitude toward the Palestinians, because the Palestinians don’t have the right to access to water, don’t have the right of return. We ask […] for the end of this ‘wall of shame’ [the Israeli West Bank barrier], the end of the blockade of Gaza, the return of the refugees.”
Jean Lacharité – vice-president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Quebec’s second largest trade union federation – found the Harper government’s professed unwavering support for the state of Israel particularly disheartening.
“I’m saying it loud and clear: the Harper government, a right-wing government like we’ve never seen in Canada, wholeheartedly supports Israel’s government, and lets [it] commit war crimes without denouncing them,” Lacharité told the crowd in French. “Harper must change course, must acknowledge that there is no democracy in Palestine, […] and say it. Otherwise, it’s a show of support for war crimes that [the Israeli government] commits.”
An anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish contingent was also present at the protest. “The entire occupation of Palestine going on already for 60-odd years is a total crime,” a rabbi from this contingent told the crowd. “We declare that the acts of terror committed by the state of Israel against the people of Palestine [are] not supported by all Jews, neither does the state of Israel represent all Jews.”
“Israel a criminal, Harper an accomplice,” demonstrators chanted in French as they carried what is, according to organizers, the largest Palestinian flag in the world down Ste. Catherine. The flag, which attendees had the opportunity to sign, is destined to be shipped to a Palestinian refugee camp.
Quebec industry involved in drone manufacturing
As the demonstration reached Premier Philippe Couillard’s office on McGill College, organizers highlighted the role of the Quebec industry in Israel’s military operations, and spoke in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for boycott of Israeli companies and academic institutions, divestment from Israeli corporations complicit in the occupation, and sanctions against the state of Israel.
“We’re standing here in front of the office of the premier of Quebec, because […] a lot of the drones that are used against the Palestinian people by Israel are manufactured here in Quebec,” said Lotayef. “We are responsible to speak against it all the time, […] until injustice ends, until the Palestinian rights are restored.”
“Israel and Quebec have bilateral [trade] agreements. We also have universities which do business with Israel. We ask for a boycott,” Marley told The Daily. “Today, we really wanted to put pressure on the Quebec government – the Israeli drones which are used right now [are] manufactured in Quebec.”
“We demand the right of return for the refugees, the end of the occupation, the end of the colonization which continues to intensify, the end of the blockade of Gaza, the dismantling of the ‘wall of shame,’ and above all, the end of apartheid practices and policies for a lasting peace in Palestine,” she told the crowd.