Over one thousand people marched through the streets of downtown Montreal on Saturday in solidarity with Palestinians and the residents of the Gaza Strip.
Chanting, “Free the Palestinians,” the demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as, “Gaza je me souviens”; “Judaism condemns the atrocities committed by the Zionists on Gaza”; “End the siege on Gaza”; and “Boycott Israel.”
The march started at Peel and Rene-Levesque and finished at Complexe Guy-Favreau, a Canadian government building at St. Urbain and Rene-Levesque. It was organized by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine.
In an email sent out by the Collectif Échec à la guerre, organizers said that the purpose of the protest was “to commemorate the massacre of the population of Gaza by the Israeli army last year and to demand an immediate end to the siege imposed on Gaza.”
One year ago, a 23-day military conflict took place in Gaza and southern Israel, which ended on January 18. During the conflict – called the Gaza War, Operation Cast Lead, or the Gaza massacre – approximately 1,400 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis were killed by bombs or combatants. The war also decimated Gazan infrastructure, homes, and government buildings.
Protestors at the event pointed out that even though Israeli attacks and bombings have been infrequent since last January, the Israeli and Egyptian militaries’ siege against the Strip persists, prolonging the humanitarian crisis there.
“Almost the entire population of the Gaza Strip relies on UN food rations and aid. Sustenance [has] completely vanished within the Gaza Strip,” said Mostafa Henaway, a protestor and a community organizer for the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal.
“Seventy-five per cent of the Gazan population is actually refugees from bordering villages and towns outside the Gaza Strip. And so this remains the core of the issue: people have been besieged and trapped within this tiny ghetto, and are without the right to return to their home, without the right to live in dignity, and the right to live equally as Israelis do,” said Henaway.
Participants also decried the Canadian government’s support of what participants call Israeli apartheid policies in Palestinian territory, and its recent decision to cut over $10 million of funding to pro-Palestinian human rights organizations like Alternatives, a Montreal-based non-governmental international solidarity organization, and Kairos, a Christian aid organization. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney dubbed these organizations as anti-Semitic for supporting the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
“[I am here] to remind Canadians that this is going on and [to tell] our government, which has shown unilateral support for Israel, its behaviours are unacceptable,” said Omar, a 2005 graduate from McGill University. “The funding cuts…send a message that certain people don’t deserve basic human rights or basic health care or basic anything, but others do,” he added.
Several Orthodox Jews at the march defended the boycotts against Israel. “The boycotts are not anti-Semitic, but they are to show our opposition against and disgust with Israel’s direct and indirect killings of the Palestinian people,” said Amrom Rosenberg, a member of Neturei Karta, an international sect of Orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism.
There were many students present at Saturday’s march to show their support and solidarity.
“I think it’s especially important for students to be in solidarity with people in Gaza because the situation for students in Palestine and Gaza is made harsh and difficult by the restrictions on freedom of movement and the blockades,” said Amy Darwish, U1 Social Work.
No counterdemonstration took place, and participants saw the event as a success.
“I think today is just to show our support for Gaza, and I think we’ve done that here today,” said Henaway.