On October 7, Hamas, designated a terrorist entity by Canada, launched several thousand rockets and a series of ground raids into Israel. This attack killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and Hamas took over 200 hostages. Retaliation was swift from the Israeli government – it cut off electricity to Gaza that night and cut the water supply three days later, endangering Gaza’s population of 2.2 million. Limited humanitarian aid has since been permitted to cross into Gaza, but it is hardly enough to sustain the population’s basic needs. At the time of writing on October 26, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and numerous human rights organizations, at least 6,747 Palestinians have been killed. This number will only increase as Israel has recently intensified the bombardment of Gaza and may be planning a ground assault.
Montrealers are demonstrating almost daily in response to the Hamas attack and Israel’s ensuing bombardment and blockade of Gaza. On October 10, dozens gathered at the Israeli consulate in support of Israeli victims and the Jewish community, and around 200 people attended Hillel Montreal’s candle-lighting service. The Christian Coalition for Israel arranged a demonstration on October 15 that attracted a crowd of about 50 to dance and wave Israeli flags.
Across the city, there have also been demonstrations in support of Palestine. A protest organized only hours after the bombing of the al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on October 17 saw over 1,500 demonstrators marching down Sainte-Catherine. Many different groups have expressed solidarity with Gaza. The Palestinian Youth Movement has written a Palestine liberation resource list, and also organized and participated in several protests. Independent Jewish Voices is also a key organizer in some of these demonstrations, notably blocking the doors to Premier François Legault’s Montreal office on October 20 to demand an end to Canada and Quebec’s support for the Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, Bar Milton-Parc held a night of Palestinian film on October 23 to raise funds for Gaza. The Concordia Student Union released a statement on October 18 that decried Israel’s bombardment of civilian infrastructure and urged the Canadian government to stop sending financial aid to Israel. Elected officials are generally opposed to pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Legault denounced the rallies and said that Quebec sides with Israel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has continuously voiced his solidarity with Israel while calling for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to Gaza.
Pro-Palestine demonstrations are being banned across Europe. State and city governments in Germany banned public gatherings with suspected pro-Palestinian sympathies, and the country’s deputy interior minister said there is “zero tolerance for antisemitism and anti-Israel incitement.” The interior minister in France likewise instructed regional leaders to prohibit pro-Palestine protests. Hungary and Austria have also banned pro-Palestine protests since October 7.
Some bans go further than demonstrations: in Paris, there is a ban on the “presence and circulation of people that present themselves as pro-Palestinian.” Those who participate in demonstrations of solidarity with Palestine fear losing their jobs and immigration status. One reason given for the ban on these protests – or existing in public while “presenting as pro-Palestinian” – is to quell a surge in antisemitic hate crimes. Nevertheless, Jewish pro-Palestinian activists, such as Jewish Berliners Against Middle Eastern Violence, have continued to show their support despite also being affected by these bans. The conflation between Israeli nationalism and Jewish identity unjustly excludes the significant number of Jews who are against Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The banning of pro-Palestinian protests in other countries sets a dangerous precedent: it is a systemic suppression of marginalized voices. The right to protest is fundamental to democratic society. The President of Amnesty International France says, “[u]nder international law, a ban on demonstrations can only be considered a last resort. Authorities should always seek to protect and facilitate the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The rhetoric that Israel has a “right to self-defense” has been used to justify the Israeli military’s continued assault on the civilian population of Gaza. The Daily believes that all governments should be calling for a ceasefire, that humanitarian aid should be allowed into Gaza, and that Canada must stop funding the Israeli military. While the UN Security Council has vetoed yet another ceasefire resolution, over 485,000 people have signed onto the #CeasefireNOW petition, making a public call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. Yet, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas. The resolution was drafted by 22 Arab countries. Israel, the US, and 11 other countries voted no, while Canada abstained.
As the Canadian government has not yet called for a ceasefire, we encourage you to write to government officials to demand that they do so. If you are protesting, take precautions such as wearing a mask and plain, common clothing to avoid being identified by the police. Protesting isn’t the only way to support Palestine. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) suggests reporting online hate, sending links to poor media coverage, and sending money to the Gaza Emergency Appeal. It’s important to listen to Palestinian voices during a time of heightened censorship and to do your best to avoid misinformation. Follow Montreal for Palestine, the Palestinian Struggle Mission, Independent Jewish Voices, and the Palestine Youth Movement on social media for local updates. To all our Muslim, Palestinian, Jewish, and Israeli readers who are struggling right now, community events are being held by the Muslim Students Association, Palestinian Youth Movement Montreal, and Hillel McGill to help bring people together during these difficult times.