100,000 protesters rally in Ottawa for Palestine

Largest pro-Palestinian march in Canadian history pushes for a ceasefire

Photo Dorothy Mombrun

In his eight years of bus driving, Mourae Mouassine feels he has never taken a more important contract than the drive from Montreal to Ottawa on Nov. 25.

“This is more than work,” he said, seated in the school bus driver’s seat with a keffiyeh hanging from his shoulders. “I am proud to be here to support humanity.”

Mouassine was one of the bus drivers who volunteered with Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) to mobilize protesters from across Canada to Parliament Hill. Nine sold-out PYM-affiliated buses departed from Place du Canada around 9:30 a.m., all of which carried about 50 participants per busload.

Mouassine keeps a folder on his phone filled with pictures of the children who have died since the attacks on Gaza started. Between Oct. 7 and Nov. 26, over 6,000 Palestinian children have been killed. Following the collapse of Gaza’s health system, the Health Ministry has been unable to keep a regular count of the casualties, but it believes the toll continues to rise sharply.

“I have four kids,” he said. “Every time I see this murder, I can’t sleep. Imagine if it was my child, my friend’s child, my neighbour’s child; I cannot accept this.”

Upon arriving in Ottawa, Mouassine stood on Parliament Hill alongside his family who drove from Montreal to attend with him. They joined over 100,000 protesters gathered from all around the country in what organizer PYM considers the largest pro-Palestinian protest in Canadian history. 
“We are not standing on the hills of Parliament because we think we can convince or appeal to Justin Trudeau or the Canadian government’s morality,” said Yara Shoufani, a PYM member. “We are standing here because we know that by building a movement of the masses, we can force the Canadian government to change its direction.”

Speeches began echoing against the walls of Parliament around 1 p.m., delivered by a variety of speakers. Among them were independent Hamilton Centre member of provincial parliament Sarah Jama, who was removed from the Ontario New Democratic Party caucus; Dr. Tarek Loubani, a medic who worked in Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital; Montreal Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel and journalist Desmond Cole. 

“We will never be bullied or intimidated into silence while Justin Trudeau and his partners in crime continue to support the genocidal Israeli regime in the slaughter of more than 14,000 people,” Jama said. 

On Nov. 24, Israel granted a four-day ceasefire in Gaza to exchange 50 of the 240 Israeli hostages held by Hamas with 150 Palestinian women and teenagers in Israeli detention. For Loubani, this isn’t enough. 

Loubani shared his experiences with protesters of “sewing up children’s heads” in Gaza without anesthesia prior to the events of Oct. 7. 

“Ceasefire is not my only demand,” Loubani shared with the crowd. “I will not go back to treating patients without tools. I will not go back to making up for the failures of the world to treat our Palestinian brothers, sisters and siblings.”

Protesters began marching through Ottawa at 3:40 p.m., with the demonstration looping back to reestablish its place on Parliament Hill around 5 p.m. Palestinian flags and signs of all sizes waved in the dry, chilly wind. The signs read “stop killing children” and “end the genocide in Gaza.”

Janine—a Palestinian protester who wished to keep her last name anonymous for safety reasons—has witnessed the Israeli occupation first hand. She feels that what is happening in Palestine is unjust, and deserves nothing less than demonstrators to dedicate their Saturday to solidarity. 

“[Our politicians] are the ones who are in control of this situation, they are the ones who are murdering the children—maybe not first hand—but they are not calling for the ceasefire,” said Janine. “For us to be such a huge number in the capital of our country puts a lot of pressure on Justin Trudeau who is complicit.”

English, Arabic, and French chants were loudly, and diligently, repeated throughout the protest. “The people united, will never be defeated,” “From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” and “Ceasefire now” were among the chants cried out in unison by the masses.

Jina —who wished to keep her last name anonymous for safety reasons— is another Palestinian protester who wore face paint that read “Free Palestine” on her cheek. Jina partook in the protest because Palestinians “deserve to have a land, and deserve to live in it.” 

Jina recalled how when she was little, she would bear jealousy, as her classmates who weren't from Canada would share about going home for the summer, while she had to stay. “I couldn’t go home, there’s no such thing for me. I just know that’s a feeling that a lot of other [Palestianians] feel,” expressed Jina. “I don't think that is a feeling that anyone should feel.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.