Protesters gather in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike

Attendees call for the freedom of all imprisoned people

Protesters hold up sign that reads “hands off Palestine”. Photo by Sophie Dufresne
Organizer waves Palestinian flag to draw the attention of passers-by. Photo by Sophie Dufresne
Palestinian flag with words “All of Palestine is Jerusalem”. Photo by Sophie Dufresne
Protester holds up Palestinian flag with child, showing support for the cause. Photo by Sophie Dufresne
Speaker holds up pamphlet calling for the banning of an Israeli-sponsored team from the Grand Prix Cycliste. Photo by Sophie Dufresne

Just over a dozen people gathered at the corner of Guy St. and De Maisonneuve Blvd. The evening of Wed. May 25 to protest the detention of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Two men, Khalil Awawdeh and Raed Rayyan had been on hunger strike in Israeli detention, without food or water, for 83 and 48 days respectively at the time of the protest. Reem, a member of the Montreal chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement—the organizer of the protest—said they wanted to bring attention to the deteriorating health of the hunger strikers, who are not getting access to medical care.

While organizers and attendees were willing to speak to us, they asked to only be referred to by their first names.

“We’re protesting and trying to raise awareness about two Palestinian prisoners,” Reem said. “They’re currently under administrative detention,” she clarified, meaning they are incarcerated without charges and do not have access to legal representation.

Reem explained that most people don’t know about the number of Palestinians being held in prison, many of whom are there without charge or trial. Aljazeera recently reported that of 4,450 Palestinians imprisoned, 530 are being held without charges.

Reem added that prison terms are continually being renewed and that there is a 99 per cent conviction rate in the Israeli Military courts.

We usually talk about the occupation; the bombings, but we forget to uplift the voices of the prisoners who are imprisoned because of their political work and their resistance to the occupation. — Reem

Fellow organizer, Sanad, explained that political prisoners are not often talked about internationally, and that means many people don’t know about them.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” protesters chanted, eliciting honks of approval from the traffic stopped, waiting for the light to change on De Maisonneuve Blvd. “Free the children, free them all,” they continued as people stopped to observe for a moment before continuing on their way.

“People don’t really know about [land occupation, killing and land seizures] either, and I think [that activists] are kind of in a bubble where we are aware of it,” said Sanad. “I speak to a lot of people who aren’t part of the community or aren’t political and have no idea what’s happening.” She added that there needs to be more awareness brought to the issue.

Reem also said that the issue is not one we typically hear about in the North American context, “We usually talk about the occupation; the bombings, but we forget to uplift the voices of the prisoners who are imprisoned because of their political work and their resistance to the occupation,” Reem added.

“I’m here in solidarity with the political prisoners. I’m here in solidarity with the Palestinians,” said Fred, who was passing out pamphlets on behalf of Palestinian and Jewish Unity, an organization that has been distributing flyers for the past 20 years. Fred added that while the organization reduced the number of pamphlets given out and protests attended over the last two years, they’re planning to increase to two events a week during the summer. 

Organizer holds up pamphlets. Photo by Sophie Dufresne

Over the last four years, their pamphlets have reached an estimated 125,000 people in Montreal. The most recent version of their pamphlet aims to exclude an Israeli-sponsored team from participating in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal in September 2022.

Throughout the protest, a handful of people gave speeches and sang along to the music playing on speakers, reciting various chants. While the small gathering only lasted around an hour, organizers were happy with the turnout and hope that gatherings like this one can spread awareness of the discrimination  that Palestinians face on a regular basis.

“I’m hoping that not only will our reach increase and that people will come naturally, but people passing by will choose to come to stand with us,” said Sanad.