Thousands unite in solidarity with Palestinians amid violence in Gaza and Jerusalem

Protesters denounced escalating Israeli military action, ongoing air strikes in Gaza

Thousands of demonstrators gathered throughout Montreal on May 15 to denounce the recent military actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians.

The day began with a motorcade of supporters at La Fontaine Park, moving downtown to Guy-Favreau Complex and onto Westmount Square, in front of Montreal’s Israeli consulate. Amid chants of “Free, free Palestine!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” protesters marched to Dorchester Square, the march’s final stop.

“[Prime Minister] Trudeau: your silence is complicity,” said MP Alexandre Boulerice, a New Democratic Party member from the riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. “The government of Canada must stop selling weapons to Israel.”

“Canada must strongly denounce the illegal colonies, blockade of Gaza and the illegal military occupation in the center of Palestine,” said Boulerice. “Solidarity!”

After the official protest ended with closing remarks by community leaders and elders, several hundred demonstrators marched back to the Israeli consulate, where over a dozen riot police were stationed. As protesters continued down Ste. Catherine St., police deployed pepper spray in an effort to deter the crowd.

A protestor disperses coloured smoke atop a car. Photo Eric Pahmer

Most protesters wore masks, and organizers regularly encouraged social distancing. Volunteers picked up litter, and some handed out water and hand sanitizer to attendees. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, with some fireworks, colourful smoke, and drum beats.

Small clashes with the SPVM occured, including protesters breaking a window at the Israeli consulate.

Similar demonstrations were organized in dozens of cities throughout Canada and the United States. May 15, also known as Nakba Day, is the day after the end of the British occupation of Palestine, and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Demonstrations also fell on the third day of Eid, coinciding with the end of Ramadan.

Tensions mounted earlier this week, when videos surfaced of Palestinian refugee families being forcibly displaced by police in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli Foreign Ministry characterized the forced dispossession of Sheikh Jarrah families as a “real estate dispute” and “evictions.” Sheikh Jarrah is part of the occupied West Bank, an area that Amnesty International and international law has recognized as being illegally annexed by the government of Israel.

“[Politicians] say that Israel has the right to defend itself. But do the Palestinian people have a right to survive? Do Palestinian children have a right to live?” — Ruba Ghazal

Violence in the region escalated when Israeli police raided Al Aqsa Mosque, where hundreds of Muslim worshippers had gathered to break fast during the holy month of Ramadan. In response, Hamas, a militant group in Gaza, fired rockets into Jerusalem, which left 10 dead, including one child. This prompted airstrikes from the Israeli military that injured roughly 1,000 Palestinians and killed over 145. 

Violence continued to escalate on May 15, when the government of Israel launched airstrikes that destroyed the buildings that housed Al Jazeera and the Associated Press in Gaza.

“Palestinians are dying twice over. The first is at the criminal hands of the state of Israel, the far-right of the Netanyahu administration,” said Ruba Ghazal, member of Québec solidaire in the electoral district of Mercier, who originates from Palestine. “And [Palestinians] die a second time through the war of image, the war of words.”

Crowds of protestors stand in solidarity with Palestine. Photo Eric Pahmer

"They talk about the rise in tensions, conflicts, and a war. When we talk about a war, it suggests that there are two armies with equal force who fight each other. But this is not a war," said Ghazal. "One day we will look back and declare this a humanitarian crime against Palestinians.”

“[Politicians] say that Israel has the right to defend itself. But do the Palestinian people have a right to survive? Do Palestinian children have a right to live?” said Ghazal.

The growing number of children who have died as a result of airstrikes by the Israeli military on Gaza has drawn mounting criticism. Fourty Palestinian children have died as a result of airstrikes and shelling by the Israeli military, with images of children’s bodies circulating on social media.

“As we often say, we don’t have to be Muslim or Palestinian to be speak in defense for Palestine,” said protester Zahraa Sayed-Ali. “By the same token, we don’t have to be Muslim or Palestinian to denounce apartheid, terrorism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations.”

A line of demonstrators carry Palestinian flags. Photo Eric Pahmer

Internationally, criticism of the Israeli military’s violent actions against Palestinians has drawn claims of anti-semitism. Similarly, many Jewish people have spoken out against the Israeli government’s actions. 

Among supporters of the protest was a group of Jewish people who held signs that read: “Authentic Rabbis always opposed Zionism and the state of Israel” and “Torah demands all Palestine be returned to Palestinian sovereignty.”

The demonstration ended at Dorchester Square with celebrations of the unity of Muslim Canadians of Lebanese, Tunisian, and Algerian descent, among others.

“We are thankful for the people of Canada who support human rights,” said Rajai Inab, a protester. “We don’t ask for more.”

With files from Eric Pahmer.

A previous version of this story misspelled Ruba Ghazal's name. The Link regrets this error.