Demonstrators showing their support for Palestinians filled a downtown square in Montreal Friday evening, as the conflict between Hamas militants and Israel escalates.
Several people there said they had family members in Gaza, the Palestinian territory hardest hit by Israel’s retaliation against Hamas, following deadly attacks last week.
Originally from the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Foad was at the protest and said his two sisters still lived in the northern part of the strip and had to flee their homes this week.
“They left everything,” he said.
Foad said his sisters are among those headed south in Gaza, trying to escape from the path of an Israeli onslaught, after Israel ordered more than a million people to leave the northern half of the Gaza Strip within 24 hours.
“I feel very bad and very angry,” said Foad. “I tried to call them, but it’s sometimes very difficult to make a telephone call. I speak with them daily,” via text, he said.
But Foad said he worries for his family’s safety because rockets have appeared to fall at random and in wide areas, he said.
While some waved Palestinian flags and held signs, others took to microphones to express their concern for those living in the Gaza Strip. They also chanted, “Stop the killing. Stop the hate,” as well as, “Free Palestine.”
Demonstrators cover their faces
Many of the demonstrators covered their faces or were unwilling to give their name to the media.
One woman told CBC News that people are protecting their identity because there have been attacks, including harassment, slurs and even some violence, committed against pro-Palestinians who speak out or fly Palestinian colours.
The demonstration was held at the corner of Guy Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard. Among them was Rayad Hamidi, who said he is from Algeria, but identifies as half-Algerian and half-Palestinian.
“I am hurting with the Palestinian people who are being brutally attacked and killed,” said Hamidi. “They’re being oppressed. So I am here today because my heart goes out to them.”
The Montreal demonstration took place after Israel announced its infantry and tanks carried out raids inside the Gaza Strip on Friday, a shift from air to ground operations in an effort to root out Hamas fighters a week after their deadly rampage in southern Israel.
The Israeli military said a significant number of Gazans had begun moving southwards “to save themselves.”
The protest also took place among heightened fear and tensions in both Jewish and Muslim communities in the city.
Some Montreal Jewish institutions took precautions Friday following a call to action from Hamas’s former leader.
In a recorded statement sent to Reuters, former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal called for protests across the Muslim world on Friday in support of the Palestinians and for the people of neighbouring countries to join the fight against Israel.
Montreal police said they were increasing officer visibility in certain areas, but that no information indicated there was a risk of imminent acts of violence in the city.
Though the pro-Palestinian protest Friday remained relatively peaceful, some signs included anti-Israel messages and imagery.
Quebec politician target of insulting messages
Ruba Ghazal, the Québec Solidaire MNA for Mercier in Montreal, says she has been receiving insulting and hateful messages on social media since the conflict began last Saturday.
Ghazal was born in Lebanon to a Palestinian refugee family. She grew up in the United Arab Emirates before her family moved to Quebec when she was 10.
She told Radio-Canada on Friday that people should keep in mind that there are innocent people dying on both sides of the conflict and hateful messages won’t help the situation.
The violent conflict dates back decades, Ghazal said, but that she believes war crimes are being committed on both sides when innocent civilians die.
Ghazal urged people to make a distinction between the Palestinian people and the Hamas militants who are accused of committing atrocities against Israeli civilians. Just as Hamas doesn’t represent all Palestinians, the same can be said about Israeli leadership, she added.
“We see in the Israeli government, there’s a prime minister who treats Palestinians like subhumans,” Ghazal said, referring to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It’s not all the Israelis who think like that.”
Ghazal called on Quebec, Canada and the international community to protect innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson of Québec Solidaire, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that degrading messages have no place in Quebec.
“For the sake of our democracy, it must be possible to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calmly and respectfully,” he said.