As bombs fell and rocket fire was exchanged in Israel again on Saturday, hundreds of Guelph residents attended a march downtown to support the Palestinian people who are once again barring the brunt of this new wave of violence in the Middle East. The large Guelph turnout was one of a number of such protests around Canada Saturday as local anger over international affairs boiled over.
“We are rallying for compassionate and humanitarian reasons, which is our Charter right as Canadian to peacefully protest human rights violations,” said a media release from the march’s organizers who identified themselves as Guelph Palestine Youth. “The same way that Palestinian have the right under international law to defend themselves against transgression and occupation.”
The organizers also have demands for the Canadian government. They’re asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn the actions of the state of Israel, and that Canada should insist that they be held accountable to international law. The group would also like to see less military support for Israel, and for the government to exert diplomatic pressure to stop the bombardment and violence in Gaza.
“Palestinian families in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem are forcefully being removed from their homes which is against international law since the settlers and the Israeli government do not have any jurisdiction,” the release said. “The families of the Sheikh Jarrah and the community protested the forced eviction of their homes, which in turn got them attacked by the military for protesting. Simultaneously, Gaza has been bombed with civilians wounded including children, causing many families to be homeless and not have the basic necessities.”
Well over 250 people representing a broad collection of people from the Guelph community took part in the gathering at Market Square, and the subsequent march through downtown. Police presence was noticeable, but they kept their distance and closed off streets as the crowd made their way from City Hall down Norfolk to Quebec and then back down Wyndham.
The only pushback to the gathering seemed to come from a few men on loud motorcycles who drove around the block a couple of times near Market Square. One of the bikers later seemed to try and start a conflict with the marchers as they headed down Wyndham from St. George’s Square, but he was largely ignored by the participants. A few of the organizers tried to engage the biker in conversation, but judging by their body language their attempts were largely fruitless.
You can see the biker in question at the far right portion of the screen in the video below:
Before the march in Market Square, the emphasis was on peaceful protest, observing COVID safety measures, and not using hate speech. Organizers said that Anti-Semitism and hate speech of any kind would not be tolerated, while specially designated marshals were charged with managing any interaction with the police, the media, or anyone outside the march that wasn’t participating.
Many speakers tried to draw comparisons between Indigenous history in Canada, and Palestinian history in Israel and the occupied territories.
“Whenever I read about Palestine, I see the same things over here, whenever I see the horrors committed in Palestine, I’m reminded of what my people have been through. The same powers that fund Palestinian genocide funded my people’s genocide,” said Xico, a local Indigenous activist. “You know, we think we’ve gotten to the point in Canada where in escalations – usually it’s a standoff – no one wants to shoot first, but usually when someone dies, it’s an Indian.”
Zayn, who was also the emcee for the protest, talked about how his grandfather’s family in the Palestinian territory were forced to flee to Jordan, simple farmers who saw their land seized when Israel was founded in 1948. Zayn said his grandfather considered his farm a paradise, and it was a paradise he would never see again. He died in 2013. “His dream was always to go back. Even after 60 years of being away from his home, he always wanted to return,” Zahn said.
“I just turned 23 last month, and my dream is to one day see this paradise that he once spoke of,” Zahn continued. “My family were not terrorists, they were not aggressors. They were simple farmers forcibly evicted from land that had been their home for generations, and generations before that. My family survived, but how many Palestinians have to die for this to matter?”
Other speakers were critical about how the conflict in the region has been portrayed, and about how it continues to be portrayed.
“We watch the media speak about Palestine as if Hamas is the only perpetuator of harm, but they failed to tell you why Hamas is exists,” said Kate Nixon, a community activist. “They failed to tell you that the Israeli Defence Force gives people a knock on their houses, or a phone call, to tell them that they have 60 seconds to get out before they get bombed. How are you supposed to pack up your life in 60 seconds? How do you grab your children, your elders, your friends, or disabled family members in 60 seconds? Then they have the audacity to tell us that this is humane.”
While there was criticism of the media, there was also support. On Saturday, a building that housed the offices of the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, and other foreign media outlets in Gaza was destroyed in an airstrike. The IDF claims that Hamas was using the media in the building, as well as several residential apartment units, as a shield, but the President and CEO of the AP said in a statement that they had no idea that Hamas was operating in the building.
“This was a clear act to stop journalists from conducting their sacred duty to inform the world and report events on the ground,” said one woman who was identified as a member of Guelph’s Muslim community. “The world will now know less about what is happening in Gaza, and where injustice exists, the truth is obscured. We need to stand up and let the whole world know.”
“Colonized people all over the world know that we face the same oppressors, and that we must organize in our communities here to destroy the systems of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism that uphold this oppression,” added Chloe, a local Indigenous activist.