MONTREAL — Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists took to the streets across Canada on Saturday, united in anger over what they call the federal government’s tepid response to the Israeli action against a flotilla of ships carrying aid for Gaza.
Protesters marched through Montreal’s downtown core with Palestinian and Turkish flags held high. They chanted “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel” and halted traffic. Onlookers snapped pictures of the noisy crowd on their cell phones.
Laith Marouf, a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and one of the organizers of the protest, said it’s time the Conservative government stopped taking orders from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Canadian government’s stance has been very disturbing,” he said. “It is unfortunate the Canadian government does not stand up for international law.”
But he had little faith in the governing Conservatives.
“It seems they are very Christian-Zionist in their ideology,” he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement of regret following the Israeli raid, which left nine Palestinian activists dead.
Ayari Sherifa, 53, marching at the head of the crowd of protesters and brandishing a sign calling for an end to the Gaza blockade, called the government’s stance “shameful.”
“We’re ashamed of being Canadian because of Harper,” she said. “The rights of Palestinians are being taken away to help the Israelis.”
The activists were also collecting money for the Free Gaza Movement and hope to fund a joint Canadian-Quebec flotilla of their own.
In Toronto, protesters gathered outside the Israeli consulate, waving Palestinian flags and facing off against a smaller group of Israel supporters across the street. Police officers lined the streets, some on horseback as tensions were apparent on both sides.
Demonstrators expressed outrage over the killings of activists aboard the flotilla.
“As a human rights activist, as a political activist, it is my duty to stand up and say enough is enough,” said a passionate Ehssan Tehrani, 29, as he yelled over the chanting crowd.
A much calmer Sadat Anwar, 33, stood along the perimeter of the protest.
“This time it wasn’t just Arabs,” he said, dryly.
“When you have people of different nationalities it’s going to be hard to paint them all as terrorists,” said Anwar.
Protesters in Edmonton called on the public to boycott Israeli-made products.
“Israel has really sort of ignored the international community so we think it’s time to put direct pressure on Israel,” said Scott Harris from the Palestine Solidarity Network told CTV.
Activists were also criticizing the Harper government for not taking a stance against Israel’s actions.
“We don’t really expect a lot out of Stephen Harper, which is why we’re a civil society here in Canada, responding to a civil society in Palestine,” said Harris.
While a handful of people echoed Harris’s comments, the protest quickly became heated when one person voiced an opposing viewpoint.
Wynne Rigal says Canada shouldn’t interfere in the matter and should let the Palestinians and Israeli’s sort out their own issues.
“Canada uses a central, very quiet reasonable approach and that is very sad that nobody else will be reasonable,” said Rigal.