Pro-Palestinian rally held in downtown Fort McMurray

As the conflict in Israel and Gaza worsens, protesters at the peaceful rally were split on their hopes for peace

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Dozens of people rallied in downtown Fort McMurray to support Palestinians and the people of Gaza as the conflict in Gaza and Israel worsens.

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For two hours on Tuesday afternoon, people waved Palestinian flags and held signs in support of Gaza outside the Jubilee Centre and along Franklin Avenue. They chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “free Palestine.” Some drivers honked their horns in support. There were no fights, shouting matches or confrontations seen at pro-Israel and pro-Palestine rallies in other cities.

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“We’re against the violence on both sides, but what Israel has faced in the last few days is what Palestinians have been facing for more than 70 years,” said Ambreen Ehtisham, one of the protesters. “It was so hard to watch those videos from the last few days. I have four kids, it’s not easy to watch those videos of kids on both sides getting killed.”

Amal Manaa, a Palestinian who joined the protest, has not heard from her family in Gaza since Israel began its operation against Hamas. Outages of electricity and internet access has become common in Gaza.

“We are here only for innocent people, we do not care about any other political organization,” said Manaa. “We are here only for human rights.”

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Israel declares war against Hamas

The protests are in response to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Hamas—which the Canadian government considers a terrorist organization— fired thousands of rockets at Israel and fought their way past the heavily fortified border during the weekend.

Military outposts, nearby villages and a music festival were attacked, while more than 150 people were kidnapped. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) says Hamas killed more than 1,200 people as of Tuesday. At least two Canadians were killed and at least two Canadians are missing. This death toll will climb as Israeli authorities continue recovering bodies. Rockets continue hitting Israel.

Gaza’s civilian deaths will also climb. Israel’s defence minister has ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza and that “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” enters the territory. Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, is also enforcing the blockade.

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Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and the IDF is preparing a ground invasion of Gaza. Civilians have been warned to find shelter as Israeli airstrikes bombard Gaza, but Gazans say there’s nowhere to go since their borders are closed.

Gaza is roughly 360-square-kilometres and home to more than 2 million people. Gaza authorities say more than 900 Palestinians have already been killed as of Tuesday. The United Nations fears up to 200,000 people will be displaced, and warns of food and water shortages.

Protesters split on hopes for peace

Protesters who were interviewed were split on the chances for peace in the region. They did not condone the violence on either side, although some said they did not believe civilians were intentionally attacked. They also argued Israel’s policies towards Palestinians provoked Hamas.

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“We request all peace-loving people to support a good, peaceful settlement for Palestine and no war between Israel and Palestine,” said Councillor Shafiq Dogar, who briefly joined the protesters. “Anything that involves arms is not correct, we should go to peace.”

Many condemned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for endorsing Israel’s military response to the attacks. Trudeau and deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland spoke at pro-Israel rallies during the weekend and condemned Hamas.

“He should stay in the middle and should not take sides. He took the side of the Israelis and this is not right. He should stay out of it,” said Jamil Fayed, who felt many Arab countries no longer supported Palestinians. “All the world is taking a side and they’re picking the wrong side. They are looking away.”

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Protesters were mixed when asked if they felt there was a chance for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Manaa believed peace is still possible. Nagham Almuazen, another protester, said no. Fayed believed peace is possible, but doubted current leaders on either side are capable of achieving it.

Ehtisham said she often thinks about a trip she made to the region’s historical sites, including the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. At one point during her trip, she heard church bells, the Adhan prayer from a mosque and Jewish prayers all at once.

“It was beautiful, that’s what we want to see. I was amazed at the beauty of everything,” she said. “I cannot express my feelings, but it’s what we want. All three religions living their peacefully.”

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Amal Manaa, centre, and Ambreen Ehtisham, right of Manaa, join protesters supporting Palestine outside the Jubilee Centre in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters with the flag of Lebanon at a rally supporting Palestine on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters with the flag of Lebanon at a rally supporting Palestine on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
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Protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Councillor Shafiq Dogar visits protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Councillor Shafiq Dogar visits protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Protesters supporting Palestine rally on Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray on October 10, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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