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Israel-Palestine War Felt in Winnipeg

Every weekend since the conflict between Israel and Palestine began on October 7, there have been pro-Palestine protests held in Winnipeg. Protestors have been gathering to voice what they feel have been unjust bombings of Gaza by Israel. 

What many in the protests believe is that the Western nations and governments who support Israel are condoning violence against innocent civilians, many of whom are children. 

A protest and march held Saturday at Memorial Park drew over 1,000 participants despite the bitter cold brought on by the first snowfall of the season. A similar protest last weekend had over 2,000 participants. 

Ramsey Zeid, President of the Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba, has not minced words when speaking publicly about the actions and words of Canadian politicians. Zeid has said that the unwillingness of Canadian politicians to speak out against the actions of Israel is akin to turning their back on the people of Palestine. 

“There’s a genocide happening, and none of them are speaking out about it,” he said at the rally held on Saturday. “We need to stop the killing. We need to stop the genocide.” 

At the time of Saturday’s protest, an estimated 7,000 people had been killed in Gaza from the airstrikes coming from Israel. Many Palestinians in Western nations have not been able to contact friends and family who remain trapped in Gaza. 

Police were present at the protest as they have been at many of the protests pertaining to the Israel-Palestine war held locally. The police presence prevents skirmishes from occurring. 

Winnipeg Police have reported an increase in hate-motivated crimes in Winnipeg targeting both Palestinian and Jewish communities. As a result, the Winnipeg Police asked that a pro-Israel counter-protest not be held at the same time on Saturday. The pro-Israel protest was rescheduled to take place on Sunday. 

The protest on Saturday was full of supporters carrying signs and waving flags, showing their support for Palestinians. One protestor on site who chose not to give his name said he is afraid for what will happen to the people in Gaza, particularly the children. 

“What we see every day is a growing escalation,” he said. “It’s just getting worse. Every day, it’s all just getting worse. Children are dying when these bombs fall in neighbourhoods. Houses and hospitals and schools, all blown to pieces.” 

Above all, his fear was what the conflict would leave for those living in Palestine. 

“Who knows when this will stop. Who knows how this will end. Does Israel care if there is anyone left to live in Gaza? Do they care if there is anything more than broken buildings for people to live in?” 

Protests like the one this past weekend are expected to continue week to week. Protests have been taking place across the country and the world. While most protests have been peaceful, videos have been surfacing online of some protestors burning Israeli flags or tearing down missing persons posters.  

Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Shalom Allan Finkel works with people in the Jewish community every day. Many in Winnipeg’s Jewish community worry that opposition towards the actions of the Israeli government may manifest as actions against Jewish people. As protests have sprung up across the country, there has been increased anxiety among many in the Jewish community who fear acts of antisemitism. Although these feelings have recently heightened, it is no new feeling. 

“My parents grew up in Eastern Europe, and my mom was a holocaust survivor,” Finkel explained. “So these notions of the consequences of being Jewish are always there. There’s no joy in saying this, but Jewish people have always had a sense of vigilance, being aware that when times are good, they might not always be good.” 

Locally, there are a series of security protocols in place at temples. Security systems and personnel are in place to keep people in the community safe. A solidarity gathering a few weeks ago in Winnipeg was held in the Jewish community campus area near the legislature. At the event, people had their bags checked upon entry, and a police helicopter monitored the area. These are the measures the Jewish community feels the need to take in order to ensure their safety. 

An idea espoused by protestors on dozens of American College campuses is that the state of Israel has no right to exist. Despite their vociferous argument, the reality is that Jewish people have lived in this part of the Middle East for thousands of years. 

“The Jewish people have indigenous claims to the lands that go back up to 3,500 years ago. There’s always been a Jewish presence in Israel,” Finkel said. “The part I get frustrated about is the fact that piece of history is ignored. I think that Palestinians, Arabs more generally, have been in that country for closer to 1,400 years. It’s not a matter of either or; we both have history there.” 

Finkel said his belief, and that of those he works with is a two-state solution as each group has a long history of living in the region. 

“I have no issues with Palestinians. I have an issue with the small subset that denies there to be a Jewish state at all in Israel… I have a problem with the group that every government across Canada and the United States calls a terrorist organization,” he said of Hamas. “I do not think Hamas is the norm in the Arab world.”

As for why so many well-educated people with no connection to Palestine have taken opposition to the actions of Israel, including the outright existence of Israel, Finkel suspects this perspective is a result of ignorance and antisemitism. Much of the problem concerns one’s ability to get information in an echo chamber, be it online or in their social circles. 

“People can choose narratives. Some people write about Israeli indigeneity, and some people write about Arab indigeneity… you can create different narratives. You need to think and qualify who it is you’re listening to. I have no qualms with criticizing Israeli politics, which at times I do myself, but I don’t call myself anti-Jewish. I think a lot of times what is called being anti-Israel is cloaking antisemitism.” 

Finkel went on to refer to the impact of social media. 

“The internet has really encouraged some narratives, and we have algorithms which support the narratives that you sign onto, and you get pieces of those self-validating beliefs.”  

Mayor Scott Gillingham, Premier Wab Kinew, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have each issued a statement supporting Israel and condemning the actions of Hamas since the attacks which took place in Israel on October 7. The attacks left more than 1,400 Israelis dead, and more than 200 people were taken hostage and brought to Gaza.  

Since then, more than 7,500 people have been killed in Gaza from attacks by Israel, while nearly 20,000 have been injured, according to data released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.  

On Saturday, the day of the pro-Palestine protest at Memorial Park, Israel began a ground offensive into Gaza. Until then, the attacks from Israel into Gaza have been air strikes and explosives launched into Gaza over the border by Israel. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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