Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of city hall on Friday, July 11, to protest the latest round of Israeli air strikes in Gaza.
The two-hour protest began at 6:00 p.m. Organizers estimate that over 500 people took part.
Two Calgary activist groups organized the protest — Justice For Palestinians (JFP) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), a University of Calgary-based organization. Protest organizer and SPHR president Ala’a Hamdan condemned what she called Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians and called on the Canadian government to demand a ceasefire.
“[We want] our Canadian government to acknowledge the atrocities that are being committed by Israel because it is violating international law,” Hamdan said. “It doesn’t make sense why Israel is the only country that nobody is allowed to criticize.”
Israeli raids and bombings — called Operation Protective Edge — began on July 8. After the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, Israeli citizens then kidnapped and burned a Palestinian teenager alive, prompting rocket-fire from Hamas. The Israeli government blames the murder of the Israeli teens on Hamas on Hamas.
Over 100 Gazans had been killed by Israeli strikes at the time of the protest. As of July 16, the United Nations estimates 222 Gazans have died. Seventy-five per cent of those killed were civilians, 30 per cent of which were children.
Of the thousands of rockets launched at Israel by Hamas, one Israeli citizen was killed July 15. Organizers condemed violence committed by both sides.
The protest was lengthened by 45 minutes because of the high number of demonstrators that wanted to continue. There was no counter-protest at.
UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon called Hamas’s rocket-fire a breach of international law. In a statement released by his spokesperson, he added that violence will not solve the political crisis in the region, calling for de-escalation on both sides.
“The Secretary-General, abhorring the images of Israeli families hovering in shelters in fear for their children’s safety, repeats his condemnation of Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza and demands an immediate cessation of these indecent attacks,” Moon said.
A ceasefire brokered by Egypt was accepted by Israel on Tuesday morning. Hamas said accepting the terms of the ceasefire would amount to “surrender” and began firing rockets at Israeli targets after six hours of calm.
Hamas proposed a 10-year truce with Israel on July 16. Terms include building a UN-run airport in Gaza and re-opening the Rafah crossing. Israel has not responded but did agree to a five hour ceasefire on July 17 for the UN to provide aid to Gazans.
JFP board member Saima Jamal condemned losses on both sides. She urged the crowd to donate to Palestinian relief efforts.
To stop what they see as Israeli war crimes, SPHR is researching how they can bring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to campus. BDS aims to weaken the Israeli economy by removing products produced in Israel from store shelves, cutting academic ties with Israeli universities and divesting in Isreali companies.
BDS was criticized by Calgary Hillel as an ineffective way to push for peace.
Hamdan said the support at the protest can only help their cause.
“It’s pretty exciting for us to be starting something that can actually change the reality on the ground,” Hamdan said. “It’s great for us to have this much support because we know we have that many more people who are going to support us in the BDS movement when we decide to go forward.”
On July 16, a senior Israeli military official said the likelihood of a ground invasion in Gaza is “very high.” As operations in Gaza have worsened, SPHR and JFP are organizing another protest for Friday, July 18, at 6:00 p.m. If a ceasefire is reached before then, organizers will host a vigil.