Calgary’s city hall was the site for a pair of rallies from citizens supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict on Monday.
The rallies come on the same day Israel increased airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and sealed it off from food, fuel and other supplies Monday in retaliation for a bloody incursion by Hamas militants, as the war’s death toll rose to nearly 1,600 on both sides. Hamas also escalated, pledging to kill captured Israelis if attacks targeted civilians without warnings.
At noon, dozens of Israel supporters draped in the white and blue flags of that country gathered in the municipal plaza to place photos, light candles and listen to speakers.
Two hours later, the red, white, black and green flags of Palestine lined Macleod Trail in front of city hall, amid chants of “Free Palestine.”
One person who police believe was not affiliated to either group was taken into custody Monday afternoon after apparently trying to goad the pro-Palestine supporters, calling them “scum.” Police continue investigating the incident and have not announced any charges.
On the conflict’s third day, Israel was still finding bodies from Hamas’ weekend attack into southern Israeli towns. Rescue workers found 100 bodies in the tiny farming community of Beeri — around 10 per cent of its population — after a long hostage standoff with gunmen. In Gaza, tens of thousands fled their homes as relentless airstrikes levelled buildings.
The Israeli military said it had largely gained control in the south after the attack caught its military and intelligence apparatus completely off guard and led to fierce battles in its streets for the first time in decades. Hamas and other militants in Gaza say they are holding more than 130 soldiers and civilians snatched from inside Israel.
On Sunday, Israel made a formal declaration of war, evacuating thousands of Israelis from more than a dozen towns and summoning its 300,000 reservists.
“We have only started striking Hamas,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a nationally televised address. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”
Zvia Gersten now lives in Calgary after previously living in Israel through armed conflicts like the Suez War of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. She said she knows what friends and family are going through right now in southern Israel.
“My family’s there. My friends are there. I can’t sleep at night. I’m so worried,” Gersten told Global News. “I’ve lived most of my life in Israel, so I know what they are facing now.
“And it’s beyond serious. It’s beyond frightening.”
The pro-Palestine supporters also shared stories of historical violence in the eastern Mediterranean nations.
“My father was kicked out of his house. My family was killed 75 years ago. And it’s continuing till now,” said Belal Hoseh while carrying his child on his shoulder.
Wesam Khaled of Justice for Palestinians Calgary said the last seven decades of tension, dating back to the creation of Israel as a modern state, is a better context for recent events.
“If you start the timeline on Saturday, you put all of that (history) out of the picture. But you can only understand the violence that’s happened in the recent days by understanding this history,” Khaled said. “Violence has been a reality, a daily reality, for the Palestinian people living under oppression and occupation for 70 years.
“Until that ends and until Israel grants the Palestinian people their rights, whatever you and I think about it, that violence is going to continue.”
Dorit Gerov, president of a Calgary chapter of Students Supporting Israel, said Monday’s rally was meant to show others across the Jewish diaspora that members of Calgary’s community are standing with Israelis during the war.
“We want to stand in support of our family and our friends and the citizens of Israel,” she said.
Around 900 people, including 73 soldiers, already have been killed in Israel, according to media reports. In Gaza, more than 680 people have been killed, according to authorities there; Israel says hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.
“People get very emotional when they see people being oppressed. We’re standing in solidarity with them,” Khaled said.
“It’s scary to be loud and to voice your love for your country,” Gerov said. “But my cousins my age are standing on the grounds, they’re having to defend themselves, so the least we can do is stand here today and support.”
— with files from the Associated Press