The Israel-Palestine conflict continues to cause discussion and tension in Montreal.
Following an intense weekend of protests, Monday morning a group of Jewish Montrealers joined with a group of Palestinians to denounce Israel’s behaviour together.
In front of the Israeli consulate in Westmount, the pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted slogans in solidarity with people living in a contested neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, and those living in Gaza.
“My family was expelled from their homes in 1948 and since then, colonial violence has ensued in Palestine by Israel,” said Elias Ayoub, a spokesperson with the Palestinian Youth Movement’s Montreal chapter.
He said he felt the root causes of the conflict have sometimes been lost in the media coverage focusing on bombings and violence.
A group of Jewish Montrealers from Independent Jewish Voices spoke out against the recent violence between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza, which has seen more than 200 people killed.
“We stand against the Israeli action, the aggression that is happening in Gaza, in the West Bank and the colonization of East Jerusalem,” said Niall Ricardo, a spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices.
“How we depict the conflict a lot is a conflict between Jews and Arabs. It’s a lot more complex than that there,” he said, making the point that not all Jewish people support Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
Also on the minds of those at the peaceful demonstration, were the chaotic scene that unfolded a day before just a few kilometers away in downtown Montreal.
“Emotion is very strong right now,” said Ricardo.
A few hundred Jewish Montrealers held a pro-Israel rally in Dorchester Square Sunday. A pro-Palestinian counter protest took place across the street. Police stood between the two demonstrations, but things eventually turned violent.
In a video obtained by Global News, rocks can be seen falling in the pro-Israel crowd.
Global News spoke to three different people who attended the pro-Israel rally. All asked to keep anonymous out of fear of reprisals.
“Rocks started to being thrown by the pro-Palestinian rioters,” said a female attendee.
All three said police encouraged them to walk north toward Sainte-Catherine Street to avoid confrontation with the pro-Palestinian rally to the south. Once on Saint Catherine, however, violence broke out.
“It was honestly like an unprovoked ambush, aiming to instill fear in us,” said the same female attendee. “They were yelling ‘death to Jews.’ I can’t even explain the emotions.”
They said pro-Palestinian demonstrators were targeting Jewish people. Some of those who had attended the pro-Israel rally hid in stores along Sainte-Catherine out of fear.
“I had to hide that I was Jewish. I had to hide my flag, because if I didn’t, I would have been beaten up. Maybe worse if the police weren’t there,” said a male attendee, who claimed he’d witnessed at least 10 fistfights between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators. On Sunday, Global News saw a man being kicked as he was down on the street.
The third attendee Global News spoke to said a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators followed the her and the man she was with, claiming they threatened them, spit on them and called them “dirty Jews.”
Police say there were 15 arrests, and a handful of minor injuries, including three police officers.
Officers deployed tear gas to disperse the crowds.
“I really don’t want to slide into the Israel-Palestine conflict but clearly we have a Jewish community here and Arab Muslims as well, so it’s very emotional here. When we see what;’s happening there it’s hard.
On Twitter Sunday night, Mayor Valerie Plante denounced violence, anti-Semitism and intolerance.
“I encourage all Montrealers who feel the need to march demanding peace, because everyone wants peace,” said Plante said on Monday.
Those at the pro-Palestinian rally on Monday all said they understand the anger of the Palestinian community, but that violence in Montreal is not the answer.
“I think Palestinians have a right to be angry. I don’t think throwing rocks at people here will do anything, really,” said Ayoub.