Torontonians demonstrated throughout the city Sunday, with some demanding the release of Israeli hostages still held by Palestinian militants and others calling attention to the dire conditions in Gaza 100 days after an attack by Hamas renewed a decades-long conflict.
Events were held across the GTA and around the world to mark the day. In Toronto, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Consulate General of Israel. Bassel Abdel-Qader, an organizer of the demonstration, said they hoped to send a message to Canada’s elected officials.
“We would like for our government, first of all, to call for an immediate permanent ceasefire in Gaza,” he said.
“As long as people are dying and as long as people aren’t being given their basic human rights, we’re not going stop disrupting and making our voices heard.”
Abdel-Qader added that he wants the federal government to back South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which argues the military operation in Gaza is “genocidal in nature.” The Israeli government, as well as its representatives at the ICJ, have strenuously argued against that characterization and called the allegations “grossly distorted.”
The Canadian government has said it backs the court as a key institution of international law, but not the premise of South Africa’s case against Israel.
Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, carried out an attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing approximately 1,200 civilians and soldiers and taking more than 240 people hostage — roughly half of whom have since been released in a swap for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Israel declared war on Hamas in response, unleashing months of heavy air bombardments and a full-scale invasion of Gaza. The Hamas-run health authority says some 24,000 Palestinians have been killed. Although that figure does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, Palestinian officials estimate Israel’s bombardments have killed at least 7,000 women and 10,000 children.
Dalia Awwad, a member of a group called the Palestinian Youth Movement, said people in Gaza are facing severe food shortages and exposure to the elements. The United Nations has said humanitarian aid is limited and insufficient in the area.
“It’s our responsibility to do what we can, where we can,” Awwad said.
Calls for Israeli hostages to be released
Over at Nathan Phillips Square, Avi Attali with The Hostage and Missing Families Forum helped organize a vigil Sunday in hopes their voices will aid in the release of hostages still being held by Hamas.
“We feel that the world is not doing enough, the world is forgetting about them, is letting them go,” said Attali, adding he was in Israel a month ago, and you can “feel the sadness in the streets.”
After the Oct. 7 attack, Attali said “life basically stopped” for Israelis and those with connections to what happened. He said Sunday felt like “October 100th.
“The only purpose we are here for, is to remind the world and scream loud for the hostages, they cannot speak [on] their own,” he said.
The deadly assault by Hamas was the biggest single-day loss of life in Israel since the founding of the state in 1948. The shock was compounded by the multiple accounts of rape and sexual violence by Hamas that emerged in the following weeks.
Torontonian Maayan Shavit, who also participated in the vigil, said she remembers waking up on Oct. 7 to “nonstop phone calls and messaging.” She learned shortly after that her aunt was killed that day and two of her cousins taken hostage. One of them was released, but the other, Carmel Gat, remains a captive in Gaza.
Shavit said she stopped working her job as a chef to do whatever she can to bring her cousin to safety and keep up awareness of the hostages still held by Hamas.
“I am so scared that people are starting to go back to their lives and forget,” she said. “It scares me. We need everybody’s support, not just the families that are going through it.”
Jodi Block, another protestor, said they hope all the hostages are still alive.
“Their families are waiting for them and our goal is for them to go home safely to their families,” said Block.
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