Calgary was the latest Canadian city in the past several days to see pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters gather in the wake of violence over the weekend in Israel.
Hamas militants began a campaign of coordinated violence against Israelis on Oct. 7, which was marked by the launching of rockets into Israel, alongside the indiscriminate killing of nearly 1,000 civilians, along with the kidnapping of Israeli civilians and foreign nationals—including a Canadian citizen.
Israeli forces retaliated over the weekend, striking at targets in Gaza and killing nearly 700 Palestinians.
Hamas, a violent nationalist-Islamic offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood formed in 1987, was listed by the Canadian Government as a terrorist organization in 2002.
Justice for Palestinians Calgary, organizers for Monday’s rally at City Hall which drew hundreds of supporters, said that they had gathered in solidarity in support of the Palestinian people and their right to self-defence.
“Israel has been imposing a system of occupation on the Palestinian people. That means Israel militarily occupies the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza controls virtually every aspect of Palestinian life, including food intake, including the movement of people movement across borders,” said Wesam Khaled, an organizer with Justice for Palestinians Calgary.
“Gaza is especially bad, where Israel is inflicted, basically a siege turning into what people have described as an open-air prison, and on a whole the system has been described quite accurately by apartheid Amnesty International as an apartheid system.”
Khaled, in response to similar protests being labeled as being pro-Hamas by media outlets and politicians, called that attitude hypocritical.
“We’re in support of the Palestinian Liberation Movement as a whole, and frankly, it’s a bit hypocritical to be criticizing Hamas here, when frankly, the civilian casualties caused by Hamas—as regrettable as they are—pale in comparison to Israel’s inflicted on the Palestinians over decades.”
“The occupation did not begin on Saturday, the violence did not begin on Saturday. This year alone, almost 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, Israeli settlers, and soldiers, mostly in the West Bank.
Protesters wielded signs that directly blamed Canada, and its government’s responses, for the violence in Israel. One sign said “Palestinian children’s blood is on your hands, Canada,” while another read “If you are silent when Israel kills Palestinians, remain silent when Palestinians defend themselves.”
Other signs were more generally directed, stating “Stop Israeli apartheid,” and “Is it really your homeland if you have to colonize it,” and “land you have to kill for is not your land.”
Calgary police detained one individual at Monday’s protest, but said in a prepared statement that they believed that individual was not connected with either pro-Palestine or pro-Israel protests.
The protest also marked the first major pro-Palestine protest held in the city since 2021, which saw the Calgary police issue more than 100 tickets for stunting and blocking intersections.
Jewish community gathered in Solidarity
Calgary’s Jewish community, along with representatives from the Calgary city council, the Government of Alberta, and the provincial and federal official oppositions gathered at Beth Tzedec in community solidarity on Monday evening.
Adam Silver, CEO of the Calgary Jewish Federation, said that the last-minute event came about from the need to provide comfort and to grieve.
“At times like this, we try and bring the best out in people. We also recognize that our diverse community needs to come together. I looked across all the seats, and we have people from all parts of our community, religious, not religious, different languages, different origins,” Silver said.
“We’re going to continue to be proud. We’re going to continue to be Jewish. We’re going to live our Jewish lives. We’re going to continue to work with and embrace those that have shared values, shared civil values of kindness and caring and doing productive and meaningful things. Not those who are hate mongers and who want to kill.”
Among the attendees were the family members of those directly impacted by the attacks by Hamas.
Silver said that they would be continuing to work to mitigate the expected rise in anti-Semitism that members of Calgary’s Jewish community were likely to face over the coming days. In particular, focusing on supporting Jewish students in primary and post-secondary institutions.
“This is the oldest form of hate there is,” Silver said.
“I think people will walk into what they want to, and certainly express ignorant and spiteful and hateful rhetoric. Our job is to make sure that our community is supported, and that our students feel resilient.”
Throughout the evening speakers expressed dismay and anger at protests, including the one that occurred in Calgary, for not condemning Hamas.
“I can say it’s scary. I can also say it’s repugnant. I’ll say it’s both. It’s certainly disgusting and certainly illegal,” said Silver.
“Anyone celebrating a named terrorist entity and their despicable actions against humans, civilians, babies, families. I mean, I throw it back and ask Calgarians what values do you subscribe to?”
Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Status of Women Tanya Fir delivered remarks on behalf of the Government of Alberta at the solidarity gathering.
“As Alberta was gathered for a long weekend of Thanksgiving, our brothers and sisters in Israel gathered for something far more serious. As Albertans gave thanks for their family and friends, Israeli families and friends are now fighting for each other,” Fir said.
“As leaders, we cannot mince our words, we cannot equivocate that which has no equivalent. We can not contextualize that which requires no context. There is a clear distinction between responsible protest and the wanton murder, terrorism and kidnapping of innocents.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that the terrorist attacks were not launched in the name of geopolitical justice, but were nothing more than terrorist attacks used to create chaos and to fuel desperation.
“We must speak frankly, about the fact that this is the worst attack Israel has seen in half a century. Hamas is not fighting to liberate anyone. Hamas is simply inflicting terror. That is a plain and simple fact.”
She said that having all levels of government attend the solidarity gathering was absolutely critical.
“As leaders in a time of such unease and uncertainty in our world, people look to us to see where we stand on these things,” Mayor Gondek said.
“My family completely understood why I needed to be here on a day that I was spending with them. The families that are gathered here and needed to know that we stand with them.”
Politicians respond to protests
Mayor Gondek said that the refusal to condemn the violence inflicted by Hamas was simply not acceptable.
“Wanting to fight for a homeland is one thing, but launching warfare and acts of terrorism is completely another. This cannot be taken as some sort of a legitimate uprising. That’s not what this was,” she said.
She said that even as a municipality, there was a tangible way to stand with ending Hamas.
“Call it for what it is, it’s a terrorist organization. If you don’t call things out for what they are, you cannot debunk them. You cannot get rid of them. You have to first call them out for what they are.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the protests that occurred across Canada over the Thanksgiving long weekend, issuing a statement on Oct. 9 calling on Canadians to be united against acts of terror.
“The glorification of violence is never acceptable in Canada—by any group or in any situation. I strongly condemn the demonstrations that have taken place, and are taking place, across the country in support of Hamas’ attacks on Israel.”
Premier Danielle Smith said in a statement made on social media, that the Government of Alberta was closely monitoring the situation in the Middle East.
“This morning Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis and I spoke with Police Chiefs in Edmonton and Calgary. I want to remind Albertans that violence and inciting violence will not be tolerated,” she said.
“As we all watch the horrifying events taking place in the Middle East, I encourage all Albertans to support each other who may be struggling to cope with these images.”
Khaled called the Prime Minister’s response condemning Hamas, hypocritical.
“So you know, there’s there’s a real inequality here. And it’s quite hypocritical to be constantly pointing at the Palestinian response when Israel has done everything they’ve done many, many times over. And moreover, holds really all the cards in this situation.”
He characterized the pro-Palestine protests, and his own status as a member of the Palestinian diaspora, as akin to what Indigenous peoples in Canada have undertaken to highlight their issues with the Canadian Government.
“Canada is a settler colonial nation, and it understands who its friends are in the world. Israel is a settler colonial nation as well. We have to be realistic about that the struggle the Palestinians are fighting is analogous to the struggle that Indigenous people in this country fought,” Khaled said.
The Canadian Government has no listed entities for Indigenous groups as terrorist organizations.
There were, as of 2023, nine listed organizations operating in Palestine considered by the Canadian Government to be terrorist organizations.
Competing messages to Calgarians about Israel and Palestine
Khaled said that the message of protesters to Calgarians was that there have been multiple non-violent campaigns taken by Palestinians, and alleged that even the actions of the City of Calgary have contributed to the suffering of Palestinians.
“If you don’t want them to fight back then you must expect them to lay down and die. They’ve also tried non-violent solutions, and that’s also failed,” he said.
“We’ve been supporting a BDS campaign here in Calgary to try and get the City of Calgary not to contract a Spanish company called CAF, which has been complicit in building apartheid infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territory and is illegal under international law. Well, city hall just went ahead with it anyway and contracted this company. So what are the Palestinians supposed to do? They get demonized that they pursue non-violence. They get demonized that they pursued violence.”
CAF was selected to supply low-floor light-rail vehicles to the Green Line project in Calgary, and as part of a consortium of companies for the Green Line light rail transit project in Jerusalem in 2019.
Silver said that he has been grateful to the Calgarians who have expressed support for the Jewish community.
“We’re very grateful for the many, many, many expressions of support, indicating the horrendous nature of what happened in Israel, and indicating readiness to support and get behind us locally to make sure that we’re safe and that makes sure that we feel—comfortable is perhaps the wrong word—but certainly not uncomfortable,” Silver said.