A large, but silent procession snaked its way through downtown Grand Forks Sunday afternoon as a show of support for peace and safeguarding children caught in the fight between Israel and Hamas.
About 50 people joined the procession, organized by the Boundary Peace Initiative, and saw participants from children, to young families and elderly carrying signs, Palestinian flags and marching slowly to drums leading the procession.
The group met next to City Hall, where co-organizer Laura Savinkoff gave a brief instructional speech on the direction and keeping the procession silent out of respect for the memory of children injured and killed in the now 39-day conflict and call for a ceasefire. She added they contacted MLA Roly Russell, Mayor Everett Baker and MP Richard Cannings to join them, but all were unable to attend; Russell said he was in Victoria, Cannings is out of the country and Baker was feeling unwell. However, she said she was pleasantly surprised they replied.
The procession marched down 4th Street, cut across the Canada Post parking lot, turning south onto 3rd Street, then east on Market Avenue, north on 2nd Avenue, then west on Highway 3/Central Avenue.
The idea for the procession came about the previous Sunday, explained co-organizer Sandra Shore, out of a need to do something to show support for protecting vulnerable children.
“I just couldn’t take anymore of the bad news and wanted to do something,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to express our deep pain and even anger over what is going on right now in the Gaza Strip. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and been really informed on the history of the whole thing. Whether or not this accomplishes anything, we don’t know, but I wanted to speak my truth of what I’m experiencing over what I am watching as a westerner.”
She admitted the history is complicated and western views are likely biased by media slanting, so she felt she had to do a lot of research to get to some facts and other perspectives. Among the more disturbing for her was 10 children a day are dying daily.
The group was met with honking horns and some cheers as they made their way to Gyro Park for a moment of silence and to sign petitions calling for a ceasefire and talk about the initiative.
One petition is going to MP Cannings for him to stand up in Parliament to speak on the ceasefire, Savinkoff said. They needed 25 signatures, which they already had many and achieved that goal that afternoon. There were two other petitions also circulated.
While organizers were trying to focus on the message of safeguarding children, politics and political opinions were exchanged. Adam Hamdan, a Palestinian from Israel and owner of Baba Kabab in Christina Lake, said it was heartening to see so much local support from residents and their bravery in carrying signs calling it genocide, but didn’t mince words when talking about what he sees as political and media bias in favour of Israel.
He is especially disappointed in Canada’s federal government even as calls for ceasefires increase around the world.
“From day one Israel started committing these crimes and from day one Justin Trudeau has shown support for the Israeli operation,” he said. “He calls it self-defence, but I don’t know how bombing hospitals, children and ambulances is self-defence. These are war crimes and I think he and (American President Joe) Biden should have to go to The Hague (International War Crimes Court). This is how we start making the world a better place by getting rid of the evil.”
Why people have been so reluctant to speak against Israel is likely rooted in fear of being called antisemitic, he said. This has nothing to do with hatred for Jewish people, it’s calling out and holding Israel accountable for international war crimes. What he feels is mass media bias in favour of Israel isn’t helping, he said. In response, he challenged larger media outlets to run a video of a haggard donkey pulling a cart Palestinian paramedics were using to gather bodies and injured.
“There are no ambulances left in Gaza, they are using animals to collect bodies and rescue the injured from bombed buildings,” he said. “I think if we show the world that donkey, people may care more for it and start paying attention.”
He explained this is not a war because it’s a group, Hamas, against a nation, Israel, which makes it an unjust conflict.
“Hamas is an organization, while Israel is a country with an army, navy, air force, ships that the Americans gave them,” he said. “This is an unfair fight.”
On Oct. 7, Hamas militants broke through Israeli security borders along the Gaza Strip, killing an estimated 1,200 people, many of whom were civilians, and taking an estimated 240 hostages. Since then, Israel has staged daily air and ground attacks, killing more than 11,000 people to date, with around more than 40 per cent being children, according to the Palestinian Health Authority. Israeli president Banjamin Netenyahu has rejected multiple calls for a ceasefire, citing the nation’s right to defend itself and its intent to end Hamas’ 16-year rule of the region.
This isn’t the only event the Boundary Peace Initiative is planning to draw attention to this and other conflicts. Savinkoff said there are plans in the works for more and details will be coming in the near future.