n Saturday afternoon about 300 people gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square for the Hands Off Palestine rally to protest against the ongoing displacement and violence happening in Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Khalil, and Al-Naqab, Palestine.
The rally was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement [PYM]. Speakers included those from PYM, as well as Indigenous land defenders and a retired high school teacher who is a member of the grassroots organization Independent Jewish Voices. Speakers at the end of the rally read a solidarity statement from Filipino youth activists who could not make it to Toronto.
“This demonstration was to demand the end of the ethnic cleansing and displacement of the Palestinian people in Al-Naqab, Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Khalil, Masaffer Yata,” said Mohammed William, a 25 year-old organizer with the PYM. There have been attacks by Israeli settlers, forced evictions, and police violence against Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem over the past several weeks.
“Indigenous people in Turtle Island, or in Palestine go through very similar struggles. We engage in joint struggle against capitalist and neoliberal forces that have put our people in the state we are in,” said William, commenting on multiple speakers’ use of #LandBack in their speeches and tying international anti-colonial movements together.
Despite freezing temperatures of -10 degrees, the rally lasted about three hours. Protestors walked up four blocks along Yonge St. to Bloor St. to protest outside of the Israeli consulate.
The rally started off with two Indigenous speakers followed by some traditional singing and drumming. Joey, 64, promised to keep fighting colonialism alongside the Palestinian people as part of one struggle.
Aliya Hassan, a local community organizer and Palestinian advocate in the Greater Toronto Area, spoke to the crowd at the beginning of the protest at Yonge-Dundas Square. “Today we are here answering the call for international solidarity...[against] this ongoing genocide...on 300,000 Bedouin Palestinians," Hassan said into the microphone on top of a black truck that led the protesters up Yonge St.
Hassan spoke about the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization founded in 1901, long before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 when the mass displacement of Palestinian people began.
The JNF was subject to criticism throughout the rally from Palestinian speakers. The organization plants millions of trees, including over destroyed Palestinian towns and villages. Speakers criticized this tactic as using environmentalism as a cover to further the displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Among the PYM’s central demands today was that the Canadian government revoke the JNF’s charitable status because of their activities on Palestinian land. William says this is a main goal for the PYM in the coming months.
Police presence was minimal, though some areas on Yonge St. were not properly blocked off from traffic.
For more information on the Palestinian Youth Movement click here.