More than 30 Kelowna residents of all ages and backgrounds participated in a solidarity march and rally for Palestine on May 15, where demonstrators condemned the violence against Palestinians and called on the federal government to stop selling weapons to Israel.
The event, organized by the Kelowna Peace Group, began outside of Kelowna—Lake Country Conservative MP Tracy Gray’s downtown office, where demonstrators passed around a Palestinian flag and shared why they decided to attend the rally.
“This last Thursday (May 13), it was the end of Ramadan. It should’ve been a celebration. I was crying the whole week before,” said demonstrator Soumia Bentefrit. “I open the TV; it wasn’t Eid. It wasn’t a celebration. Can you imagine? I’m here and I’m crying. Can you imagine people over there, how are they feeling?”
After demonstrators made speeches, the group marched down St. Paul Street towards Bernard Avenue before looping back up to Ellis Street to Doyle Avenue and back to Gray’s office building. Demonstrators flashed pro-Palestine signs and waved flags while uttering chants such as “We want peace. Where? In the Middle East.”
According to Kelowna Peace Group organizer and member Mark Haley, meeting outside of Gray’s office was an act of condemnation against her party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, who released a statement on May 11 condemning Palestinian combatants while labelling Israel as a long-standing and important ally.
“If Israel has a right (to defend) themselves, why don’t the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves?” said Haley.
The conflict between Palestine and Israel dates back to the end of the First World War when Britain took control of the area known as Palestine after the Ottoman Empire was defeated.
Britain was then tasked with establishing a “national home” in Palestine for Jewish people. Although inhabited by Palestinian Arabs and Jews, the latter claimed that the land is their ancestral home, while the former also claimed ownership and opposed the move.
In 1948, with the end of the British Mandate for Palestine, Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel on May 14. The next day, up to 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. This day is observed as Nakba Day by Palestinians, also known as Memory of the Catastrophe.
According to the BBC, around five million Palestinians are currently recognized as refugees by the UN, where many live in Jordan, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and East Jerusalem.
The Israeli occupation and displacement of Palestinians have led to years of wars, protests, clashes and unrest. The latest escalation in the conflict began earlier this month, with Al Jeezra reporting that the death toll in Gaza amounting to nearly 200 after a surge in Israeli raids.
Haley acknowledged that the event in Kelowna coincided with the 73rd anniversary of Nakba Day. Hundreds of other similar solidarity demonstrations were hosted around the globe.
“You’ll never win with bombs and rockets. You’ll never win with force and military power,” he said. “People’s will will prevail.”
Another solidarity event in Kelowna for Palestinians is scheduled for May 23, at Stuart Park at 2 p.m.