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Toronto demonstrators rally to support Palestinians as Gaza cut off from outside world

A large group of demonstrators rallying in support of Palestinians filled Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square Saturday, calling for a ceasefire even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his nation it will not surrender or withdraw from Gaza until its goal of eliminating Hamas is complete. 

The demonstrators joined hundreds of thousands of others across the globe who rallied in support of Palestinians on Saturday.

Israel is expanding its ground operation against Hamas militants in Gaza with infantry and armoured vehicles backed by “massive” strikes from the air and sea, a military spokesperson said Saturday. The Palestinian death toll in Gaza rose to just over 7,700 people, with 377 deaths reported since late Friday, according to the territory’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.

More than 1,400 people were slain in Israel during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, according to the Israeli government, and at least 229 hostages were taken into Gaza.

The demonstration tied up traffic as it marched through Toronto’s downtown.

Yasser Aboutaha was among the demonstrators, rallying for an immediate ceasefire and for more civilian aid to be allowed into Gaza.

People sitting in a large group in a square.
Some demonstrators who joined the Saturday rally in Toronto said they wanted to see an immediate ceasefire and civilian aid allowed into Gaza. (Peter Valkov/CBC)

“We don’t know who is living, who’s dead, who’s injured, who’s under the buildings, you know, severely injured and hoping for someone to get them out,” he said.

“I have already lost 56 of the family of my family members … and out of them 36 were kids under 10 years old.”

‘Our kids are crying, we are crying’

Most electricity in Gaza was knocked out weeks ago. On Friday, its 2.3 million also lost most phone and internet service.

Demonstrator Mona Ayesh, noting she “had 14 people from my family killed at once in the last two weeks,” said it’s been nearly impossible to go about daily life without being able to contact family in Gaza. 

“We have anxiety. Our kids are crying, We are crying. We cannot sleep,” Ayesh said. “Even when we eat, we drink. We feel guilt because our people, my family is there, cannot eat.”

B. h. Yael, who uses lowercase initials for her first name, also attended the rally and said Israel’s actions are “unconscionable.” 

“I’m Jewish, I’m Israeli born and I cannot support what Israel is doing,” Yael said. 

She said she does not believe Israel is defending itself through its bombardment of the densely populated Gaza strip.

“What is the logical conclusion of supporting this level of violence? Where is it going to go?” she said.

Corey Balsam, the national co-ordinator of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, said the organization is also calling for an end to the bloodshed and immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Independent Jewish Voices Canada has been criticized by other Jewish groups, like B’nai Brith Canada, for being an “anti-Israel group.”

“We’re of course gutted by the attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7,” Balsam said. “And continue to be terrified at the loss of life, the collective punishment and the just extreme, really inhumane treatment of Gaza right now.”

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