Ceasefire Now!
At end of Nov 4. rally. Photo: Fatin Ishraq Chowdhury.

Ceasefire Now!

On Oct. 15, a week after Hamas’ attacks on Israel, in which over 200 Israelis were taken hostage and around 1,200 were killed, hundreds of scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies, and genocide studies signed a letter. They warning of the possibility of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in Gaza.

Since then, we have watched in horror as Israel has continued dropping bombs, killing entire families — grandparents, parents, and children — in their homes, blowing up hospitals, ambulances, bakeries, and flattening northern Gaza. Israel also cut off nearly all of Gaza’s supplies of food, water and power.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced. On Nov. 12, Avi Dichter, a security cabinet member in the Israeli government, said on TV, “We’re rolling out Nakba 2023” in northern Gaza. This was a reference and an admission to the 1948 Nakba, that the Israeli government long denied, in which Zionist settlers forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.In short, just about everything the genocide scholars warned about has happened. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed as of Nov. 14, including over 4,000 children. This number could climb quickly. Gaza has become hell on Earth.Canada has supported these atrocities. As of mid-November, Canada was still backing Israel’s campaign in Gaza. Canada sells Israel weapons made here, and Canada refuses to call for a ceasefire in Parliament or at the United Nations (UN).

It took a while, but the federal NDP and Bloc Quebecois have called for a ceasefire, as have some Liberals. The bulk of Liberal MPs, though, are in favour of continued bloodshed, as are the Conservatives.

Only the U.S. is a more loyal ally to Israel. Despite enormous protests, including ones with thousands of American Jews saying “Not In Our Name!” and calling for a ceasefire, the U.S. hasn’t budged. On Nov. 7, a White House spokesperson re-affirmed there were “no red lines” Israel could cross in its actions that would stop the U.S. from supporting its campaign.

The government of Canada’s Global Affairs ministry acknowledged but did not respond by press time to a question from The Grind on whether Canada has any red lines. (UPDATE: On Nov. 15, 2023, Global Affairs Canada responded indicating Canada has no red lines for Israel, writing, “Canada recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international law. Canada calls for the immediate release of those being held hostage and demands that they be treated in accordance with international law.” Global Affairs also mentioned humanitarian concerns.)

This massacre and campaign of displacement is being carried out in our names. We have a particular responsibility to do something and an ability to affect the situation.Israel’s actions are unprecedented in terms of the exceptionally high number of children and journalists it has killed. The Israeli military has killed over 100 children per day and nearly 50 journalists, in addition to targeted bomb and sniper attacks on hospitals. Human rights organizations including the UN have called out what they see as Israel’s war crimes. (Hamas’ targeting of citizens on Oct. 7 has also been widely described as war crimes by Human Rights Watch, the UN and others.)  

It is disorienting, then, that our nation’s political leaders, who claim to uphold international law, unwaveringly support Israel while simultaneously denouncing those who support a ceasefire.

We can’t forget how Toronto’s Mayor Olivia Chow early on essentially labeled anyone supporting Palestinians as a terrorist, and encouraged the police to go after them.

Or how the Ontario NDP’s leadership abandoned and then discarded MPP Sarah Jama, who spoke out early in favour of a ceasefire and for freedom for Palestinians.

Or how pundits at major media outlets and people in positions of power went after people like Jama, union leader Fred Hann, educator Javier Davila, student association leaders and others, trying to silence them.  

Yet, through it all, people refused to be silenced. In fact, after a number of decent-sized gatherings, one of the largest rallies in Toronto in over a decade took place downtown on Nov. 4. Organizers’ three demands were for Canada to call for: an immediate ceasefire, an end to Israel’s 17-year siege of Gaza, and an end to Canada’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes.

Over 20,000 people attended, including over 1,000 Jews, according to Jewish groups.

A similar and possibly larger march happened on Nov. 12. Also that day, a much smaller but still-sizeable pro-Israel rally took place at Christie Pits Park.

There have also been more confrontational tactics used to call for a ceasefire.

Sit-ins were organized at 17 MP offices, including at the Toronto offices of Liberals Chrystia Freeland, Arif Virani and Bill Blair.

A mother shook Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly’s hand at an event and repeatedly asked how many more Palestinian children need to die before Joly would call for a ceasefire. Joly did not give a direct answer.

Protestors disrupted the stuffy and tightly-scripted Scotiabank Giller Prize book awards, calling out Scotiabank for financing Israeli weapons’ maker Elbit Systems, and called for a ceasefire.

A ceasefire, and the longer-term goal of freedom for the Palestinian people and peace in the region, will not come easily. The movement, which has been growing in fits and starts, must not allow any antisemitism or other forms of discrimination. And crucially, the pressure on the government must grow and grow.

That means each of us drawing inspiration from others, learning, confronting what is holding us back, and taking action with those around us.

This article appeared in the 2023 Nov/Dec issue.