Palestinian-Canadian woman says she was punched in head at weekend protest

A Winnipeg woman is shaken and disappointed after she says she was assaulted, her possessions were taken and then she was put into handcuffs by police at a rally in solidarity with Palestinians on Saturday.

Amani Zeid, 20, said she was walking toward the crowd of people gathered outside of the Manitoba Legislature when she began to wave a Palestinian flag.

Hundreds of people took part in the rally, which turned into a heated conflict between a group in support of Palestinians and another group carrying Israeli flags.

That’s when someone from a counter-protest in solidarity with Israel allegedly grabbed Zeid’s flag and tried to pull it away from her. She held on tight, and that’s when things escalated.

“My hair was being pulled by an old woman. I was being stepped on, kicked … a grown man physically punched me in the back of the head,” Zeid said.

Amani Zeid says she lost a chunk of hair, and has some cuts and bruises, including one on her face. (Submitted by Amani Zeid)

Zeid said her family helped get her up, and she explained to police who were at the scene that she had been hit in the head, but she was still put in handcuffs for about 10 minutes.

“I’m disappointed. Winnipeg police handled it badly,” she said.

Const. Rob Carver told CBC News in a statement that Zeid was being aggressive, which is why she was handcuffed.

“This was a volatile situation where several minor assaults and threats occurred, some of which were recorded on video. Significant police resources were required to quell raised tempers on both sides in what was an extremely dynamic scenario,” he said.

Protesters supporting both Palestinians and Israelis faced off in front of the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday, separated by more than a dozen police officers. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Zeid, who is Palestinian-Canadian, believes police took a side by facing their backs to the Israelis while focusing on the Palestinians.

Police say they faced the larger crowd.

“We regret that any participant felt that police were anything but objective with the goal of keeping everyone safe,” Carver said in an emailed response.

“Any citizen who is dissatisfied with our members is welcome to flag their concerns to our Professional Standards Unit or the Law Enforcement Review Agency if they desire.”

“I think it’s unacceptable and and shocking,” said Tami Jacobi, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, on the violence observed. “It’s the prerogative of the police to make sure that different sides of of a rally, particularly if they’re polarized, should be kept apart.”

Jacobi said the conflict in the Middle East is complicated and lengthy, and urges people to look at multiple sources for information and views, rather than watching a clip on social media. 

“The implications of polarized views, which I’ve seen a lot on the media and particularly on social media, is that they tend to fan the flames of the conflict and cause radicalization,” she said. “They offer clips of a conflict that has been going on for over a hundred years that moves in cycles of violence.

“So when you have a flare up like this and people just tapping into social media for a two-minute clip, they see the conflict without any historical context and without the skills to understand the nuances of the conflict. And that is very polarizing and there is a lot of misinformation out there.” 

Zeid’s possessions taken

After Zeid was released from the handcuffs, she realized her keys, Ray Ban sunglasses and scarf were missing, and asked police on the scene for help.

She says police retrieved her keys, but wouldn’t help her get her scarf and sunglasses back.

Later on she spotted the man who she says punched her and asked officers for help.

“I kept telling the police officer, ‘It’s that guy, it’s that guy,’ and they wouldn’t budge. They wouldn’t help me at all,” Zeid said.

“What happened to me especially was not acceptable at all.”

Zeid has filed a police report following her alleged attack.

She says she lost a chunk of hair and has a few cuts and bruises, but is generally okay.

Upswing in violence

The rally at the legislature came in the midst of another upswing in violence in Gaza and Israel.

Earlier on Monday, the Israeli military unleashed another heavy wave of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. International diplomacy to end the weeklong war that has killed hundreds appeared to make little headway.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 212 Palestinians have been killed in the week of airstrikes, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded. Ten people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.

Zeid suffered scrapes and bruises and was treated by paramedics.

She’s since filed a police report and wants the man who hit her charged.