Tensions flare in Winnipeg between pro-Israeli, Palestinian protesters

Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Manitoba Legislature Saturday afternoon in what became a heated conflict between a group in support of Palestinians and another group carrying Israeli flags.

Selena Zeid helped organize a rally in solidarity with Palestinians in the midst of an upswing in violence in Gaza and Israel.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s terribly sad,” said Zeid, a 19-year-old Palestinian-Canadian.

Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. At least 145 people have been killed in Gaza as of Saturday, The Associated Press reported, including 41 children; in Israel, eight people have been killed.

“Our people, they’re dying every day — like, women and children, every second,” said Zeid. “They’re being bombed and getting kicked out of their homes for absolutely nothing.”

Selena Zeid organized a rally in support of Palestinians that was held Saturday at the Manitoba Legislature. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Also on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike targeted and destroyed a highrise building in Gaza City that housed media outlets and residential apartments.

Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current conflict.

The rally in Winnipeg in support of Palestinians started at 1 p.m., while a pro-Israel rally started at 12:30 p.m., prompting police officers to form a line between the two groups.

Const. Rob Carver, a spokesperson with the Winnipeg Police Service, said in an email to CBC News that there was a “very sizeable police presence” to “ensure the safety of all people in the area.” He said as of Saturday afternoon, no arrests had been made in connection with the rallies.

A number of people gathered in solidarity with Israel on Saturday. Winnipeg police stood between them and a large group of people attending the protest in support of Palestinians. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Idris Elbakri, a Palestinian-Canadian from Jerusalem, attended the rally to call on the federal government to do more to stand up for Palestinians.

“Canada needs to take a much more balanced, principled approach to the issue in Israel-Palestine, one that’s grounded in human rights and international human rights law,” he said. “Unfortunately right now, I don’t think that’s the case.”

Elbakri says the government’s response of condemning violence lacks teeth, “without saying who’s doing what against who.”

“This is my call today to the Canadian politicians and the Canadian government. Just say the name: Palestine.”

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg said in a social media post on Friday it did not encourage people to attend the rally on Saturday, the Sabbath.

“This event was not planned by or done in consultation with Winnipeg’s organized Jewish community, and we would never encourage members of our community to gather on the Sabbath or in contravention of current public health orders,” the post said.

On Saturday, the president of the Jewish Federation told CBC News the loss of life in the Middle East is “abhorrent.”

“We would like it to stop,” said Joel Lazer. “We are heartbroken to see all the death, all of the destruction … the death and destruction is disgusting and horrific and needless, in my mind.”

The federation’s Friday social media post said it’s watching events unfold in Israel with “great concern.”

“We stand alongside our brothers and sisters in Israel and defend its right to protect its citizens from harm,” the post reads in part.

It wants Canada to take a stand against Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza strip.

WATCH | What’s behind the recent surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence?

A look at the long-standing tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the most recent escalation. 4:50

Public health orders broken

Protesters on both sides of the police line at Saturday’s rallies broke provincial public health orders.

Under the current public health restrictions, gatherings in outdoor public spaces are not to exceed five people.

Some people were seen not wearing masks, and physical distancing wasn’t always observed.

The provincial government wouldn’t comment specifically about the rallies on Saturday, but said in a statement on Friday that enforcement officers would be “out in full force” over the weekend, ticketing people who aren’t complying with the orders.

The event poster for the pro-Palestinian protest indicated it would be an “in-car” event and asked everyone to “follow all COVID-19 guidelines.”