Jewish and Palestinian communities in Alberta react to violence in Israel

Jewish and Palestinian communities in Alberta are reacting to the violence in Israel over the weekend.

Without warning on Saturday, Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers attacked Israel by air, land and sea.

Millions of Israelis in the country’s south awoke to incoming rockets and the inevitable thud of impact. Air raid sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv. Israel’s anti-rocket interceptors thundered in Jerusalem.

Armed Hamas fighters blew up parts of Israel’s highly fortified separation fence and strode into Israeli communities along the Gaza frontier, engaging with residents and trading fire with Israeli soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel was “at war” and called for a mass mobilization of army reserves. The invasion revived memories of the 1973 war practically 50 years to the day.

As of Sunday, the death toll in Israel has reached at least 600 people, according to government numbers, with more than 100 believed to be kidnapped and more than 2,000 people injured.

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Click to play video: 'Canadians stuck in Israel with flights cancelled, embassy closed for Thanksgiving'

Canadians stuck in Israel with flights cancelled, embassy closed for Thanksgiving

Officials in Gaza say at least 370 people have died in the territory as well.

This comes as many Jewish families celebrated Sukkot and Simchat Torah on Saturday, wrapping up the High Holy Days.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have existed since before the area was divided into Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by a United Nations’ decision in 1947. Throughout the decades, Palestinians and Israel have claimed historical title to the same lands.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Calgary Jewish Federation said it stands with Israel and prays for the safety of Israeli citizens.

“Whatever is happening over there is despicable. There is no call for it, no cause for it, no reason for it,” Adam Silver, chief executive officer of the Calgary Jewish Federation, told Global News.

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“People in Calgary and around the world are in fear for their family, their colleagues … It’s terror. There’s no justification for this.

“Our community stands unequivocally with Israel and 100 per cent supports Israel’s right to defend itself, to bring back its civilians and to exact whatever is required to render Hamas ineffective and useless.”

The Calgary Police Service said it will increase patrols near local places of worship in response to the news.

“In light of the attacks against Israel and rising violence in the Middle East, we recognize the concern that this brings to our local community. We continue to stand by our law enforcement partners and trusted community leaders to ensure the safety of all Calgarians,” said the CPS in a social media post on Saturday.

“This means you may see increased patrols near local places of worship in our city as a form of proactive policing. There is currently no specific threat to the public in our city.”

The Jewish Federation of Edmonton issued a similar statement on Facebook.

“People here are horrified. They’re shocked. It is unprovoked. It’s an unprecedented terrorist attack by Hamas that is ongoing,” Stacey Levitt-Wright, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton.

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“People are concerned. They are worried for their friends and family. They’re worried for Israel. They’re worried for what it means for all of us.”

The Edmonton Police Service said it is committed to increasing patrols around some places of worship and community centres.

“The EPS is monitoring the escalation of events in Israel closely. Though there is no immediate safety concerns in Edmonton, we understand the impact this has locally,” the EPS said in a social media post.

Jewish community members throughout Alberta say they are worried for their friends and family in Israel. Russell Jayne, senior rabbi and cantor for Beth Tzedec Congregation in Calgary, said he hopes peace is restored to the region as soon as possible.

“There really are no words to describe it. It is a completely historic and devastating moment,” said Jayne.

“My heart goes out to everyone in the region. The innocent victims and the civilians affected by this.

Click to play video: 'Risk of war on horizon as Israel calls Hamas attack their ‘9/11’ moment'

Risk of war on horizon as Israel calls Hamas attack their ‘9/11’ moment

“I hope the consequences are minimal … We need to work towards (minimizing) the effects of what happened today, that we work towards peace and repairing the world, not destroying the world through violence and aggression.”

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Susan Inhaber, incoming national president Na’amat Canada, helps run daycares, domestic violence shelters and schools throughout Israel. She told Global News a rocket landed on one of the charity’s many youth villages but nobody was there on Saturday because of Shabbat.

Inhaber said a lot of her relatives live in Israel.

“It’s always scary, but it’s particularly scary now … It’s just horrible. Even if we weren’t involved there, it’s just not a way to live,” she told Global News.

“Imagine you’re sitting there, you’re doing your work or eating or whatever, and all of a sudden a siren goes off. You’re running to your safe room. It’s not a way to live.”

Rallies to support Palestine planned in Calgary, Edmonton.

In response to the violence in Israel, hundreds of people attended a rally to support Palestine at Castle Downs Park in Edmonton on Sunday evening. Mousa Qasqas, media spokesperson for the Palestinian community in Edmonton, said the rally was planned to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

“The people in Gaza can’t leave. It is an open-air prison,” Qasqas told Global News.

“Labelling any act of resistance from the Palestinians and any act from Israel as self-defense … This narrative has to change. This narrative has been used for the past five years and it has gotten us where we are today.”

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Qasqas also said none of the events over the weekend happened spontaneously, but rather as a response to years of oppression by Israel.

“It needs to be noted that under international law and the Declaration of Human Rights established in 1948, the people being occupied are the only ones allowed resistance, especially armed resistance,” he said.

“Gaza has been under an illegal siege and an illegal blockade for the past 17 years … The problem isn’t the resistance. The problem is the occupation itself.”

Justice for Palestinians Calgary told Global News in an emailed statement Sunday that it unconditionally supports Palestine and the resistance movement, saying Israel illegally occupied Palestinian land for decades.

The group also condemned the labeling of the Palestinian resistance as “terrorists.”

A rally in front of Calgary City Hall in support of Palestine has been scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m.

“In light of recent events, Justice for Palestinians reiterates its unconditional support for the Palestinian liberation struggle. We condemn the decades-long Israeli occupation and settler-colonial project that has created the conditions that made the present violence inevitable,” Justice for Palestinians’ statement read.

“Israel’s brutal policies against the Palestinian people, supported by Western governments including Canada, are responsible for this violence, and the blood of all the victims is on their hands. There will never be peace in Palestine so long as the unjust system of colonization, apartheid, and occupation remains.”

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Muhannad Ayyash is a Palestinian Canadian sociology professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary and has family living in Gaza. He said Hamas’ attack surprised him, but noted it is a response to years of surveillance.

“When you go there, you see the enormous pressure that (Palestinians) are living under on a daily basis,” Ayyash told Global News.

“Palestinians are under immense surveillance. These intelligence networks are quite sophisticated and quite substantial. The fact they were able to plan something this large without Israelies catching wind is quite astonishing.”

Ayyash added the root cause of the attack was the expulsion of Palestinians from their land. He said Palestinians have been erased politically and they are worse off today than they were 100 years ago.

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“Nothing has worked. They tried everything. I think this latest operation is an expression of their desperation to say they are not going to go quietly into the night,” he said.

“Some believe that these kinds of operations will also enable Palestinians to firmly plant themselves as political players in the region that cannot be ignored.”

Palestinians are also being erased in Canada, Ayyash said.

“Palestinian Canadians know that their political views are not welcome in Canadian society and in educational institutions. They are not able to express their desires for liberation and human rights without being called anti-Semitic and hateful,” he said.

“There’s a real sense of censorship that Palestinian Canadians feel. They feel a real sense of not being welcomed or safe in this country because of who they are.”

Politicians in Alberta respond

Alberta politicians also issued statements about the violence in Israel over the weekend.

“I condemn the appalling and unprecedented acts of terror that are occurring in Israel and the region. Albertans mourn the loss of innocent civilian lives. We must stand firm in our fight against terrorism wherever it presents itself,” Premier Danielle Smith said in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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“The Alberta NDP condemns Hamas’ horrific attacks on Israeli civilians. Our hearts are with the victims, their families and all those impacted by this violence. The lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians must be protected and violence must be swiftly de-escalated,” Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said in a social media post Saturday.

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in a social media post on Saturday evening that what is happening in Israel is “inhumane” and requires leaders to condemn the violence.

“Planned warfare is not the way to make political statements. My heart is with the Jewish community in Calgary,” she said.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the conflict in Israel and Palestine has a deep impact on Edmontonians. He condemned the attacks in Israel and Gaza, calling them “horrific.”

“I know that many Edmontonians have friends and family in these areas, and I am extending my support and empathy to them. We stand with you and share in your hope for a just and lasting peace in the region,” he said in a social media post on Sunday afternoon.

Ayyash criticized the political response from politicians, calling it “supportive” of Israel and further erasing Palestinian Canadian voices.

“The Canadian public deserves an honest conversation about what is happening in the region and Canada’s role in it because Canada’s role is a destructive one … It is playing a supportive role,” he said.

“People should put pressure on politicians to have more conversations so that we can see the end to these events. If you really are serious about ending these things, then you have to have honest conversations about the root causes of the problems and how we can actually have real authentic dialogue so that we can get to something like peaceful coexistence.”

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–With files from The Associated Press and Global News.

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