As violence continues to unfold in Gaza and Israel, Ottawa played host to a pair of rallies this weekend, with attendees expressing fear for loved ones overseas and calling for an end to the hostilities.
On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a rally organized by Ottawa's Palestinian community, gathering at the Human Rights Monument before marching to the National War Memorial near Parliament Hill.
The crowd held signs, waved Palestinian flags, and chanted slogans like "Free Palestine!" and "End the occupation now!"
The rally was organized to condemn the latest Israeli strikes in Gaza and the ongoing violence in occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. Many who attended — about 2,000 to 3,000 people, according to police estimates — expressed anxiety, fear, and solidarity with friends and family in the region.
"I'm very, very worried about my family," said Janan Arafa, who helped organize the rally and has family in the Gaza Strip.
"I'm a Canadian-Palestinian and I just want to advocate for peace, justice, equality and their human rights ... this has nothing to do with politics [or] religion. It really just has to do with advocacy for human rights."
Shahed Helmy, a Palestinian-Canadian who studies at the University Ottawa, also helped put on the demonstration.
"People are tired. People want to see justice. People want to see the Canadian government help Palestinians in their fight for justice," Helmy said.
"I do have family living over there, and you know, it's a terrible thing because they're constantly in fear of their lives."
Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, also attended the Saturday rally.
"I'm here to send a message to the Canadian government and to Justin Trudeau — and all the federal political leaders — that they can no longer hide behind political platitudes and meaningless statements, which do nothing," he said.
Pro-Israeli rally Sunday
One day after the rally, hundreds of people gathered at the Tom Brown Arena parking lot for a pro-Israeli rally against Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.
The purpose, organizers said, was to express unity, support, and solidarity with the Israeli people, and their right for peace, while also drawing local attention to the situation in the Middle East.
After gathering outside the arena, a convoy of about 100 vehicles, according to police, drove through downtown past Parliament Hill. Drivers honked, while Israeli flags flew out of the windows.
"We have family there, and it's just so heartbreaking because we can't really do much. And it's so hard to see everybody who gets hit and who dies. And their homes are being destroyed," said Yael Levin, who attended Sunday's rally with her mother.
Both are from Israel, and Levin said they have friends and extended family living all over Israel and the West Bank. They've been in contact with them daily to see if they're OK and to bring them comfort, Levin said.
"It doesn't matter what ethnic background you are, what your religion is. You're in this conflict, and your family is in the conflict, and you just want peace [for] everybody," she said. "And you just want your family to be OK and everybody to be OK.
Bella Kravtzov, one of the organizers, said the rally was designed to show "solidarity, unity [and] support to the Israeli people" while also raising awareness locally about the conflict.
"We are striving for peace in Israel and in the Middle East in general. So we know that both sides are suffering, but we need to understand that we need to stop it," said Kravtzov, who moved to Canada from Israel a decade ago and still has family there.
Kravtzov said she speaks with her sister every day, and her family is spending every night in a bomb shelter.
Rally attendee Nicole Goldstone said she placed blame directly on the government in power in Gaza.
"We wish peace in the Middle East. The people of Gaza are not our enemy. We feel terrible for any loss of life in Gaza, women and children," she said. "Hamas is the enemy."