“Here we are tonight to say very clearly to Israel, ‘We are with you! We stand with you!’ We will do whatever it takes to convey that message.”
Rabbi Reuven Bulka was speaking to an overflow, standing-room-only crowd of more than 700 people that packed the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (JCC), July 16, to show their solidarity for Israel and its citizens during the Jewish state’s conflict with Hamas and other Islamist terror groups in Gaza. Rabbi Bulka acted as MC for the event.
The Rally for the People of Israel, organized in less than two days by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was held simultaneously with a similar event in Toronto. Three speeches – by Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak in Toronto, and by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and MP Marc Garneau, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, in Ottawa – were heard in both cities via an Internet link.
Baird reiterated Canada’s unwavering support for Israel, saying that a sovereign nation has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks and that Canadians would expect no less of their government if they were to experience the same.
“We gather here in the JCC to stand in solidarity with those who are living each day in terror,” Baird said. “A culture of fear and terror has fallen on the State of Israel.”
As of the night of the rally, almost 1,400 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, following weeks of rocket fire from the coastal territory controlled by Hamas. This is an average of one rocket every 10 minutes, according to the public “rocket counter” published by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
“I don’t like the term, ‘rocket.’ It sounds very antiseptic,” Baird said. “It sounds like a spaceship. These are bombs. This is ammunition targeted against civilian populations… with one goal: to kill, to injure, and to wreak terror on people and their families.”
Baird stressed Canada’s history of supporting both Israel and the region, including its commitment to economic growth, job creation, and state-building for Palestinians. Millions in aid have been committed to help to build hospitals, among other facilities.
The minister pointed out that while Israel has received massive numbers of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as well as some from Lebanon and Syria, none have originated from the West Bank where Canada has helped facilitate the training of Palestinian Authority security forces.
“Canada will continue to support the Palestinian people on humanitarian issues, security, capacity building, and economic development. We all want a two-state solution [where] we have two peoples: Jewish people and Palestinians living in peace and prosperity, and yes, security,” Baird said.
Baird said the great struggle of this generation is terrorism, where it was once fascism and then communism. “Far too often, the State of Israel and the Jewish people are on the front lines of that struggle.”
Baird added that he was impressed with how the Jewish community has responded to the current crisis in Israel.
“Once again the community has come together with strength, with courage and purpose, and most importantly with unity. I want to tell you, it makes me so proud to be a Canadian,” he said.
Garneau read a statement from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau emphatically echoing the Harper government’s solidarity with Israel and used his own background as a career military officer to explain the necessity of Israel’s operation in Gaza.
“Let me ask the question,” the former astronaut said. “How can Israel stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israeli civilians?
“As an ex-military officer, I know the answer to that question. It’s not complicated. You have to destroy that launch capability and cut off that rocket supply. Otherwise you’re defenseless and the rockets will keep coming,” he said.
“For some to argue that you can’t attack Hamas terrorists because of the risk of killing innocent Palestinian civilians, is equivalent to saying, you’re not allowed to defend yourself,” he said, emphasizing that Hamas is a terrorist organization and its actions cannot be compared to a liberal, democratic state like Israel.
“If Canada were similarly threatened, there would be only one acceptable response: Canadians would expect their government to defend and protect them,” he said. “That is precisely what Israel is doing at the moment.”
Speaking from the Toronto rally, Ambassador Barak noted “the sea of violence raging in the region” and pointed out that Israel’s efforts are aimed at protecting its citizens from Hamas rockets while Hamas is using innocent civilians to protect its bombs and rockets.
Barak also pointed out Israel’s efforts to avoid the loss of innocent Palestinian lives during the campaign.
“No military in the world has acted with such great care as the Israeli military” to protect innocent lives, he said.
Ottawa resident and Carleton University student Tobin Kaiman, who had served in the IDF as a lone soldier, spoke to the rally in a video recorded earlier in the day. Kaiman returned to Israel as a volunteer in the reserves when Operation Protective Edge began and has been there for a week, delivering donated supplies and visiting bases around the country with his former unit.
“We should not have to plan our daily events knowing our proximity to the nearest bomb shelter,” he said, a point made clear when an IDF video was played, showing that not even Usain Bolt, the “world’s fastest man” would be able to run to a safe distance in time if a rocket fell nearby.
“This has been a hard few weeks,” said Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman, “hard to be a Jew, hard to be a human being.
“All human life is equally created in the divine image, and we mourn for the innocent Palestinians who have died as a result of Hamas’ reckless and grotesque actions, just as we mourn for 37-year old Israeli Dror Hanin murdered yesterday by Hamas,” she said.
Freedman pointed out there are important ways the community can help by getting involved, by staying informed, by participating in BUYcotts, by keeping in touch with family and friends in Israel, and by writing letters to Israeli soldiers, which many community members chose to do at a table before leaving that evening, creating a stack of mail.
The rally also heard via video from Ashkelon resident Marty Davis, a former shaliach to Ottawa, and joined in prayers led by Rabbis Barry Schlesinger of Agudath Israel and Ari Galandauer of Young Israel. The Tamir Neshama Choir led the singing of O Canada at the beginning of the rally and Hatikvah at the end.
As the rally ended, many in the large crowd spontaneously burst into Israeli songs and dances.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa has established an Israel Crisis Fund, with 100 per cent of the proceeds providing for the safety, as well as the physical and psychological needs of Israeli civilians. To make a donation, contact Jean Myers at 613-798-4696, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.ottawajewishbulletin.com for ongoing updates on Operation Protective Edge.
Michael Regenstreif contributed to this report.