I’m not a person that attends rallies. The reason is that I’m not convinced that are an effective method of getting your point across.
However, within the last week, I’ve been to three rallies. They all were involving the current Israel/Palestine conflict. On Saturday in Toronto, I was walking down the street when I noticed a father and a daughter carrying an Israeli flag and a sign. I quickly turned around and followed them. I landed in Queen’s Park where a two security fences were put up. In the middle were three cops guarding the pathway in between. No one was allowed through. Turns out that it was the largest Pro-Palestinian rally in North America. On one side of the fence was the Pro-Palestinian crowd. They had speakers planned. On the other was the Pro-Israel side. They were there as a response to the Pro-Palestinian rally. The leaders of the Pro-Israel side was the Jewish Defence League. I never have seen this group before, but my first response was this would not be a group of people that I would want to anger.
As the crowd gathered for both the Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel sides, I decided to sit in the park and observe. There were a few people with cameras observing. However the crowds got so big that I moved to the middle of the park. To my left was the Pro-Palestine group. Signs raised high and pointed directly to my right, the Pro-Israeli side. Their side of the park filled up. They had their signs pointed at the Pro-Palestine side. The anger from each side vibrated the park. It felt like a volcano was going to erupt. If the police were not there,I could not imagine what would have happened. Both sides were yelling at each other. One person tried to reason with the Pro-Israel side and was shouted at. He was called an “Arab lover”.
Organizers from the Pro-Palestinian volunteers were quickly escorting Palestinian supporters across to their side. One very large man from the Palestinian side wanted to go across to the Israel group and attack them but was held back.
In the middle was a group that was trying to bring a smile to the situation. They were a group offering Free Hugs. It was a group of younger people with funny names and titles. One name was Oz and his role was Laughter Supervisor. As sincere as that seemed, unfortunately, it wasn’t helping. As an example, one of the huggers went to a member of the Pro-Israeli side to offer a hug. The response was this
“You remember why you have the freedom to hug someone.”
I’ll explain why this didn’t work in a moment.
As the afternoon went on, the intensity and the anger continued to rise. Fortunately, there were no fist fights, but lots of insults. Which is hard to watch.
The next day, there was a Pro-Israel rally. I was curious what would happen. That rally felt peaceful. It seemed like it was a different group that came. Families, seniors and Rabbi’s. What was interesting was that there was one Pro-Palestine member that showed up. I didn’t see him, but someone mentioned this on Twitter.
The third one was last night. The Calgary for Israel rally. It was organized by Ezra Levant in response to an incident that happened between some Palestinian and Israeli’s did get into several fights in Calgary. Ezra initially tweeted out that there were “easily 2,000 people there”. I asked security there how many he saw, he told me 700. I also asked a quick member of the media and they estimated less than that. The number that came up wad 900. While there was a debate about numbers, the actual rally was peaceful and respectful. They had a security checkpoint before you came in. The only issue was there was a small group of Pro-Palestinian that were there. They had their flags and there was yelling back and forth. It was only until one of the speakers told people to leave them alone. People walked away and police covered the event like a blanket.
After watching these three rallies, reading some online conversations and listening to different perspectives. I have come up with four observations.
The first one goes back to the Free Hugs group. The reason that doesn’t work is how serious both sides are taking the issue. It is very personal and impacts in a deep way. There is a long history of loss. Not only Mothers, Fathers, brother’s, sister’s, friends and children. But ancestors and people before them. There is also the slightly small…….big issue of land.This is not something that a Free Hug and a smile can give an instant cure too. As a matter of fact, I think it came across as disrespectful. Not intentionally, but it did.
The second one is about holding up signs at each other. Observing this, I wondered what would happen if somebody dropped their sign and offered to listen. Really listen to the story your enemy has. I wondered what impact would that have on future rallies and if they can become future dialogues. I also realized that was idealistic.
The third and fourth one hits close to home.
I think Christians need to learn more about both Judaism and Muslim. I say that because of some comments I heard from the rally last night. It’s not necessarily that you will agree with the faith’s. However, you will be informed.
The final one comes is about Christianity At the Calgary for Israel rally, there were several shirts that said “Wherever Israel stands, I stand with them”. Now, I love the Jewish faith. It’s very beautiful. I myself have never been to Israel, but I have friends that have. From all accounts, it’s a beautiful country. However, I’m not comfortable with the idea that I simply need and obligated to support Israel because I’m a Christian. What I feel obligated to do is to research and give thought to the issues. If there is a place to observe and critique what both sides are doing, then I can challenge that. If there is a space where a perspective can be given, that should happen too.
As a Christian and as a human, it is sad that innocent lives have been, and continue to be lost. And as a Christian, and a human, I hope one day these rallies I observe can be more about the dialogue needed to learn from each other.