Hundreds rally for Gazan children
Kids at Toronto event share their letters to politicians, calling for an end to conflict
JOSHUA CHONG AND BEN COHEN STAFF REPORTERS
Hundreds of Palestinian supporters gathered Sunday afternoon at Nathan Phillips Square to recognize the thousands of young lives upended by the Israel-Hamas war. It marked the second day of proPalestinian events in downtown Toronto this weekend. Unlike Saturday’s rally, during which thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand a ceasefire, Sunday’s gathering was more sombre in tone, coming the day before World Children’s Day on Monday and with a focus on the children killed in both Gaza and Israel. Speakers, who addressed the crowd from a small podium in the middle of the square, were as young as six years old. They shared their letters to politicians, echoed calls for an end to the fighting and voiced their hopes for peace in the region. “On World Children’s Day, adults are watching us,” said Grade 5 student Khalil Khan, who acknowledged both the Palestinian and the Israeli children who have been killed or taken hostage. “But I want you to know that every single day, us children are watching you. We need you to better protect innocent children all around the world.” As Khan spoke, dozens of other children sat in front of the stage, holding signs with names and ages of some of the children killed in the war. The names of other Palestinian and Israeli children killed were printed on three banners hung behind. Nearer to the crowd, a table displayed photographs and descriptions of some of the young lives organizers say were cut short by the Israeli bombardment in Gaza. “Omar was a bubbly Palestinian child who dreamt of being a soccer player or even an astronaut one day. Omar was killed with 12 others from his family in one of the airstrikes on Gaza,” read one framed photo. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian medical doctor born and raised in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp — where a UN-run school was struck by an Israeli warplane Saturday, killing dozens — stressed to attendees the need to safeguard and tell the stories of the children victimized by the war. “Until now, my soul, my mind, is in Jabaliya camp,” he said. “As a Palestinian, I never tasted my childhood. This season is stained with the blood and pain and suffering of Palestinian children, children who are our life, who are our hope and our future.” Abuelaish, who shattered barriers to become the first Palestinian doctor to practice in an Israeli hospital, is now a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. His quest for justice after his niece and three daughters were killed by an Israeli tank that shelled his house in 2009 made global headlines. “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss,” he wrote in a recent oped for the Star. “Sadly, they were just numbers among the tens of thousands of innocents.” Only weeks ago, more than 20 more of Abuelaish’s family members were killed in “a merciless bombardment,” he told the Star. He said he fears the children in Gaza who survive this war, after seeing so much horror, will suffer from the trauma for the rest of their lives, and their children, too, will bear its mark, passed down through epigenetic mechanisms. The event, which began at 12:30 p.m. and concluded around 3 p.m., was organized by several groups, including Palestine House Toronto and the Muslim Action Group. In Gaza, Palestinian health authorities say Israeli attacks have killed about 5,000 children in the last six weeks. The total number of children killed in major conflict zones globally last year was 2,985.