‘Bring them home now’
Toronto rally calls for release of kids held hostage by Hamas
MAHDIS HABIBINIA AND CALVI LEON STAFF REPORTERS
group of around 100 protesters gathered Sunday afternoon outside of UNICEF’s office to demand the release of the children held hostage by Hamas, as the Israel-Hamas war enters its seventh week. The hour-long event began at 90 Eglinton Ave. E. around 4 p.m., ahead of World Children’s Day on Monday, to call on UNICEF to stand up for the children kidnapped on Oct. 7. “I’m a physician. I’m not a politician or a UNICEF member,” said Dr. Noa Gilad, one of the organizers for the rally. “I stand every day behind my Hippocratic Oath and I want (UNICEF) to stand behind their oath to be a union for every child.” Among those who addressed the crowd was Shira Brodutch, a Toronto resident and aunt to three of the captive children: eight-year-old Yuval, four-year-old Oria and Ofry, who turned 10 on Oct. 8, she said. “It’s like life is on hold,” Brodutch said of the last 43 days. “You’re up, you’re down, you’re numb.” Brodutch said her niece, Ofry, was in Toronto last summer visiting family and attending summer camp for the first time. Ofry loved the city, “this whole new world,” and especially trying bubble tea, Brodutch said. Dr. Frank Sommers, who specializes in disaster psychiatry and is a Holocaust survivor, said this issue is “very close to his heart.” “I recognize the damage Hamas has done and is doing particularly to children,” Sommers told the Star before addressing the crowd. “This trauma is going to be long lasting, long after the physical wounds have healed.” Sommers said that he’s “equally concerned” about the Palestinian children in Gaza and called for peace on both sides. While the focus of the rally was on the children kidnapped by Hamas, several speakers emphasized the imporA tance of protecting all children. Organized by Bring Them Home Now, a global initiative established a few weeks ago, the rally was part of a wider two-day international demonstration continuing Monday to call on UNICEF to take more action. In an emailed statement to the Star, a UNICEF spokesperson said the organization is aware of the demonstrations taking place worldwide and reiterated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and the safe release of all children. “Nothing justifies the killing, maiming or abduction of children — grave rights violations which UNICEF wholeheartedly condemns,” said Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, director of communications for UNICEF Canada. “Every single child, no matter who or where they are, must be protected.” However, protest organizers said they believe UNICEF has not taken enough action to help release the children. The rallies at its offices around the world are an effort to put pressure on the charity. Brodutch said she wants to see UNICEF “do everything that it can and even more” to aid in the release of the children held hostage. “To press whatever and whoever they need to, whatever connection or government, including Israel,” she said, noting that families like hers don’t know whether the kids are alive. Participants on Sunday held yellow balloons — one for every child held captive — around an installation of wrapped gifts, a nod to the upcoming holiday season. Each gift included pictures of the faces, names and ages of the nearly 40 children held hostage. Speaking to the crowd, Gilad read their names and descriptions out loud, including: A three-year-old girl who loves trucks and machinery, a nine-year-old boy who plays tennis and soccer, a 12-year-old who enjoys reading fantasy literature and a 10-month-old who recently learned to crawl. Throughout the rally, pedestrians and motorists on Eglinton stopped and honked their horns in support. During a pause in one of the speeches, participants led the chant: “Bring them home now.” Brodutch said she remains hopeful that she will see her nephews and niece again because “there is no accepting anything else.” The event lasted until darkness fell around 5 p.m., with organizers encouraging participants to return Monday morning.