A massacre is how demonstrators at Harbourside Park in St. John’s described the situation in Palestine on Thursday evening.
Several hundred people — many, but by no means all of Middle Eastern descent — gathered with signs and petitions to be signed. An area of notorious upheaval, Palestine has been marked by increased violence recently and a rising death toll.
Mohamad El Bakri who helped organize the event, and led the group who gathered as they marched down Water Street and back up Duckworth Street, said the event was about raising awareness about what is happening in Palestine.
“They need to know that there’s a massive massacre happening against the Palestinian kids and the people in Gaza. It’s a continuous murder of kids, of women. There’s no discrimination between old or young or a baby or an infant. They’re just massively killing people,” he said.
The line was long and the signs many as the group moved through downtown St. John’s.
People came out of pubs, shops and stores to watch the group march. While it was certainly a peaceful demonstration, it was by no means a quiet one.
The group had a message and they meant to be heard.
El Bakri lead chants through a loudspeaker of “Free free Palestine, occupation is a crime” and “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die.” Behind him the voices of the people marching — from children to all ages of adults — echoed his chants in unison.
“It’s a massive human catastrophe. And people need to know,” El Bakri told The Telegram.
In a place more historically familiar with impassioned fishermen making demonstrations, the throng of a multicultural group taking over half the road as they cried for justice in a place so far away was a reminder of the changing face of St. John’s.
It also illuminated how living close to a place of war can create compassion, rather than an appetite for more fighting.
“It doesn’t have to happen in our country, in our backyard for us to feel sympathetic toward other human beings overseas,” El Bakri said.
A refugee of Lebanon who has been here for several years, El Bakri called living here a blessing.
“To be honest with you, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest. To be able to live in a place where I have rights. Where I can live in peace. Where I can put my head on a pillow and not fear if I’m gonna be bombed or if I’m gonna wake up the next day.”
But being grateful of being here doesn’t mean forgetting about what’s happening to people in other parts of the world far from where he is now and far.
“My heart is still there. I still reach out. And it’s not only with Palestine. It’s with any other troubled place.”