Winnipeg rally calls on Canada to help protect Palestinian children
Group wants a special envoy to report on kids' rights in occupied territories in Israel and Gaza Strip
People in Winnipeg gathered on Sunday with protest signs and Palestinian flags in an effort to urge the Canadian government to step up for children's rights in the Gaza Strip and occupied territories in Israel.
Idris Elbakri said he's hoping to draw people's attention to the plight of children in the place where he grew up, and where Palestinian kids are still often detained by Israeli authorities.
"As a child growing up there, I've had friends who went to jail, schoolmates who were shot. And sadly, this is something that affects almost every Palestinian family living under occupation. There are really no exceptions," Elbakri said.
"These kids are traumatized."
People at the rally started gathering at Vimy Ridge Park on Portage Avenue and were met with honks of support from passing traffic as they walked next to the busy street.
Elbakri's son, 12-year-old Abdulghani Elbakri, said he hopes to help people his age learn more about what Palestinian kids go through too.
"I'm not really afraid to tell them what's happening, because it's something that you have to get educated [on] sooner or later," he said.
"The main message is to tell them that there's something going on and if you can help, try to help."
Sunday's rally had people of many different faiths in attendance, Elbakri said.
That included Joanna Hiebert Bergen, chair of the Mennonite Church Canada Palestine-Israel Network.
Hiebert Bergen, who helped organize the rally, said groups like hers are trying to push the Canadian government to take concrete steps toward the goal of protecting Palestinian children's rights.
That includes a call for Ottawa to appoint a special envoy to monitor and report on the issue in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
"We would just like Canada to ask [Israel] to uphold children's rights," especially since both countries have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, she said.
Hiebert Bergen said it's important for Winnipeggers to learn more about what's going on in the region and contact their members of parliament to push for action.
"I think what we're asking is that people are aware of what's happening there, that they educate themselves around the human rights issues that are at stake," she said.
A spokesperson from the Israel Defence Forces said in an email that it acts in accordance with local and international law.
"As a rule there is an absolute prohibition on the use of violence or inappropriate treatment for detainees," the emailed statement said.
"In general, security forces detain minors in cases where there is reasonable suspicion … they are involved in serious crimes or pose a security threat. Such instances are just cause for their detention."
Elbakri said Winnipeg's Palestinian community, which he estimates numbers over 1,000 people, is also trying to urge people in their city to show solidarity with Palestinians living in occupied territories.
"I just want them to open their hearts to the plight of these kids, and rethink their positions as far as this issue is concerned," he said.
"It makes a big difference for people over there when they see that all the way across the ocean there are some people who are thinking of them, praying for them and speaking on their behalf."
- This story initially stated the rally was about Palestinian children in Israel. In fact, the rally was about Palestinian children in occupied territories in Israel and the Gaza Strip.Dec 01, 2021 3:50 PM CT
With files from Sheila North