Ceasefire brings relief, anxiety to Canadians with family in Gaza and Israel

While a ceasefire reached Friday morning between Israel and Hamas has brought relief to many, anxiety still looms for Canadians with family in Israel and Gaza over the persisting conflict.

Agreement reached Friday morning ends 11 days of fighting but anger, mistrust remain

A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a six-storey building destroyed by an early-morning Israeli airstrike in Gaza City Tuesday. A ceasefire took effect early Friday after 11 days of heavy fighting between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, which was ignited by protests and clashes in Jerusalem. (Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press)

It wasn't the fighting that killed Hamdi Ashour's loved ones in Gaza.

It was cancer that took the lives of both his sister and nephew in the last year — in both cases, says the 53-year-old Oakville, Ont., resident, because they were unable to get desperately needed medicines.

The reason, he says, is the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas consolidated its control over the territory in 2007. No ceasefire would have saved them, he said.

"Israel controls electricity, food, water supply and produce comes in and medicine," Ashour told CBC News. "So it's only going to be better if people are going to get medication, if people are going to leave and come." 

During the 11 days of fighting, Gaza's health ministry says, at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, with 1,910 people wounded. Twelve Israelis were killed, including a five-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl.

Early Friday morning, a ceasefire went into effect, ending fighting that caused widespread destruction in Gaza and brought life in much of Israel to a standstill. Images of celebration poured in from Gaza at news of the delicate truce. 

WATCH | Celebrations follow news of ceasefire: 

Ceasefire celebrations in Gaza's streets

3 years ago
Duration 0:33
Featured VideoPeople in Gaza City gathered early Friday morning to mark the beginning of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

But after days of hearing just snippets from his relatives there and seeing photos of the destruction, Ashour worries the deal reached between the two sides won't necessarily mean safety for his family. 

"[I get] no sleep. My body shakes all the time. It's been beyond depressing," he told CBC News.

A father of four, Ashour moved to Canada in 1986 as an international student from Gaza, where his siblings and their families remain.

The recent violence was the worst his family has ever witnessed in Gaza, he says. 

Like many others, several of his family's homes were destroyed. During one attack, he says, his relatives were given just a five-minute warning to evacuate their home. They returned to find their four apartments, as well as their family workshop, completely ruined. 

"The only thing they have is the clothes they ran out with," he said. 

Hamdi Ashour says his relatives were given five minutes to evacuate their apartments and workshop before the building was destroyed during an attack that took place on Eid, a day of celebration for Muslims. (Submitted by Hamdi Ashour)

With the fighting paused, it will be up to them to begin to rebuild — a pattern Palestinians have become accustomed to over the years. 

"We don't really have a welfare system back home. Once a home is demolished, it's up to the people who used to live there to come up with the money to build it." 

Still, he says, the ceasefire is welcome news. 

"People are just happy they aren't being bombed anymore." 

Hamas 'has taken advantage of the people' 

Kfir Lavie, a Jewish Israeli who grew up in Tel Aviv and moved to Toronto two years ago, spoke to CBC Metro Morning producer Salma Ibrahim Friday morning, moments after news broke of the ceasefire.

Though he feels Israel's siege on Gaza should be stopped, Lavie says the militant group Hamas is preventing peace. 

"[Hamas] has taken advantage of the people, harming the poor people in Gaza and taking advantage of the situation and by that causing them to be under siege," he said. 

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza Thursday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Lavie said he's "terribly sorry" for the loss of innocent lives during the conflict, as well as the pain inflicted against the wounded. 

But he says the agenda of Hamas is the "destruction of Israel" and that "no one is telling Hamas — within the Palestinians — 'enough'." 

You can listen to the full conversation between Lavie and Shireen Salti, a Palestinian Christian who now lives in Toronto, here:

Ceasefire faces early test

Friday's ceasefire faced an early test when clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police following Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is built on a hilltop site sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Clashes there earlier this month were one of the main triggers for the hostilities.

Toronto's Rachel Small says she feels "cautiously hopeful" given the ceasefire, but wants to see more done.

"People continue to be displaced from their lands. People continue to be unable to travel, to work," said Small, who is with the organization World Beyond War, which describes itself as a grassroots network of anti-war activists focused on worldwide peace.

"I come to my solidarity with Palestinians very much as a Jewish person, also as a parent and as a human who will not stand by and allow this to happen."

On Friday morning, Small and other organizers staged a protest at the Israeli consulate in Toronto, covering the consulate's steps in a display of red paint to signify the "bloodshed from Israel's violence in Gaza and across historic Palestine." 

"The problems continue even as the bombs stop falling," Small said.  

On Thursday, members of Independent Jewish Voices and the organization World Beyond War took over the steps of the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto with a display of red paint. (World Beyond War)

Rabbi David Mivasair, a member of the group Independent Jewish Voices, was there too.

He says he saw the protest as a way to change the narrative to show many in the Jewish community are also "grieving, heartbroken and angry and doing what we can bring about positive change." 

"I'm glad there's a ceasefire, but no one should think for a moment that that solves the problem," Mivasair said. He is calling on the federal government to do more, including revising its free-trade agreement with Israel to exclude products from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and ending the sale of weapons to the Israelis.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau tweeted Thursday night that Canada welcomes the ceasefire, while calling for "a renewed commitment to peace."

"We are appalled by the tragic loss of life and urge all sides to further de-escalate tensions," he wrote in the tweet. 

Rebuilding will take years, tech startup CEO says 

Khaled Sabawi, founder of the Toronto-based technology startup Open Screenplay, says it will take years to rebuild after the destruction.

This week, the company's satellite office in Gaza was hit by an Israeli airstrike. None of Sabawi's employees were hurt or killed.

"We'll continue to hire developers in Gaza and we definitely will rebuild our office," he said Friday. 

"The bombs may have stopped falling but the blockade remains."

Yara Shoufani, from Palestinian Youth Movement, says tensions remain high and she worries that stability remains far away. 

"There's still so much injustice," she said. "Peace is not just the absence of war — it requires justice." 

With files from Philip Lee-Shanok and The Associated Press