As the current conflict in Israel and Palestine continues to escalate more than a month after a temporary ceasefire, members of the Waterloo Region community continue showing support for Palestine. In addition to continuing rallies, lectures and vigils, local businesses and activists are raising money and awareness for Palestine. 

Damask Resto Market in Kitchener is a restaurant offering Middle Eastern cuisine and owned by co-founders and brothers Moe and Adam Alhares. The family-run business also sells sweaters, shirts, kufiyas, keychains, assorted jewellery and flags of different Middle Eastern countries to raise money for Palestine.  

”We felt like it was our obligation to do something on this side of the world in order to maybe raise a little bit of funds from the people that want to help but not necessarily not knowing how to help,” Alhares said.  

Alhares said the restaurant fronts the cost of the merchandise and 100 per cent of the proceeds from the Palestine merchandise they sell goes directly to aid in Palestine. Currently, it is difficult to get aid into Palestine, including monetary aid. Until passing on the aid becomes easier, the money is kept in a separate fund.  

“Right now the with the situation that’s happening around the borders are pretty much closed off. It’s almost impossible to get anything in food supplies, clean water, medical care is is basically at a halt. Unfortunately, the people there they’re being starved right now what is happening to the money while we’re waiting for the borders to open or for any sort of way to to get aid, we hold on to it. We hold on to it in a separate fund. That way nothing gets stuck,” he said.  

Irene O’Toole is a member of Waterloo Region Friends of Palestine, an organization that hosts events to give voice to Palestinian members of the community. Since Oct. 7, the group has hosted lectures, co-hosted rallies and held a silent vigil at Kitchener Farmer’s Market every Saturday beginning in November 2023.  

“Our focus is on celebrating the culture and working in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We want to illuminate the traditional ways of life because we believe that strengthening that Palestinian identity rather than hiding it, we can really make inroads in changing the way Palestinians relate and how Palestinians actually contribute to the community,” O’Toole said.  

The ongoing silence of Western governments is also a sign that these governments would not strive to protect equality and human rights as much as their residents would like to believe, O’Toole said. 

“Because we, as people who live in the West, have always assumed that if gross injustice is going to happen, our governments are going to respond…So what that says is that we’re all vulnerable, very, very vulnerable. We don’t have governments we can trust anymore,”  she said.  

The history of conflict in Israel and Palestine stretches further back than Oct. 7, 2023. O’Toole said when the British created the boundaries of the two countries, they did so without consideration of the people that already existed in the space.  

“[The] British simply gave the land without respect for the people who lived on that land already. It simply a similar kind of act of colonialism that we’ve seen here on Turtle Island, with…the Indigenous people of Canada,” she said.  

Basing a country on religion is not compatible with upholding human rights, O’Toole said. Moreover, international pressure by Western countries prevented Israel from developing good relationships with its neighbours.  

Alhares said the conflict may seem to be based in religion, but that is not accurate. All Palestinian people, regardless of their faith backgrounds are impacted.  

“[Y]ou can’t have human rights and religions unless everybody’s allowed their religion, in which case you don’t have a state that’s based on religion…A country that’s formed on the basis of religion is a contradiction in terms of human rights,” she said. 

This conflict, while taking place in a context with heavy religious history, is not one based in religious differences according to Alhares. He said there are Palestinians of all faiths that are impacted.  

“It’s absolutely not a religious war—and this is coming from a Palestinian… I don’t feel like any of us have the right to judge based on a belief or uncover a religion, how we treat the other person,” he said.  

While other conflicts have happened in the past, Alhares said this time is different mainly because of the role social media plays in sharing information from the ground in Palestine with the rest of the world.  

“And I feel like this time in the war is different than every other time. And the only reason being that social media is playing a huge factor in getting the real news out… And I feel like the vast majority of the world is with the Palestinian people, right now because they know what’s happening,” he said.  

Portrayal of Palestinian people and their experiences in mainstream media is generally unfavourable. O’Toole said pro-Palestine supporters must also contend with the racism against Palestinians in Western media which is increasing with the ongoing conflict. 

“[O]ur battle is actually with the very much with the media. And not just with the media, but the message that is coming through the media…the racism towards Palestinians is just through the roof,” she said.  

Alhares said there is a narrative pushing other Middle Eastern countries to accept more refugees—this is unhelpful since Palestinians should not have to leave their own homeland. He said people just want to live ordinary lives in a country without war.  

“The media narrative right now is, ‘oh, why doesn’t Egypt accept them? Why doesn’t Jordan accept them?’ This is their homeland, at the end of the day. Why should we they were be removed from their homelands and go somewhere else?,” he said.  

Recently, a chapter of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) was also opened in Waterloo Region. IJV is a national organization that advocates for Palestinian rights including the rights to freedom, equality and peaceful lives.  

“We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out. These principles are violated when we allow an occupying power to trample the human rights of an occupied people,” the IJV website states.  

“This institutionalized discrimination has led increasing numbers of people around the world to identify Israel an apartheid state,” the website states.. 

The organization also calls for an end to occupation of Arab countries, a dismantling of the Western/Buraq Wall, a restoration of Palestinian rights and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to Palestine.  

The Waterloo Region Chapter, founded in November 2023, has hosted and co-hosted many events since its inception, including a rally in Kitchener on Dec. 18 calling for action by Tim Louis, MP of Kitchener-Conestoga. 

For more information about IJV’s Waterloo chapter, find them on Instagram @ijv_waterlooregion. Find Waterloo Region Friends of Palestine on Instagram @wrfriendsofpalestine.