Baha'i News -- Supporters 20,000 strong Mideast conflict adds tension to annual March to Jerusalem

Supporters 20,000 strong
Mideast conflict adds tension to annual March to Jerusalem

GAVIN TAYLOR
Montreal Gazette

Monday, May 20, 2002

The brisk weather made the Middle East seem a world away. But as thousands of walkers laced up to participate in yesterday's March to Jerusalem, the political concerns of the region seemed close to home.

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the event, held every year by Montreal's Jewish Cultural Association to raise funds for cultural exchange programs with Israel.

Organizers estimated that as many as 20,000 people participated in the 18-kilometre circuit through the streets of Côte St. Luc, Hampstead, Montreal and Outremont. An Israeli street festival in Cummings Square, next to the YM-YWHA's Jewish Community Centre on Westbury Ave., capped the event.

Although the atmosphere at the festival was carefree - children giggled as they rode ponies, adults swirled to klezmer bands and concession stands sold falafels at a feverish clip - the political tensions of the Middle East were never far from the surface.

Few participants knew of yesterday's firebombing of a Quebec City synagogue, but public-safety concerns were underlined by the presence of dozens of security guards, some of them working undercover.

The hardening of relations between Israelis and Palestinians during the past year also gave the march a sharper political edge.

Show of Solidarity

Ronen Baruch, who joined the march with his wife and their two children, Julian and Olivia, said he felt a need to show solidarity with Israel. He came to Canada from Haifa 13 years ago, but said he still backs Israel "150 per cent."

Anne Keller, his wife, said the march was "about who we are: it's about peace, joy, unity."

Pal Romer, an 80-year-old immigrant from Hungary, said he came in support of Israel, but his contribution did not measure up to that of Israeli citizens.

"I have a little guilty feeling," he said. "I am here. And they are fighting for me there. And they're willing to die for it. This is nothing compared to what they're doing there to live in peace."

At the start of the march, two Palestinian brothers, Marwan and Samir Sefian, who came to speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, attempted to join the throngs.

Abraham Weizfeld of the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation accompanied the brothers, carrying a placard urging brotherhood.

Marwan Sefian, 19, attended the march last year and was allowed to walk at the front. This year, he said, police told him to stand aside.

The McGill engineering student said Israeli soldiers forced his Palestinian grandfather into exile in Lebanon in 1948. His mother left Lebanon in 1982 when Israeli bombing made her life unbearable.

He added that he believes in the peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine.

"Jerusalem is a city that belongs to Jews and Palestinians equally. Not only Jews and Palestinians, but Christians, Baha'i, Hindus, Buddhists and anybody who has a connection to the city. This is why I want to march to Jerusalem, because I feel it is my city, too."

Some of the marchers yelled, "Go away" as they passed Sefian, but others said he has a right to an opinion.

"It doesn't bother me," Baruch said.

- Gavin Taylor's E-mail address is gtaylor@thegazette.southam.ca.


©Copyright 2002, Montreal Gazette (CA)

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