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This article was published 15/5/2021 (253 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two opposing rallies — one supporting Palestinians and the other pro-Israel — clashed near the legislature Saturday as fighting continued overseas between Israel and militant groups in Gaza.
The "emergency protest for Palestine" was set to start at 1 p.m., while the "rally for Israel" was scheduled to start half an hour earlier. The two sides began hurling insults back and forth and swearing at each other almost immediately.
A line of nearly two dozen Winnipeg police officers separated the two sides. There were about 400 on the pro-Palestinian side and fewer than 100 Israeli supporters.
Someone on the pro-Palestine side threw water bottles at the other side, and a young woman was hit in the head. At one point, an Israeli flag was grabbed from an Israel supporter and set on fire in the middle of the street.
Damon Masser was part of the Palestinian rally. He is not Palestinian.
"I'm here to support the Palestinian people for their right to self determination," he said. "It's a feeling of solidarity. It doesn't matter who you are or if you are Palestinian or are Tamil — people who are oppressed deserve support."
A person on the other side, who asked not to be named, said Israel was only responding to "a war of annihilation."
"If (the Palestinians) had the capability, they would totally destroy Israel. There has been a lot of violence here today, and there have been threats to my life. I worry about walking home."
In the past week, at least 145 Palestinians have died and eight people in Israel have been killed in escalating violence sparked when Israeli settlers tried to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes. Since then, hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israel, while Israeli forces have sent missiles back, killing many and destroying several buildings, including the home of a senior Hamas leader and a high-rise that houses the offices of The Associated Press and other media.
Ramsey Zeid, the organizer of the Palestinian rally, said he couldn't understand why police didn't arrest a person who punched a young lady, who was on his side, in the face so badly she ended up with a bruise.
"I never would have thought something like this would happen here," said Zeid, who promised there would be more rallies.
"Palestinians would be proud of what we've done here, but also across Canada, the United States and the world. This is far from over."
Ron East, organizer of the Israel rally, said any violence was on the Palestinian side.
"This was a full assault on Winnipeg's Jewish community," he said. "Winnipeg will have to do some reckoning on the racism and anti-Semitism here."
East said he also never thought he would see the day when an Israeli flag would be burned in broad daylight in the middle of a city street.
East criticized the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for not participating in the rally.
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg disavowed any connection with the rally in a statement released Friday and said they would never hold one on a Saturday.
"Over the course of this week, we have watched the unfolding developments in Israel with great concern," the federation said.
"We stand alongside our brothers and sisters in Israel and defend its right to protect its citizens from harm. We have been made aware of plans for an in-person rally for Israel at the Manitoba legislature. This event was not planned by or done in consultation with Winnipeg's organized Jewish community, and we would never encourage members of our community to gather on the Sabbath or in contravention of current public health orders."
The statement disappointed East.
"Our federation is worthless when it comes to this sort of thing. It is despicable (that) they say that," he said.
There were no arrests during the rallies, said Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Rob Carver.
"Officers were active in successfully de-escalating highly charged interactions, and there were no reports of violence," he said.
While the two rallies went on, with many people appearing to violate provincial pandemic restrictions by gathering together with large numbers of people, and many not wearing masks, an anti-mask rally was being held at the same time.
Tobias Tissen, pastor of the Church of God Restoration south of Steinbach — a religious congregation that has been repeatedly hit with public health fines — was at the protest on the steps of the legislature. He walked through the pro-Palestinian rally on his way to the anti-mask event.
As he walked, a protester berated him for his anti-restriction stance.
— with files from Erik Pindera
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.