Palestinians rally in Winnipeg on Sunday, marking anniversary of displacement

More than 100 Palestinians and supporters gathered on the steps of Winnipeg’s city hall on Sunday to mark the anniversary of their uprooting nearly seven decades ago.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes in the war over Israel’s creation in 1948. Today, that anniversary — May 15 — is known by many as Nakba Day. 

Demonstrators in Winnipeg also raised the red, green, black and white flag of the Palestine Territories on a makeshift flagpole outside the Main Street building themselves, after they say their request to have the flag officially raised there was denied by the city.

“They did not recognize Palestine as a country at all, or a country that was in need of support from Canada right now,” said Mona Zangana, one of the rally’s organizers.

“It makes me feel a little angry and disappointed, as Canada is a multicultural country and we strive to be very diverse and support other countries.”

The Palestinian flag flew outside Winnipeg’s city hall on Sunday. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Jeremy Davis, spokesperson for Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, said in an email that “organizers were previously advised that the protocol at the City of Winnipeg allows for flag raisings of foreign nations with which Canada has diplomatic relations.”

The May 15 anniversary is known by Palestinians as a catastrophe — the English translation of the Arabic word “nakba” — but is for Israel a celebration of statehood known as Independence Day. But the actual commemoration dates differ slightly, since Israel’s celebration changes each year based on the Hebrew calendar.

Rana Abdulla said it meant a lot to her to see so many people show up to mark Nakba Day in Winnipeg this year.

“I was very proud to see all this crowd coming here and showing solidarity for Palestine,” she said.

“We just want the world to know that we have a just cause — that we stand together in solidarity for justice and that we just need equality.”

Akram Sharaka, who was also at the Winnipeg rally, said there needs to be justice in the recent killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. 

Abu Akleh was shot while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. She had covered Palestinian affairs and the Middle East for more than two decades.

Palestinian authorities described her killing as an assassination by Israeli forces. While Israel’s government initially suggested Palestinian gunfire might have been to blame for the death, officials also said they could not rule out it being Israeli gunfire that killed the journalist.

On Friday, Israeli police officers charged at Palestinian mourners carrying Abu Akleh’s casket, before thousands led her coffin through Jerusalem’s Old City in an outpouring of grief and anger over her killing.

“The whole world saw that, and we ask for justice,” Sharaka said. “We like to live in peace, but this occupation won’t let us do that.”

Noor Hasanin said she hopes her family will be able to return to their homeland one day.

“Our land is very important to us. It was stolen. And we were hoping that in our generation, my kids’ generation or my grandkids’ generation, to bring it back and go back there,” she said.

“Our message is just simply, we want to live peacefully on our land and go back to it.”

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