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What Happened on March 4th?

Defne Aliefendioglu

Managing Editor

Out of respect for the privacy and security of the individuals interviewed for this article, all participants have chosen to remain anonymous.

On February 26, StartUp Nation announced an event called “The Israeli Perspective Coming to Life” that would occur on March 4th, at Concordia University. They announced that the event would feature three Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers as speakers: Nir Yosef, Ori Itzhaki, and Aby Volcovich. Two of these speakers, Ori Itzhaki and Aby Volocvich, have served in the IDF and partook in the ongoing genocide. Nir Yosef is a reservist for the Israeli army and has a platform called “The Israeli Response,” where he actively denies the occurrence of the Nakba. Almost immediately after the announcement, students of Concordia University started sending mass emails announcing their concern over the event, and over the speakers that would be present, to the administration. Later on, a video of one of the speakers, Aby Volcovich, started going around. In the video, he stated: “These [Palestinian] children are terrorists, part of terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, and this operation was specifically targeted - pinpoint targeted - to target these individuals who have committed terror attacks or are planning to commit terror attacks, and it’s ridiculous that we’re being criticized for really trying to pinpoint this imminent threat to Israeli civilians. It’s Israeli Defense Forces for a reason.” 

On March 1st, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia and StartUp Nation posted on their Instagrams announcing the event's cancellation. However, StartUp Nation later revealed that they would still be holding the event off campus, the location only being revealed to those who registered for the event. 

On March 4th, SPHR Concordia, SPHR McGill, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Concordia, IJV Montreal, Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), and Montreal4Palestine organized a “Shut it Down” for the event. They were able to obtain the location of where the event would be held an hour before it started. 

“It is important to point out that the protest did not take place in the Holocaust Museum. There's the Federation Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) which is a large building. Within it, there is the Gelber Conference Center and that's where the event took place. It is in the building where the Holocaust Museum is so there was some confusion about that,” said an organizer of IVJ Concordia.

“That was also very important to us as a Jewish group and as Jewish students. It also felt like an affront as well. To our ancestors, those who survived, and those who did not survive genocide, to then have people who are actively participating in a genocide be near such a sacred space.”

During the protest, members of IVJ were observed displaying signs featuring slogans such as "Not in Our Name" and "Jews Against Genocide." Subsequently, they received comments, characterizing them as "self-hating Jews."

“One of our members was holding a sign that said ‘Not in Our Name’ and somebody punched her sign. But in my experience, people who are Palestinian and Arab were facing more hatred and racism compared to us,” stated the organizer. 

The police created a line between the opposing sides to maintain separation and to prevent any potential harassment or altercations. 

“I found that they [the police] didn’t fulfill their responsibilities and they didn’t stop people from coming over,” said the 23-year-old. “Our job was to stop this event from happening. We didn’t want to engage or start a fight with people. We weren't trying to go over there. People kept trying to come to us and that’s what the police said they were going to prevent and they didn't do that. When something happened, instead of stopping the person who had crossed over to our side, they pepper-sprayed our crowd of people. Not the people who had crossed over.”

An organizer affiliated with PYM, who served as security during the event, also highlighted the police's passive stance throughout the event. “The cops saw a bunch of people come to our side and spit on us, humiliate us, curse at us, put cameras in our faces, hit us if they wanted to, and get aggressive, and did absolutely nothing. I was hit multiple times and all you can do at that moment is to stay still because the second you try to defend yourself, you're gonna be the one getting arrested, and we saw that later on.” 

Later on in the night, during the main speeches and chants led by one of the organizers, an individual snuck into the crowd of protestors and attempted to seize his keffiyeh - which was wrapped around his throat - resulting in the speaker being choked. “He [the speaker] pushed him off. When he did that, the aggressor just went all crazy and started hitting and punching everyone,” said the PYM organizer. “I didn't understand what was happening. We were kind of all shocked by the situation.  I tried escorting him out before the cops came because I knew that they would target everyone but the aggressor, which is what ended up happening. Another organizer, who was working as security, saw what was happening and came over to help me escort the guy out but he slipped away. All of a sudden, I remember the speaker, who had just gotten assaulted, and his friend, who was also an organizer, ran after him. It all happened in a split second, but I think his keffiyeh was taken. I just remember that they were fighting over something. While this was happening, that's when the cops intervened,” she said. “I tried to push people back because people were all hyped up. While we were trying to de-escalate the situation, the police came over and sprayed us. He didn't even spray the aggressor.”

The PYM organizer revealed that she was among the individuals who endured the worst effects of the pepper spray, primarily because the police officer discharged it directly in front of her. “I basically had to fight through the pain. A friend of mine, who was also doing security, had asthma and she just couldn't see. She was on the ground and didn't have her inhaler, so I had to help her to breathe again.”

Another protestor, who happened to be the organizer's cousin, experienced impaired vision for approximately 30 to 40 minutes after being sprayed. Additionally, a separate demonstrator had such severe effects that she had to be driven home as she could barely open her eyes.

A video that was posted by StartUp Nation on their Instagram on March 5th showed Zionists cheering and clapping as the police pepper sprayed the crowd and tackled the individuals involved. While the aggressor was detained briefly and subsequently released, the two organizers were detained for a significantly longer period.

“When our people got detained, they refused to tell us what happened to them. They refused to tell us where they were and they refused to tell us which station they were taken to.” In response, the demonstrators announced that they would not leave the site until they were given information about where the detained individuals were, or until they were released. Consequently, due to the persistence of the protestors, the organizers were eventually released. 

“The cops were a lot more aggressive against us, the Zionists had free range of just yelling at us, mocking us on the other side. The cops would still allow them to come to us but they just wouldn’t allow them to form a mob.”

Videos of the harassment and the mockery of Islam were shared by protestors on social media platforms, primarily Instagram. Notably, a video that was shared by SPHR Concordia, IJV Concordia, Montreal4Palestine, and PYM Montreal captured being subjected to derogatory remarks such as "Mohammed is a pimp," "Mohammed is a child molester," and accusations labeling them as "a bunch of terrorists." Additionally, a video of people chanting “IDF” can also be seen. Later, another video emerged featuring a woman stating: "We are gonna kill all your kids [...] Go back to Palestine, go! Go live back there. Go help them. You’re not Canadian you pieces of shit," which circulated widely across social media platforms.

A 20-year-old Political Science student at Concordia stated: “My job that night was to record. I have a video of a guy saying ‘You’re lucky the police is here. We’ll demolish you next time. You’re in our neighborhood. We’ll eat you alive,’ I looked at the cops when he said that, and nothing was done.” This recording can also be seen in the video that was posted by the stated organizations. 

“When the altercations started,” the student said, “all I was trying to do was film, and a cop slammed my arm, making me drop my phone, and shoved me into the door of a car. It was very aggressive. I fell on the ground and the next thing I knew there was a pepper spray out and everyone in my direction was being pepper sprayed.”

Furthermore, before the event occurred, a hit-and-run happened as a group of protestors were making their way to the location. This is what the PYM organizer had to say about what happened: 

“At around 5:30, our group met at the Villa-Maria metro station. We were waiting there until the location of the event was announced. When the location was disclosed, we took the metro to Saint Catherine. Originally, we were all supposed to wait at that metro station and march together, but there was a bit of a miscommunication and people had already started marching. So our group was one of the last batch to head to the protest, I think we were around 15 people. While we were marching, we formed a line. There was the head, the middle, and the back. I was in between the back and the middle part of the line. A few cars honked and yelled at us, but then they just left. But, this one guy kept coming up to us with his car and harassing our group. He started harassing the front of the line first. He would drive really slowly and try to get close to the people in the front as they tried to cross the street and he would bump into them. Then he just left, but it was a two-way street, so while we were walking, he came back and wanted to redo it - to harass us and yell at us. One of my friends started yelling at him and essentially telling him to ‘fuck off.’ That’s when he got really mad and he sped towards the back of the line and hit someone. At first, he wanted to do the same thing as bumping into us, and then he just backed up and sped and hit the guy. He hit him multiple times. It was an SUV, so it was a big car. The first time, the guy was able to dodge it, but the driver hit his legs. He fell on the ground and that’s when the driver hit him again. We all ran to him. The guy was in extreme pain and he couldn't move. We called the ambulance and they took time to come, as well as the cops, which is ironic because there were many cops around. My friend and I were responsible for the group that we were in and we knew that we had to take the group to the rally before things escalated and that people needed to calm down. So we made sure a lot of people continued to go to the rally, especially since many were security as well. Therefore they needed to go there and we would stay here and take care of this situation. I stayed there for 10 to 15 minutes and the cops had still not shown up. At this point, I had to leave to head to the rally. I would say that the police didn't come for another 5 to 10 more minutes. ”

A second-year Law, Society and Justice student at Dawson College stated: “This was the first time that I was scared for my life. We knew that the police would not do anything. The police would not even intervene if the other side got violent.”

“The hit and run wasn't even in the news,” she continued. “That’s a big event in Montreal and it wasn’t done by an accident either. It was both politically and racially motivated.” 

The student emphasized that the safety of Pro-Palestinian and Muslim individuals is at risk, a concern underscored by the police's lack of intervention in response to their harassment on March 4th. "I can't wear the Kuffiyeh in the metro, and when I do, I can't stand near the rails. And I can't wear it in the streets because I don't know if someone is going to come speeding at me." The incidents of that evening received minimal media and news coverage, and none of the harassers were held accountable. "By not addressing this event in the media, you tacitly endorse this hostile behavior," she concluded. 

Finally, the IVJ Concordia organizer stated: “Part of IJV’s beliefs is that Zionism and Judaism you can not conflate. That was part of our initial statement after finding out that this event would be happening. We knew we were going to protest and that they [StartUp Nation] knew we were going to protest, so it was held in the vicinity of someplace so sacred as the Holocaust Museum. We knew that the response to this protest would be that we were targeting Jewish institutions and that this was antisemitic, which is not true. It is not about the physical space; it was about this exact event. It is very important to keep these things clear.” 



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