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‘A humanitarian world crisis’: Toronto rally marks hostages’ 100 days in Gaza

Having kidnapped relatives is like watching a horror film that’s happening to you, said Maayan Shavit, whose cousin has been held hostage since Oct. 7.

Avi Attali and his son, Dean Attali, helped organize a rally in Toronto, Canada, to advocate for the release of hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 and taken by Hamas terrorists to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024, Photo by Dave Gordon.
Avi Attali and his son, Dean Attali, helped organize a rally in Toronto, Canada, to advocate for the release of hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 and taken by Hamas terrorists to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024, Photo by Dave Gordon.

As Maayan Shavit sees it, there is no “making a deal” with Hamas terrorists.

“A deal is something you do with an object, but human life is not a bargaining chip,” Shavit told as many as 1,000 people, who braved temperatures hovering in the teens to attend a rally near Toronto City Hall on Sunday marking the 100th day that 136 people remain captive in the Gaza Strip, held by Hamas.

“This is a humanitarian world crisis—not an Israeli one,” added Shavit, whose cousin Carmel Gat is a hostage in Gaza. When she noted that “the so-called humanitarian agencies haven’t visited the hostages,” the crowd cried out “Shame!”

Another of Shavit’s cousins, Yarden, was released in December. Having a relative in Hamas captivity is like watching a horror film. “But it’s happening to me,” she told the crowd.

“When one of us is held hostage, we are all held hostage. When one of our businesses is attacked, we are all attacked,” Postmedia columnist Warren Kinsella told attendees.

Kinsella, who is not Jewish and who is a vocal supporter of Israel, accused Canadian leaders of being silent on Jew-hatred. They “refuse to acknowledge what is happening. When they refuse to confront the hate, that is seemingly everywhere these days, they fail. They fail our children and our future,” he said.

“We have an obligation to protect each other and care for each other,” he added. “We have an obligation to seek justice for each other.” He added that Hamas “monsters” must be eliminated.

“There can be no discussion of ceasefires until that is done,” he said. “In these dangerous and dark times, we must stand together. God keep and protect the hostages and bring them home now.”

Toronto Canada Rally to Release Hostages
Michael Litvack and his wife, Efrat Litvack, cousins of Romi Gonen, who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 and taken to the Gaza Strip, at a rally in Toronto, Canada, on Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by Dave Gordon.

‘Each day is incomprehensible’

The rally was organized by Avi Attali and his son, Dean Attali; Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an Israeli group representing relatives of the captives; and the advocacy group Canadians for Israel.

Hostages are being held in “Hamas hell—tunnels, cages, with medical conditions unknown,” Avi Attali said. “One hundred days. Each day is incomprehensible.”

Toronto Canada Rally to Release Hostages 2 (cropped)
Maayan Shavit, the cousin of Carmel Gat, who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 and taken to the Gaza Strip, at a rally in Toronto, Canada, on Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by Dave Gordon.

The rally aimed “to be the voice of the hundreds of kidnapped that cannot talk for themselves and to insist on their immediate release,” Attali told JNS.

“The speeches of support and solidarity offered us as a community some measure of hope,” he added.

Marco Mendicino, a Liberal member of Canada’s parliament and a former national public safety minister, and Laura Smith, a Progressive Conservative provincial parliamentarian, also addressed attendees, as did Iranian prison survivor and activist Salman Sima and family members of hostages.

Kinsella, the columnist, told JNS that he believes rallies and media attention are an important part of advocacy.

“The message does get heard,” he said, citing positive responses he receives for his pro-Israel articles. “For people to come out when it’s sub-zero temperatures like this, it’s pretty impressive.”

Mendicino, who represents a Toronto area, told the audience that “for all of us, time moves on. But for the hostages, it is still Oct. 7.”

The politician recently traveled to Israel to see attacked Jewish communities to “bear witness of the atrocities of Hamas,” he said.

He and fellow parliamentarians in the delegation “grieved with the families of victims and hostages, and we know the pain is palpable.” He was struck particularly by the “vile, depraved, unspeakable violence against women and children.”

Mendicino is using his visit to Israel “to motivate all of the actions,” including demanding the immediate release of hostages and condemning antisemitism, he told JNS.

Toronto Canada Rally to Release Hostages
Progressive Conservative parliamentarians of Ontario Laura Smith (left) and Robin Martin at a rally in Toronto, Canada, at a rally to advocate for the release of hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 and taken by Hamas terrorists to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024, Photo by Dave Gordon.

Denying Canadian values

Smith, who also represents an area in Thornhill, a Toronto suburb, said that 20 nationalities and five religions were represented among the hostages, and as a mother, she was particularly affected by the young daughters taken by Hamas terrorists.

“What kind of torture are they going through day to day? Are they losing hope?” she said. “The only thing that would be worse would be those who deny these heinous atrocities took place. To deny these hostages is to deny Canadian values.”

“You give a voice to the voiceless,” she told the crowd.

Sima, an Iranian Muslim and public speaker, told the audience that the issue is personal to him.

The math teacher, who fled to Canada from Iran in 2011, said he could relate to the hostages; when he was a student, he was convicted of phony charges in the Islamic Republic and jailed as a political prisoner.

Arrested three times, Sima served a year and a half in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. “Do you think the International Court of Justice or the international humanitarian agencies care about the Iranian prisoners? No,” he told attendees.

Toronto Canada Rally to Release Hostages
Salman Sima, who was imprisoned in Iran as a student, at a rally in Toronto, Canada, to advocate for the release of hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 and taken by Hamas terrorists to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024, Photo by Dave Gordon.

“We share the same enemies,” he said, of his native Iran. “You should not fear to defend Israel. You do not need to be a Jew; you just need to be human. We need to hold Hamas accountable for what they have done.”

Sima told JNS that he expects Mendicino, who was one of just a few voices in his party to speak out against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s support of a ceasefire, to take bolder steps to defend Israel publicly.

“Marco Mendicino, now that you’ve criticized the Liberals for their position, it’s time to do more,” he said.

Toronto Canada Rally to Release Hostages
As many as 1,000 people attended a rally in Toronto, Canada, to advocate for the release of hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 and taken by Hamas terrorists to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024, Photo by Dave Gordon. Photo by Dave Gordon.
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