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Hunger strike for Gaza Freedom Flotilla detainees ended

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TORONTO – The Canadian coordinator of the Gaza Freedom March and three other activists ended their 30 hour hunger strike at 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, satisfied with the media and public attention they brought to the killing of humanitarian aid activists by Israeli Defense Forces the day before.

“Many times things like this happen and it goes unseen,” said Ruch, searing under the mid-day sunshine on the sidewalk outside the Israeli Consulate on Bloor Street.

It’s still not known exactly how many peace activists were killed and injured after Israeli commandos stormed humanitarian aid and cargo ships on Sunday evening but the New York Times has confirmed that over 600 activists still remain in detention in southern Israel.

“We wanted to make sure the world could hear that over 50 countries had been attacked by Israel in this horrific act.”

Ruch said she has a “good idea” that Vancouver Island peace activist Kevin Neish was not killed or injured in the attack. Two of her colleagues have seen video of Gaza Freedom marcher Ann Wright being taken away by Israeli soldiers.

“That’s really wonderful for us,” said Ruch, her voice choked with emotion.

Between 50 and 75 people attended a vigil for the aid activists on Monday afternoon in Toronto. But last night’s rally attracted more than 700 people to the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor.

By the time they marched to Dundas Square the group had swelled to over 1,000 supporters from various activist organizations wanting to show their solidarity.

“They also showed how appalled they are with Israel acting as terrorists and murderers,” she said.

Ruch isn’t surprised that there has been no official condemnation from the Harper government despite the denouncements from other governments around the world, after they saw Israeli forces boarding aid ships in international waters - over which they have no jurisdiction -- killing and injuring innocent civilians.

“I have no expectations of Stephen Harper and I hope soon that we can see a new and better government here in Canada.”

Ruch and her companions slept in shifts on the sidewalk outside the Royal Ontario Museum on Monday evening. It was raining so they pushed up against the wall of the museum to get some cover. 

“It was a little surreal,” said Ruch. “It was like sleeping in the olive fields but then I remembered that none of my friends in the West Bank are allowed to sleep in their olive fields because picking has to be done in time to cross a gate.”

Most farmers in the West Bank have to stop work by 4 pm, forced to farm on the schedule of the Israeli soldiers.

Ruch was overwhelmed by the support of ordinary Torontonians, who offered peace signs or a thumbs up as they passed by during the evening and overnight.

“Maybe it means that we’ve turned a corner and we’re going to see peace,” she said.

As she struggled without food for more than a day, Ruch stopped to consider the abundance most of us have in North American society. In Palestine, where her hosts make sure she has everything she needs, it often means they go without.

As she drank water she thought about the situation in Gaza, where it can’t be taken for granted that water will come forth every time a tap is opened. Shortages are common, especially in the West Bank. In Gaza, the water is often contaminated, containing high levels of salt.

Even though the hunger strike is over, Ruch said the fight will continue by pressuring the Canadian government “to make a strong statement against this war criminal” rather than welcoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the country.

“I think it’s time we closed Israeli consulates and embassies in countries around the world,” she said. “It’s time that we stopped recognizing a terrorist state.”

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