“Israel is a terrorist state that committed an act of piracy that killed nine innocent people on a ship in international waters. And we’re here today to say to the Harper government: Stop your uncritical support of Israel, no matter what they do.”

Rafeef Ziadah stood on the back of a pickup truck across the street from the Israeli Consulate addressing a crowd of over 1,000 protesters.

“It’s completely lunatic and pathetic to say that Israel should investigate itself,” she said. “That’s just hypocrisy and we won’t stand for it.”

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) organizer and third generation Palestinian refugee was speaking Saturday at global day of action called for by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions national committee (BNC).

As they gathered in Toronto, thousands more came together around the world to hold the Israelis accountable for “war crimes” committed last week against the Freedom Flotilla carrying aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Five years ago, Palestine called for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law.

“It is beautiful to see what must be over a thousand people out here today supporting that call,” said Jenny Peto, an organizer with CAIA. “We stand in a country where Stephen Harper stands beside Netanyahu as he makes excuses for war crimes.”

As protesters continued to demonstrate, new flotillas forged ahead to bring supplies and aid to Gaza. But the crew and activists aboard the MV Rachel Corrie were expected to be deported on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders and the Free Palestine movement have launched the Naji Al Ali Flotilla, which will sail with humanitarian aid from Lebanon some time next week.  

As a proud Jew, Michael Mandel said it was “very painful to join another angry protest against Israel”  before he spoke about the legalities of the attack last week on the Mavi Marmara that left nine dead and scores injured.

“We know that Israel’s war against Hamas is part of the is part of an aggression against the entire Palestinian people that has been going on for 43 years,” said Mandel who teaches Criminal Law, Advanced Criminal Law, International Criminal Law, The Law of War, Legal Politics and Modern Constitutionalism in Comparative Perspective at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

“The blockade is not about security. The whole world knows and most Israelis must know it too. It’s about occupation and settlements. What’s more it’s a crime in Canada against the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act punishable by life imprisonment to every official that sets foot in this country.”

Mandel said it’s also a crime to aid and abet war criminals, making Stephen Harper as guilty as if he had committed those crimes himself.

Since the occupation is illegal and is maintained by military force, it constitutes what Mandel called a supreme international crime of aggression, adding “an aggressor has no right to self-defense against the victims of his aggression when they resist that aggression or against people who come to their aid.”

“This is common sense,” said Mandel. “It’s the law of Canada and it’s the law on the high seas.”

On the north side of Bloor street, a small contingent with their Canadian and Israeli flags flapping in the wind carried signs that read “Long Live Israel” and “Cut Government Funding of Palestine House” and stood behind barricades in front of a wall of police officers.

Similarly, Palestinian supporters were corralled tightly behind barricades and a line of police in front of the Royal Ontario Museum.

But that didn’t stop the two sides from trading barbs with each other.

Former ITN and BBC correspondent Alan Hart, who has extensive experience as a journalist covering International affairs and Middle East politics, reminded the crowd that most people can see Israel’s attack on the flotilla as “an act of Israeli state terrorism.”

The problem, said Hart, is that the Canadian and U.S. governments won’t hold Israel accountable to international law.

“Now that won’t happen until our governments are forced to act by the pressure of informed public opinion. Demonstrations like this are part of the process of change that must happen, but there’s a much bigger challenge to all of us: We’ve got to become politically engaged to make our democracies work for justice and peace.

“If we fail to be part of the process of calling Israel to account, then Israel will take all of us to hell. Don’t let it happen.”

Click here to see photos from the rally and march.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.