A social media post from Edmonton’s mayor about the ongoing violence in the Middle East this weekend has drawn sharp criticism as well as support.
“When events unfold across the globe, they can have a deep impact on people who live in our city,” Amarjeet Sohi posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “The attacks taking place in Israel and Gaza targeting innocent civilians are horrific.
“I know that many Edmontonians have friends and family in these areas, and I am extending my support and empathy to them. We stand with you and share in your hope for a just and lasting peace in the region.”
Sohi’s post came as people around the world continue to watch in horror as violence continues to escalate in the wake of a deadly attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
After crossing into Israel on Saturday, hundreds of Hamas gunmen spent hours gunning down civilians and kidnapping others in the country, according to The Associated Press. Palestinian militants also fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
Israel has since retaliated with airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and by sealing off the territory from food, fuel and other supplies. The Associated Press reported on Monday afternoon that the death toll had risen to nearly 1,600 on both sides.
Israel, whose right-wing government includes some ministers who oppose the idea of any Palestinian statehood, is facing calls to crush Hamas’ military capability while Hamas says it is preparing for a long battle to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
Since Sohi posted his statement on social media Sunday afternoon, it has received hundreds of replies ranging from sharp criticism to outright support of his comments.
Duane Bratt, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University, said while many politicians in Canada have very clearly expressed their support for what they say is Israel’s right to respond to the attack while also condemning Hamas’ actions, some, like Sohi, “are playing a much more both sides issue.”
“I think some of it is legitimate in the sense of they’re looking at the repression of the Palestinian people for decades, going back to the 1947 war, or especially the creation of Gaza and the West Bank after the Yom Kippur War,” he told Global News on Monday.
“And even though Israeli forces have left Gaza, … it remains what Palestinians and their sympathizers call an open-air prison. They’re basically blockading. There’s a wall and a security perimeter preventing them from getting into Israel proper. They’re surrounded by the Mediterranean (Sea) on one side and the Egyptian border on the other.
“The levels of poverty, the density of the population is horrendous. So there has been ongoing sympathy for the Palestinian people for a long period of time.”
However, Bratt said, “we need to separate that from Hamas.”
“Hamas is a terror group. They’re listed as a terror group by Canada and many other countries and so Hamas didn’t come out Saturday and attack military installations and government installations in Israel — they targeted civilians and indiscriminately killed civilians.”
Bratt said he believes Sohi is “trying to balance out the legitimate concerns of Palestine versus the atrocious terrorist attacks.”
“But the problem is by playing that card they have alienated all groups,” he said.
Global News reached out to Sohi’s office on Monday to ask for an interview about the reaction to his statement on X. This article will be updated when we receive a response.
Adam Zepp, the community relations committee co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, told Global News on Monday that he found Sohi’s statement to be “unacceptable.”
“I just think for an elected official in Canada to make a statement like that, it’s disgusting,” he said. “Anything that normalizes, that whitewashes, that forms any sort of equivalence — moral or otherwise — is extremely harmful.
“It was a terrorist attack on civilians.”
The Jewish Federation of Edmonton announced it is holding a solidarity rally at Beth Israel Synagogue on Monday evening.
“We’re a community in mourning,” Zepp said, adding that since Israel is considered the homeland for Jews, many in his community feel like Hamas’ attack was “against all of us.”
On Sunday evening, a rally was held in Edmonton’s Castle Downs Park to show support for Palestinians and to call for an end to the violence.
Mousa Qasqas was at the rally and spoke to Global News as the event got underway, saying he is a spokesperson for the Palestinian community in Edmonton.
“We here condemn terrorism and any killing of innocent civilians, but Israel doesn’t do the same,” he said. “Gaza is being bombed as we speak.
“The people of Gaza can’t leave.”
Qasqas cited international humanitarian laws and said they give Palestinians the right to fight against Israel to resist occupation. The Geneva Conventions lay out the rights of those resisting occupation but also underscore that civilians should not be targets of attack.
“The problem is the occupation itself,” Qasqas said, adding he believes political leaders around the world are engaging in “selective condemnation” when it comes to violence involving Israelis and Palestinians, and that “the narrative in general has to change.”