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September 12, 2002

Letter from Montreal

Below is an e-mail from a young woman who witnessed the Palestinian riot in Montreal a few days ago. I have taken her name off for her privacy.

Dear Friends and Family,

In April 2001 I sent out a letter detailing my experiences
working as a street medic at the protests in Quebec City. Today I am
sending a similar letter to you, however it is in regard to a
radically different situation.

This morning my friends and I set out to Concordia
University, in the heart of downtown Montreal, to hear Benjamin Netanyahu
(former Prime Minister of Israel) speak. Many articles were featured
in the Montreal papers leading up to today's speech, warning of
protest action. I had a good idea of what we would face as we
approached Concordia, but I could never have predicted what actually
happened once we were there.

To enter the building we had to make a giant circle around
it, to get to the supposedly "safe" entrance. We had to walk right
through a volatile protest of hundreds of Palestinians and their
supporters in keffiyehs, with flags, screaming vitriolic hate. Once
having run this gauntlet, we waited patiently outside the Bishop street
entrance, held back at the gate by security and police. After
about an hour they started admitting us inside, but it was too late
because a huge group of Palestinian 'demonstrators' had
appeared in our midst. I was fortunately right at the entrance, and as
dozens of violent protesters pushed their way to the front, I tried
to get through. Right next to me appeared the ringleader, who tried
to push his way in. The cop in front of me punched him in the
face while pulling me through the gate at the same time. I rested
against the wall and watched as at least a hundred (I think)
red-and-green coloured protesters attacked the barriers and
tried to get in. Riot cops appeared, dozens of them, and went to the
gate as I and a few others were herded into the building. There was
yelling and chanting, drumming and fighting going on outside the
doors, with hundreds of our people stuck behind the gate being abused by
hundreds of violent demonstrators. A few of us were waiting
after the metal detectors for our friends to come through, when all
of a sudden we heard loud chanting and yelling INSIDE the
building. The riot cops came storming in and up the stairs beside us, and
we began hearing fighting, crashing, yelling, punching. Chaos broke
out and riot cops made us run for the door to the auditorium - I
thought we were going to get killed, I swear. It was the scariest
feeling, because I knew that these people wanted to hurt me and anyone
who supports Israel or is Jewish.

Once inside the auditorium, we were told to be patient as
more people would drift in from the insanity outside. We waited
inside for three hours, as the commotion outside grew increasingly

We could hear chanting and yelling, and the protesters began
trashing the university building. The police tear gassed and
pepper sprayed the entire building and outside, and we began to feel
the effects if we stood too near the doors. After hours of
waiting, and bomb searches by RCMP sniffer dogs, we were informed that
Bibi Netanyahu could not speak after all - too much danger to him
and to us. This was an incredible disappointment and we were
naturally upset. We however managed to maintain a kind of composure and
instead of fighting, the 650 of us inside began to sing
Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. We sang peace
chants and then just waited to be let out, in groups of 10, escorted
by police.

The scene as we exited was disgusting. Benches were
overturned, papers and garbage streaked across the hallways, and broken
windows. We were shoved outside directly into a HUGE Palestinian
riot, where some of our people were apparently attacked. The cops
did nothing. We stood on one side of the barrier, while they
stood on the other, and we faced off. On our side, we sang and danced
and celebrated being free and Jewish. On their side, they threw
bottles at people's heads, screamed hatred, and tried to break the
barriers down to hurt us. They started tossing pennies and coins at us
- one of the oldest ways to taunt Jews by saying we're all
'money-grubbing'. While we sang Hatikvah arm in arm, they
spat at us. Finally we decided to disperse and leave them to their

Today was a sick and sorrowful day not only for the Jewish
students and community of Montreal, but for Jews everywhere, the city
of Montreal and Canada. Today a man was gagged and not allowed
to express an opinion; today hundreds of people were denied the
opportunity to listen to him speak. Today a riot broke forth
on our peaceful streets, and today no police managed to restrain

Today Montreal Jews were made to feel afraid for our lives,
and today Jewish students were threatened in our own home. If we
cannot express ourselves here in Canada, champion of free speech and
human rights, where on earth can we do so? If we cannot feel safe
in our own cities where we have grown up and thrived, where are we
to go?

I can answer my own question with what many of us already
know -Israel is our place. She is our homeland, and opens her arms
to us, willing to protect us at all costs. The Jewish people need
Israel, and she needs us.

Even so, we must voice our distaste at the violence which
occurred in Montreal today. We must all take our own individual stands
against this fascism, by which freedom of speech was denied.
What happened today in my city cannot be condoned or allowed to
repeat itself. We must act.

So I am sending you all this long letter, with my own
personal feelings and an eyewitness account. Please do what you can to
see that this message is spread to anyone you can think of - from
friends to work associates, to politicians, and from Jews to
non-Jews alike. We have a chance to fix these wrongs, but
only if we take action and don't sit back as passive observers. We
say NEVER AGAIN, but unless we protest these attacks on our
freedoms, it is fruitless to put up that chant.

Last but certainly not least, a personal lament on our
situation: today I saw raw hatred, and it cut me to the core. I have
never feared for my life as I did today. I have never feared for
our free society the way I do today. I wish beyond anything that we
can one day fix the agonizing rifts between our peoples, and erase
the hate from our and their hearts alike.

Shanah Tovah to all Jewish readers of this letter, and a
sweet year. To all non-Jewish readers: thank you for reading, and please
understand what I am expressing here. It is most important
for you to know what really happened here today, and it is vital that
you see this side of the story.