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August 28, 2012

Al-Quds in Canada

The Canadian Charger

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In what will long be remembered as the largest ever Al-Quds Day rally in North American or Western Europe, some 3,000 turned out at Queens Park in Toronto, on Saturday August 18.

Al-Quds Day, commemorated on the last Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramadan and expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and opposing Zionism, as well as Israeli control of Jerusalem, was started in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, when he came to power after the Iranian revolution deposed the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran.

Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

The Al-Quds Day website, in support of the International Day of Al-Quds, invites “peace loving people to voice their opposition to the unjust and illegal occupation” of religious sites in Jerusalem.

This is in contrast to claims by various Jewish groups and Canadian Environment Minister Zionist Peter Kent, that the event is about hate speech, racism and anti-Semitism.

As a spokesman and organizer for the Al-Quds Day rally, Zafar Bangash, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) said, “We represent the true Canadian values. We are not here to spread hatred. We are here to support the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Supporters of Al-Quds Day – including Rabbis from Neturei Karta and members and speakers from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Anti-war groups - shouted ‘Shame Shame Israel”, “Zionism is racism”, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, “Long live Palestine” and “Judaism, Yes, Zionism, No”.

Meanwhile on the other side of the barrier Toronto Police erected with their bicycles, less than 100 people – mainly members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) and Iranians denouncing the current Iranian regime, protested against Al-Quds Day with shouts of “God Loves Israel” and “down with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

While considerable coverage in the Sun Media and the National Post was given to attempts by Jewish organizations, such as Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, to put pressure on the Ontario government to prevent the Al-Quds Day rally at Queen's Park, little coverage appears in the mainstream media about the issues raised by supporters of the rally and, according to rally organizer Mr. Bangash, much of what has appear has been distorted.

For example, Mr. Bangash has been widely quoted in the mainstream media as saying, at last year's Al-Quds rally: ““Allah willing, I see that day when we, the Muslims, will march on Palestine and liberate Palestine for all the people in the world.”

However, the rest of what he said: “For the Jewish people, for the Christian people and for the Muslim people, and under Islamic law they will all be living as equal citizens,” is not in the mainstream media.

While the mainstream media made much of the fact that organizers of the rally were not available for interviews to explain their positions beforehand, Mr. Bangash said they were told to come to the rally where he and other organizers would answer all their questions. And he said he did just that.

“At the rally, I spoke to Sun TV, the National Post and many TV Stations for about half an hour and not one word appeared in the Canadian media. Israeli National News covered it.  At least they didn't distort my words.”

Mr. Bangash said he told Canadian reporters that the Al-Quds rally was about three things; the terrible plight of the Palestinians under Zionist occupiers; Israeli attempts to undermine the Masjid Al-Aqsa Mosque; and the protesters' right to free speech as Canadian citizens.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque - located in the Old City of Jerusalem - is the third holiest site in Islam. On the site on which the silver domed mosque sits, along with the Dome of the Rock, also referred to as al-Haram ash-Sharif or "Noble Sanctuary," is the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, the place where the Temple is claimed to have stood.

Mr. Bangash said Israel has been digging underneath the site - on the pretext of ancient excavations - and this weakens the foundation. He said the Israeli government also claims the Western Bridge, which links the holy site to the other part of Jerusalem, has a weak structure and Israeli government officials want to replace it with a bigger, sturdier bridge.  But the current bridge is linked to the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bangash said attempts to prevent the Al-Quds Day rally are really due to concern about the increasing support the cause is getting, rather than concern about hate speech, racism or anti-Semitism.

He said he has attended Al-Quds Day rallies at Queens Park for 25 years and supporters of the rallies have never been charged with a violation of the law.

“We used to get two or three hundred people (supporters). Last year this increased dramatically to 1,200. That's why the Zionists started attempts to stop it.”

The Sun New media reported that last year’s Queen’s Park rally garnered attention, “due to Muslim journalist Zafar Bangash calling Israeli nationalists 'oppressors and criminals.' “

In rejecting attempts to ban the Al-Quds Day rally at Queens Park, Speaker of the Legislature Dave Levac said, in a statement: “These groups are exercising their right to assemble and to freedom of speech and are not subjected to censorship by the Legislative Assembly, except to ensure that Canadian law and our guidelines are observed.”

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