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'Your silence is complicit': Palestinians walk out on Coquitlam council

Gaza supporters spoke before Mayor Richard Stewart and councillors today, March 4, urging them to call for a ceasefire in the Israel–Palestine conflict.
Saadiya Joha (left) and Sarah Mallick, Coquitlam residents and supporters of Palestine, spoke before Coquitlam's committee of council on March 4, 2024.

Emotions ran high at Coquitlam City Hall today, March 4, as a group of Palestinian supporters chided Mayor Richard Stewart and council for failing to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza–Israel conflict.

The delegation — some of whom have been outside the municipal building every Sunday afternoon for months to call for action — walked out of the committee chambers after Stewart acknowledged their suffering, but failed to call for a ceasefire as other Lower Mainland elected bodies, like Burnaby, have.

“Your silence is complicit,” one said in disgust while others questioned council why it flew a Ukrainian flag at city hall in support of the Ukrainians who have been battling Russia since last February.

Several women broke into tears and some men pointed at elected officials, saying they wouldn’t vote for them again.

One presenter, Saadiya Joha, talked about losing relatives in the Gaza Strip since the conflict started on Oct. 7, 2023; her cousin, she said, was shot in the back and died as he was trying to find food for his family.

“Put yourself in our shoes,” Joha pleaded with council, which sat silent before each presenter walked out of the room.

Speaking quietly, Mayor Stewart urged the delegation to reach the federal authorities to make change. “We don’t have the jurisdiction on these things,” he responded, adding later, “I really wish we had the power.”

Gaza officials said the number of Palestinians killed in the conflict has surpassed 30,000.

Last Thursday, Feb. 29, they reported Israeli forces shot dead about 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery. In response, Israel blamed the deaths on the crowds around the aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.

After the meeting, Coquitlam RCMP told the Tri-City News that the detachment is aware of the Palestinian rallies outside Coquitlam City Hall each Sunday at 3 p.m.; there has been no enforcement to date.

Israeli festivities

Meanwhile, as the conflict rages, the Tri-Cities Chabad is scheduled to host Siyum Sefer Torah on March 10.

The local event marks the completion of a Sefer Torah, a sacred Jewish scripture that's been in progress for a year.

"The completion of a Sefer Torah is a monumental occasion in the Jewish tradition,” Rabbi Mottel Gurevitz said in a news release sent to the Tri-City News.

“It represents the unity of our community, the passing on of our heritage to future generations and the commitment to our shared values. It is a symbol of strength, resilience and continuity."