Montreal needs a peace rally to unite Israeli and Palestinian communities — and all of us, really

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Montreal needs a peace rally to unite Israeli and Palestinian communities — and all of us, really
This is an open letter to Mayor Valérie Plante.Madame la Mairesse, 

I implore you to organize a peace rally in our beloved city, as soon as possible, and invite leaders of the city’s Israeli and Palestinian communities, faith leaders from its Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, and leaders from every other community wishing to show solidarity with the beleaguered innocent people caught in the crossfire of a war between a terrorist organization and an occupying military force.I have heard many politicians and pundits decry recent anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence, here in Montreal as much as across Canada, as “not representative of who we are as a society.” 

I believe this to be fundamentally true, though there are scant opportunities to show it. Politics and punditry is all too often reactive, not proactive. You find yourself going to synagogues and mosques in an attempt to allay the fears of targeted communities, all reflective of an unending cycle of violence and petty terrorism that will, if left unchecked, degenerate until we’re mourning senseless death in our own city. 

The people of Montreal need someone to show them the way forward, to show how we do things differently here, and why we succeed because of it. We need someone to set the tone, to demonstrate by example, to unite when others wish to divide, and in so doing, push the extremists far to the side.

Our city’s motto is Concordia Salus — well-being through harmony — but this is an aspiration, not our city’s natural state of being. It is a goal to be achieved on a daily basis. However much well-being and harmony we may have achieved up until this point, this ideal is still a work in progress, one requiring the constant attention of the city’s leadership. I don’t mean to add to your workload, but this is absolutely one of your responsibilities.As I write this, a temporary ceasefire has been established, and some hostages have been exchanged. Hopefully this will continue, as all reasonable people would prefer a ceasefire to continued warfare.But irrespective of what happens in Palestine and Israel in the coming days and weeks, Montreal and Montrealers have been negatively impacted. The Grey Cup win was a nice distraction, but this can’t occlude the reality that schools were shot at, a synagogue was hit with a firebomb and across the city antisemitic and Islamophobic hate incidents have all increased sharply. Appealing for calm can only go so far — it’s up to you to appeal for peace.You will be walking a new road as a Montreal mayor, but you will be in good historical company. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono recording “Give Peace a Chance” in Montreal. Photo by Roy Kerwood

Advocating for peace is quintessentially Montreal: the song “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. At the height of the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Yoko Ono chose Montreal for their historic ‘bed-in for peace’ in part because of what Montreal represented, and how it was perceived at the time: a cosmopolitan city, a shining beacon of hope and human progress. 

Twenty years ago, Montrealers of all backgrounds came together in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq, one of the largest such anti-war demonstrations not only in our city’s history, but in the entire world. More than 100,000 Montrealers marched in -30 degree weather to plead for peace. I was there — perhaps you were too. I am quite certain a number of Projet Montréal supporters were there as well, braving the icy winds, advocating for something far greater than ourselves.

An anti-Iraq war protest in 2003

And of course, we mustn’t forget it was in Montreal that the great chief Kondiaronk, through his skillful oration, convinced the delegates of New France and 39 Indigenous nations to sign the Great Peace of Montreal, ending nearly a century of bitter conflict.

Advocating for peace is part of a historical tradition in our city, so why not continue the tradition?This will not be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is. You may find some people unwilling or disinterested in joining your call for peace. Some people may take issue with advocating for a ceasefire, arguing continued violence is justifiable. So be it — they will be the minority. 

The majority of Montrealers — the vast majority — only want the carnage to end, for the hostages and political prisoners to be released, and for a ceasefire to hold. Advocating for peace is probably the safest and most politically expedient position to take. 

Particularly so if you invite the city to join you in such advocacy. Bring the people together for a common cause. Heal wounds and divisions. Set the tone.

It is not enough for us to tell the world and ourselves that we do things differently — from time to time we need to show it as well.

Now is the time, Madame la Mairesse, to show your people and the world what Concordia Salus really means. ■

Read more editorials by Taylor C. Noakes.
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