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Arrests made at protest outside Toronto-area synagogue hosting event marketing occupied West Bank land

Pro-Palestinian protesters wave flags facing a pro-Israel demonstration in front of a synagogue hosting
Pro-Palestinian protesters wave flags facing a pro-Israel demonstration in front of a synagogue hosting

UPDATE: This story has developed since it was first published. York Regional Police say three people have been arrested and charged following Thursday's demonstrations.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinan protesters and counter-protesters demonstrated for hours outside a Toronto-area synagogue hosting a real estate event that marketed property in the occupied West Bank on Thursday.

Realtors and companies participating in the session, called the great Israeli Real Estate Event, gathered at the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto in Thornhill, Ont., on Thursday — part of a group of broader tours taking place in five North American cities.

York Regional Police confirmed arrests were made at the demonstration near Clark Avenue West and York Hill Boulevard, but by Thursday night, they had not provided details as to who has been arrested or if any charges have been laid.

The website for the event markets it as: "Your chance to own a piece of the Holy Land!"

Along with other cities in Israel, the website says customers can inquire about purchasing property in Ma'ale Adumim, Efrat and Neve Daniel — all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to the United Nations. Modiin is also listed on the real estate show's website, and while some parts are considered Israeli settlements, not all of it is. The website does not specify where in Modiin advertised property is located.

The UN, alongside Canada, considers Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be in violation of international law.

A website shows the dates included in the great "Israeli Real Estate Event" that pro-Palestinian supporters say will feature property part of the occupied West Bank.
A website shows the dates included in the great "Israeli Real Estate Event" that pro-Palestinian supporters say will feature property part of the occupied West Bank.

A website shows the areas featured at the great "Israeli Real Estate Event" include parts of the occupied West Bank. (Realestateisrael.org)

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto said while the majority of land for sale is in "Israel proper," there was a chance land outside of that will be shown to participants.

"All that's going on is an informational evening, no property is exchanging hands," Korobkin told CBC Toronto, adding real estate events like Thursday's have been taking place within the community for years.

"If the state of Canada wants to bring any kind of legal action about that, they're free to do so."

Earlier this week, Korobkin said he didn't think purchasing property in the West Bank violates international law, and if it does, people can consult public officials or pursue legal action instead of protesting outside of synagogues.

CBC Toronto has reached out to listed sponsors of Thursday's show, including IMP International, Emanuel Group, The Jewish Press, the Israeli American Council, and Your Home in Israel, for comment.

Settlements 'serious obstacle' to peace: Canada

Ahead of the event, the Canadian government reiterated that it does not recognize "permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967, and strongly opposes illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.

"The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace," Global Affairs Canada spokesperson John Babcock said in a statement, adding Canada "strongly condemns" extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the area.

"Canada is also gravely concerned by reports of Palestinian communities being forcibly removed from their lands in the West Bank."

Asked if events promoting the sale of the land in the West Bank are allowed in Canada or if there are any legal implications for Canadians who purchase property in those settlements, Babcock said on Monday that Global Affairs Canada is "not in a position to comment on the notional implications for Canadian citizens who purchase land in other countries."

A protester is seen with a police officer at a demonstration outside of a Thornhill, Ont. synagogue on Thursday hosting "the great Israeli Real Estate Event," on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
A protester is seen with a police officer at a demonstration outside of a Thornhill, Ont. synagogue on Thursday hosting "the great Israeli Real Estate Event," on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

A protester is seen with a police officer at a demonstration outside of a Thornhill, Ont. synagogue on Thursday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Local politicians, including Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca, Coun. Gila Martow, MPP Laura Smith and MP Melissa Lantsman penned a joint statement Wednesday, calling it "unacceptable that a place of worship" be targeted by protesters, saying they are "committed to doing what we can to ensure that places of worship do not continue to be targeted in this manner."

The statement from the group did not address the legality of the event. CBC Toronto has reached out to their offices for additional comment. The City of Vaughan, when asked to comment on the event, referred to the joint statement.

York Regional Police were present during a protest outside of the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto synagogue on Thursday for a protest against a real estate event marketing property in the occupied West Bank.
York Regional Police were present during a protest outside of the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto synagogue on Thursday for a protest against a real estate event marketing property in the occupied West Bank.

York Regional Police and Toronto Police were present outside of the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto synagogue on Thursday for a protest against a real estate event marketing property in the occupied West Bank. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Protesters clash

Farah Mater, a demonstrator at the event with group Toronto 4 Palestine, said people organized outside of the synagogue to protest the "illegal sales of stolen Palestinian land to further illegal Israeli settlements."

"We stand as Muslims, Jews and Christians to make sure that our places of worship [aren't] used as cover to advance any illegal activities and international law violations," said Mater.

"Our government's allowing for this to take place, they aid in further displacing Palestinians."

Mohammed William, with the Palestinian Youth Movement, agreed. He called on Canada to "end its complicity" by "cutting ties with the Israeli government, placing sanctions, placing an arms embargo and condemning the occupation of Palestinian land."

Farah Mateh with Toronto 4 Palestine and Mohammed William with Palestinian Youth Movement say they're protesting a real estate event at a Thornhill, Ont. synagogue for featuring properties for sale in the West Bank.
Farah Mateh with Toronto 4 Palestine and Mohammed William with Palestinian Youth Movement say they're protesting a real estate event at a Thornhill, Ont. synagogue for featuring properties for sale in the West Bank.

Farah Mateh with Toronto 4 Palestine and Mohammed William with Palestinian Youth Movement say they're protesting a real estate event at a Thornhill, Ont., synagogue for featuring properties for sale in the West Bank. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC News)

Gur Tsabar, from Jews Say No to Genocide, said their group gathered to protest the use of synagogues to "cover" for the sale of "stolen Palestinian lands."

"It's an illegitimate use of synagogues and we're here to protest it because it's not the Judaism that represents us," he said.

Ahead of the demonstration, the synagogue sent a call-out to members of the congregation that spread like "wildfire" in the larger Jewish community to counter-protest pro-Palestinian demonstrators, according to Korobkin, who said he feels protesters targeted the synagogue for reasons beyond the real estate event.

Their counter protest was meant to "show that we will not be intimidated or cowed out into silence or submission," said Korobkin.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs characterized Thursday's protest as "hateful," saying the motive of such demonstrations is "to target and intimidate the Jewish community."

In a statement, the organization called for "bubble legislation" to guarantee safe access to places of worship and community centres, among other sites.

Pro-Israel protesters shout during a demonstration in front of a synagogue hosting "the Great Israeli Real Estate Event," in Thornhill, Ont., Thursday, March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Pro-Israel protesters shout during a demonstration in front of a synagogue hosting "the Great Israeli Real Estate Event," in Thornhill, Ont., Thursday, March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Pro-Israel protesters shout during the demonstration on Thursday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The protest is the second to be held in Toronto in the last week over concerns of the sale of occupied land. On Sunday, dozens of people gathered near the Aish Hatorah synagogue in Thornhill, Ont., to protest an event that organizers say was aimed at helping people in the Toronto area buy property in Israel.

One real estate agent involved in that event said it was "absolutely, 100 per cent false" that property located on "disputed" land was promoted during the event.

A man who allegedly shot a nail gun toward at least one pro-Palestinian demonstrator and shouted obscenities at others was arrested and charged. In an update on Friday, York police said they believe hate was a "motivating factor" in this incident. If convicted, they said "hate-motivated aggravating factors" will be considered at sentencing.

The great Israeli Real Estate Event also held a show in Montreal on Tuesday, which was met by a demonstration and counter-protest the following evening. In response, a Quebec court temporarily prohibited protests near several Jewish institutions near the synagogue the venue was hosted at.

The real estate events have been held amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, which killed some 1,200 Israelis, including Canadians. Palestinian militants are believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others.

Israel has since responded with a relentless assault that has so far killed more than 30,800 Palestinians and left 72,298 wounded, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Thursday. Hamas is also demanding the release of a large number of prisoners, including top militants serving life sentences, in exchange for the remaining hostages.

Late last month, The Associated Press reported that Israel plans to build more than 3,300 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "disappointed" to hear of the announcement, calling them "counter-productive" to achieving peace.