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Protesters gather at Ottawa City Hall after Israeli flag raised to mark country's national day

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Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups spent the day at Ottawa City Hall Tuesday after the flag of Israel was raised to mark Israel's Independence Day, known as Yom Ha'atzmaut.

There was a significant police presence at City Hall, including uniformed officers on foot and security barriers in front of the main doors on Laurier Avenue.

A registation-only event to celebrate the occasion Tuesday afternoon was met by people shouting and waving Palestinian flags behind metal fences.

The Israeli flag flies at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday to mark the country's national day. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

The Israeli flag was raised at City Hall before 6 a.m. on Tuesday. More than a dozen Ottawa police vehicles were parked around Ottawa City Hall that hour, with officers patrolling the grounds on foot.

A large crowd gathered to protest the city's decision to raise the Israel flag earlier in the day. The group Ottawa 4 Palestine says an event will be held to protest the event.

Afnan Kaid is a volunteer with the pro-Palestinian demonstration. She says they are disappointed to see the flag raised and the day marked by the city.

"I think it speaks to the double standards that we've been seeing. Unfortunately, Russia did not have its standard yearly annual flag raising because of what's happening right now in Ukraine and the fact that Israel is currently at the ICJ (International Court of Justice) being investigated for genocide."

Kaid says demonstrators were there to stand up against the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

"We're seeing everybody who's coming out to call for an end to war and an end to our complicity in war. We don't want to wait until this is an acknowledgment," said Kaid. "I'm not Palestinian. I'm a student at Saint Paul University and I am the president of the Student Association who does not want to be complicit, does not want to say that I didn't do everything in my capacity to say that we stood up and said, stop killing innocent people." 

A large crowd gathered at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday to protest the City of Ottawa's decision to raise the Israeli flag and hold a private ceremony to mark Israel's Independence Day. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

Last week, the City of Ottawa said the flag would fly at City Hall on May 14, as it has every year since 2007, but a public ceremony was cancelled because of unspecified concerns for security. The decision prompted backlash and disappointment from federal and provincial politicians and Jewish community groups.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he was also disappointed and asked the chief of police and city officials to work with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa on a plan for an event.

"Like all residents of our city, Ottawa's Jewish community deserves to gather whenever it chooses in an environment that is free from hate, violence, and racism," Sutcliffe said Friday.

There is a heightened police presence at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, including security outside the main doors on Laurier Avenue. (Josh Pringle/CTV News Ottawa)

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service said it was working with its partners to address community safety and needs.

"The OPS attends hundreds of demonstrations annually. As a standard practice, we do not disclose our assessments or measures used to determine levels of risk and recommendations," police said. "We are committed to working with our communities and partners to ensure everyone's right to a safe and peaceful environment for such events, free from hate and intolerance."

"Following concerns raised by the community, the City has worked with the Ottawa Police Service and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa in an effort to allow the ceremony to move forward," the city said in a statement.

"Based on these discussions and the resulting plans, the City has agreed to allow the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s event to take place. We are not providing details of this private event at this time."

Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a rally at Ottawa City Hall to protest the Israeli flag flying to mark the country's national day. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

Shira Waldman attended Tuesday's Israeli gathering to show her pride in her identity.

"I have mixed feelings. Truthfully, I feel proud to be a Jewish person in Canada. I feel proud to be a Zionist, which means that I'm a Jewish person who believes in our right to self-determination, which is what the Palestinians are saying that they want as well. And I don't understand where all this hate is coming from," she said.

"It's difficult because my grandparents are Holocaust survivors and we won't be bullied. We won't be erased. We're here to show our culture and our pride. There's nothing for us to be embarrassed about."

Waldman's husband Eyal Waldman says he is glad the city did raise the flag but is disappointed that the city did not do more to commemorate the day.

"Happy that the flag was raised like every other nation that has relations with Canada, 190 countries, I believe," he said. "I'm again, mixed feelings about the fact that at the end there is a ceremony, but the ceremony is hidden in the back and you have to pre-register to attend."

Waldman says he feels like their community is forced to hide. "We're happy to celebrate the 76th Independence Day but, on the other side, I'm sad to be a Jew in Ottawa. It's 2024 and we don't feel safe. We have to hide. We have to hide our identity." 

The City of Ottawa regularly raises flags of other countries at City Hall to mark national day celebrations. 

"Some states or communities ask to hold ceremonies alongside the flag raising," the city said. "These ceremonies are not City-led events, but are those of the communities whose nation is being recognized."

Pro-Palestinian groups, however, have demanded city officials not raise the Israeli flag this year because of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Palestinians observe Nakba or "Catastrophe" Day on May 15, to mark the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of Palestinian people following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The website Canada Talks Israel Palestine posted a letter it sent to Mayor Sutcliffe and councillors earlier this month, expressing "profound disappointment" with plans to hold an Israel flag raising at City Hall.

"Your decision to commemorate this day in such a manner is not only insensitive but deeply offensive to the Palestinian community and all those who stand in solidarity with them," said the letter on the website run by Peter Larson, chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine.

There have been regular protests in Ottawa about the Israel-Hamas war since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023 that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Around 250 people were also taken hostage and Israel says Hamas still holds around 100 people captive. The Israeli response since Oct. 7 has killed more than 35,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The United Nations on Monday clarified that the overall number of fatalities in Gaza tallied by the Ministry of Health in Gaza remains unchanged, at more than 35,000, since the war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, following a report that relied on the number of deceased women and children whose names and other identifying details have been fully documented, rather than the total number of women and children killed.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle and Leah Larocque

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