‘Palestine is not for sale:’ Israeli event promoting West Bank property draws critics

'Palestine is not for sale:' Israeli event promoting West Bank property draws critics
A general view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Some Palestinian Canadians say they are deeply concerned a touring Israeli real estate exhibition that appears to promote land in the occupied West Bank is scheduled to make its second stop in Canada near Toronto on Thursday, after earlier events drew protests.

When Ghada Sasa found out that a touring Israeli real estate exhibition making stops in Canada was promoting land in the occupied West Bank she broke down and cried.

Sasa, a Palestinian Canadian, is among those protesting the Great Israeli Real Estate Event set to take place at a synagogue in the community of Thornhill, north of Toronto, on Thursday.

Crowds of protesters lined the road outside a synagogue hosting the event Thursday afternoon, with people waving Israeli flags on one side of street while people hoisting Palestinians flags lined the opposite sidewalk.

An online brochure for the event says speakers will address questions about purchasing real estate in several locations. The list includes Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa. It also includes Neve Daniel, Efrat and Ma’ale Adumim, which are all communities in the West Bank, a territory Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and has occupied since.

The international community overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.

Canada views settlements as “a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” and “strongly opposes illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank,” Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock said.

Sasa, speaking at a similar protest on Sunday, said that when she “heard about the events, I just broke down and started crying because what’s happening is just unbelievable and horrific. They’re here to steal Palestinian land right under our nose.”

“How dare they sell this land in Canada. It’s disgusting,” added Sasa, a PhD candidate at McMaster University, who said her grandfather was forced from his home during the war that surrounded Israel’s creation in 1948, which Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe.

More than 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank, alongside about three million Palestinians. Consecutive Israeli governments have expanded settlements but construction of homes for Jews in the West Bank has accelerated under the current right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last month, the United States and Britain’s government imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of committing abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank. Canada has said it is considering a similar move.

Sasa said she tried to register for Sunday’s real estate event but was denied entry.

“Even if I tried to walk in and tried to buy land back, I actually can’t,” she said.

Thornhill is the final Canadian stop for the Great Israeli Real Estate Event before it heads to the U.S. for stops in New York and New Jersey. There was an exhibition in Montreal on Tuesday.

A Canadian Press reporter who registered for the Thursday event was told by a security guard outside the venue that media would not allowed in.

Sasa said a lawyer who is part of a team of people organizing pro-Palestinian protests across Toronto is working on a request for an injunction that would prevent events that promote or sell land in settlements from taking place in Canada.

On Sunday, while Sasa and other protesters were outside the synagogue chanting “Palestine is not for sale,” Natalia Birnbaum, a Toronto-based realtor, was inside answering inquiries about investment opportunities.

Birnbaum said she was asked to bring her clients to the synagogue by a broker with the Israeli-based realty, Home in Israel, one of several groups also listed as a vendor for Thursday’s event in Thornhill.

Birnbaum said in a phone interview on Tuesday that more real estate events have been taking place across North America due to rising interest in Israeli properties following Oct. 7, when Hamas launched incursions in southern Israel that killed roughly 1,200 Israelis and touched off a war that has now raged for nearly five months.

“Maintaining a strong connection to the land of Israel is very fundamental to our religious beliefs,” she said.

Birnbaum said about 100 people attended Sunday’s event and many clients she spoke to also expressed interest in moving to Israel to escape rising antisemitism across Canada.

“They’re really fearing the antisemitism and they’re thinking, “OK, maybe it’s time we move, maybe we want to go to Israel,” she said.

Birnbaum told The Canadian Press that her firm did not promote properties in the West Bank at the Sunday event.

Home in Israel was not immediately available to comment on the exhibition.

Reem Chahrour, who said she would be attending Thursday’s protest, noted these types of events have been happening in Canada for decades but they feel particularly “horrifying” amid the brutal Israel-Hamas war.

“I was born and raised in a family with the generational trauma of being exiled from our land so this isn’t a surprise,” she said while at Sunday’s protest.

“However there’s an active unaliving of people, of children, of women, of men, of innocent people (in the Gaza Strip) living under Israeli occupation. It’s honestly disrespectful. These events are horrific. Wait for the body to go cold.”

By Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024. 

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