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'Palestine is not for sale': Israeli event near Toronto promoting West Bank property draws critics


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 whose grandfather was forced from his home in Ramla during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, says she will be 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.

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, as well as 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, including Canada, overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. The settlements are built on land that Palestinians seek as part of a future state, and the Canadian government says they "constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace."

"When I 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," Sasa said while protesting outside a similar event at a synagogue in Thornhill on Sunday.

"How dare they sell this land in Canada. It's disgusting," added Sasa, a PhD candidate at McMaster University.

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, adding that she and other Palestinian and Muslim Canadians would try to attend Thursday's event.

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.

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, a Palestinian Canadian who will be attending Thursday's protest, said 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."

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


This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Sasa's grandfather left his home in the West Bank during the 1948 war. In fact, he was expelled from his home in Ramla, a city in what is now Israel, during that conflict. This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Sasa's grandfather left his home in the West Bank during the 1948 war. In fact, he was expelled from his home in Ramla, a city in what is now Israel, during that conflict. Top Stories

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