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Canadian security forum honors 'the people of Israel' following the deadly Hamas attack

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) — A Canadian security forum on Saturday presented an award to the people of Israel for 75 years of democracy, following the Hamas incursion into the country that left some 1,200 people dead and 240 abducted.

The Halifax International Security Forum presents the award annually in honor of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018, to “individuals from any country who have demonstrated uncommon leadership in the pursuit of human justice.”

The forum attracts military officials, United States senators, diplomats and scholars.

“On the 75th anniversary of Israel’s creation, and in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack that resulted in the greatest loss of life to the Jewish people since the Holocaust, it is fitting to present an award that bears Senator McCain’s name to: The People of Israel,” the statement read.

McCain was a regular at the forum and his wife, Cindy, was present this year and sat in the front row.

Peter Van Praagh, President of the Halifax International Security Forum, presented the award to Lital Leshem, a representative of Brothers in Arms. The group started as a protest movement of military veterans who opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, but transformed itself into the largest nongovernmental aid agency in Israel to help those affected by the latest Israel-Hamas war.

It now organizes volunteer activities to assist victims and families who were evacuated from border communities. It provides counseling and transportation and arranges volunteers to work on farms where the former workers either fled or were killed or kidnapped.

Leshem said she was honored to accept the award on behalf of the people of Israel.

The conflict erupted on Oct. 7 when militants in Gaza crossed into Israel and killed at least 1,200 people and kidnapped 240 others. Israel launched a war that has claimed over 11,000 lives in Gaza, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory, who do not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

“After the horrendous attack on Israel, we put politics aside and immediately came to the aid of our fellow citizens,” Eyal Naveh, a representative from Brothers in Arms, said in a statement. “Democracy is fragile. It requires constant vigilance and attention. We are a team of action so when the people of Israel needed us the most, we answered the call.”

Past winners of the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service have included the people of Hong Kong for their “fight for their rights in the face of oppression from the government of China” and the people of Lesbos, Greece, "for their valiant actions to rescue refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East.”

Leaders from democratic nations — including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak — participated in a discussion on Saturday on global security. This year, the three-day forum is largely focused on the Ukraine war, but the fighting between Israel and Hamas is also a major talking point.