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Thu

17

Jan

2008

Canada Report 2007 – Part II – Canada’s Policy on Israel/Palestine
Thursday, 17 January 2008 23:39
by Jim Miles

Previously I had looked at several factors that tend to indicate that Canada’s actions with foreign policy and with domestic policy are increasingly following American policies. One of the areas that receives very little local media attention is the official policy towards the Israeli/Palestine question – seldom do the issues on Israel/Palestine surface in any of the media, and what little does generally follows the lines of Palestinian terrorists, the undemocratic Hamas takeover of Gaza, and the hardships of the Israeli population. The official Canadian policy found on the Federal Government website presents an interesting read that struggles to sound neutral and non-judgmental but taken in consideration with government actions, or more importantly, government inaction, a definite bias can be seen. What at first tries to be balanced and neutral becomes simply more rhetoric and dissimulation while maintaining the status quo of Israeli occupation and dominance.

International Law

While reading the series of statements on the Canadian government website [1] one of the significantly repeated statements is a variation on international law, either in accordance with or in violation of. A very noble sentiment, except that Canada’s stature on international law itself has been rather diminished lately. In Afghanistan, Canada has been criticized for handing over prisoners of war to the Afghan police/military, organizations accused of torture, without further supervision. While this issue has been addressed minimally with an agreement that follow up visits will be pursued to ensure the prisoners safety, the lack of information and follow up on the issue, and the lack of information coming from the government still leaves the hint of complicity in torture with the Canadian government.


The government of course will deny that, but their own internal affairs and complicity with the Americans in the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria signals that, as with the American government, a little torture is all right. It should be quite unnerving to Canadians to know that their own agencies will deliver a Canadian citizen into the hands of Americans who in turn send him to a defined terrorist state for torture.

More directly, the government website says it “recognizes Israel’s right to assure its own security, and to take proportionate measures in accordance with international law.” The only proportionate measure allowed by international law is the UN right to self-defence in the case of attack. The Israeli attack into Lebanon in 2006, in response to a border raid by Hezbollah, resulted in Stephen Harper’s disclaimer that the attack was “proportionate”, that the bombing of civilian infrastructure (against international law), the bombing of civilians (with over a thousand deaths, including a second devastating attack in Qana), carpet bombing with treacherous cluster bombs, were all a proportionate response to the death of three dead and two kidnapped border guards. As there have been ongoing border skirmishes over the years, and continual Israeli air space incursions into Lebanese territories, this response hardly seems “proportionate” by any definition.

As seen in the previous article, Canada’s recognition of international law has also diminished with the refusal to follow the signature on the Kyoto accord and the refusal to sign onto the UN Indigenous Rights Treaty. The issuance of ‘security certificates’ which align with American laws, allows detention of people suspected of being a “danger to national security” - a rather loose term that could lead to our own violation of human rights, in particular the right to representation before the law - again against international human rights standards.

Palestinian refugees

In a fine sounding rhetorically expressive section, Canada argues that the Palestinian refugee problem “should respect the rights of the refugees, in accordance with international law.” Sounds great, except that the argument says we continue “to focus international attention on the situation of the more than four million Palestinian refugees, and to promote preparations for the eventual resumption of negotiations.” This is all news to me, and as a hopefully well-informed Canadian, following most media news on a daily basis, I see absolutely no evidence of this. I hear nothing about the plight of these millions of Palestinians and how, under international law, they have the right to return to their occupied homelands. So what is Canada’s role? We are the “Gavel Holder of the multilateral Refugee Working Group…formally in abeyance since 1996.” Way to go Canada, hang on to that gavel for another dozen inactive years, great way to promote the Palestinian right of return under international law.

Occupation, settlements, the “barrier, and terrorism.

In the four related areas of occupation, settlements, terrorism and the “barrier”, international law again comes to the forefront, with great rhetoric followed by no substance. In reference to the Fourth Geneva Conventions, Canada recognizes it as applying “in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.” Well written, sounds great – but exactly what is Canada doing about it? Nothing that I can find. No speeches by Harper or any member of his caucus about the land grabs, the fake ‘military zones’, the killing of protesters, the hundreds of checkpoints that strangle the communities, separating farmers from farms and business, children from schools, families from families, everyone from whatever some IDF person feels like blocking on the spur of the moment.

These checkpoints are there to control the Palestinian population at the same time enabling the peace, security, and expansion of the many settlements in the occupied territories, again recognized by Canada – on paper at least – as being a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. The settlements are “a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.” Great, more well written rhetoric, but again absolutely useless as Canada does nothing about it other than passively – and therefore implicitly – following the Bush doctrine towards Palestine. Perhaps Stephen Harper should test his own motorcade and see if he has any trouble getting through Israeli checkpoints in order to visit Bethlehem?

The “barrier” – the wall - is recognized as legitimate by Canada if Israel builds it on its own territory, which under the lack of any kind of settled border definition also leaves the wall undefined and therefore illegitimate. Again, its current location is “contrary to international law,” and is opposed for reasons of “expropriations and demolition of houses and economic infrastructure carried out for this purpose.”[emphasis added] This implies that maybe expropriations and demolitions of houses and infrastructure are okay for other reasons, such as expanding the settlements and terrorizing and controlling the Palestinians?

Finally, it is nice to see that terrorism should be prosecuted in accordance with international law. Canada lists, among others, Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups, no doubt of which there are elements involved, mostly as a result of the asymmetrical military pressure applied to them. What Canadian government officials and Members of Parliament appear to be ignorant of is that both Hamas and Hezbollah originated from the illegal invasion and occupation of Palestine and Lebanon respectively. They also seem ignorant of the knowledge that both groups provided (and still provide) civic infrastructure when none other was available to the people. To fill out the ignorance, they do not seem to understand that both groups participated in democratic votes and succeeded well beyond American – and Canadian – acceptance of their concept of limited democracy, limited to those who agree with America. To allow democracy to arrive in Israel/Palestine, Hezbollah and Hamas need to brought into government and dealt with as a strong popular contingent of the areas population.

Obversely, nothing is ever said of Israeli terror: the daily shootings and killings of innocent Palestinians; the use of torture in Israeli prisons; the destruction of homes by bombing or bulldozers; the ongoing psychological terror of checkpoints, aerial incursions, and attacks on peaceful protesters; the proliferation of nuclear weapons outside the NPT. Bringing it back closer to home, nothing is ever said of American terrorism: the torture of prisoners in American detention centres or their rendition overseas; the murder of civilians; the destruction of civilian infrastructure; the subversive activities used to promote dissent and destruction against legally elected representative governments; the threats of force against other countries, let alone the invasion of other countries, of which there is a large listing over the past century. If Canada is against terror, it needs to be equally against Israeli and American terror, the latter being the greatest originator of terror in the world.

The website is so repetitive in its references to international law it becomes nothing but a stream of self-conscious apologetics trying to give the impression of wisdom and action.

So many words, so little action. So much rhetoric, but never anything ever said in Parliament, or the press, or any other media, against Israel’s occupation and actual violation of international law. Instead, Canada accepts the “appropriate” response Israel applied in the 2006 Hezbollah war; Canada denies the fully democratic vote that gave Hamas a majority within the Palestinian Authority elections; Canada has designated aid assistance to Abbas following the futility and Pythonesque silliness of Annapolis, but denies Hamas any validity in Gaza.

Canada says nothing in a truly open and oppositional framework that tells Israel to withdraw from its illegal occupation, to allow the return of the four million displaced Palestinians, to stop imprisoning the one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza, to remove the settlements (or better yet, turn them over to the evicted Palestinians) and eliminate the bantustan nature of Palestine, to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints that are used to terrorize the Palestinian people, to stop the military destruction of houses and farms and the military annexation of Palestinian territory. Canada, through its overwhelming silence and lack of action, remains a pawn of the United States in its relations with Israel, similarly held in thrall by the Canadian Jewish Congress, a pro-Zionist lobby group that meets a sympathetic voice within the Harper government’s right-wing fundamentalist Christian views.

Indigenous ignorance

On a web page titled “Aboriginal Planet”[2] I found an interesting twist in this whole argument. According to this government site, in an article titled “Inuit solidarity visit to Israel” twenty-three indigenous Inuit (think of the common moniker ‘Eskimo’) “arrived in Israel to show support and solidarity with the people of Israel. The visit was a huge success” and “demonstrated a strong love of and a commitment to the State of Israel based on their Christian beliefs.” Israel’s reaction was to be expected:

“The Israelis continuously repeated their appreciation of the support extended by the Inuit in these difficult days. The group received radio, television and newspaper coverage. This visit was made possible by the Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies, the Israel Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Embassy in Israel.”

On an indigenous website from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)[3], a similar program can be found:

In the largest-ever mission to Israel by a North American First Nation group, First Nation leaders from across Canada will learn how their Israeli counterparts preserve their historic languages and culture

“We share values and similar historical experiences with our First Nations friends,” said Morgan [4]. “This trip presents an exceptional challenge and opportunity to learn about what each of our communities holds most dear – our culture and our history.”

The AFN group visited

numerous sites of cultural, religious and historical significance, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. They will meet with Canada’s ambassador to Israel, Donald Sinclair, and will have the opportunity to explore kibbutz, or collective farm, life.

This is just too bizarre. Canadian indigenous groups identifying with the Israelis. I can understand some empathy there for the Jewish survival of the holocaust, but I have to fault them fully for their apparent lack of understanding for the Palestinian situation.

Canada’s aboriginal people, while not as miserably treated as their American counterparts, still suffered: from the importation of European culture and diseases; from ethnic cleansing and removal to reservations (bantustans? hostile territories?); from acculturation through the removal of their children who were forced to go to Christian schools where many, apart from the cultural and psychological abuse imposed on all, suffered physical and sexual abuse; from treaties and treaty processes that truly gave the white man a ‘forked tongue’ (Oslo? Camp David? Annapolis?) and removed them from their natural resources and denied them access to the better quality lands.

Did the AFN and the Inuit groups visit with their true counterparts, the Palestinians, who are on their own reservations, are suffering their own ethnic cleansing, who are being denied their own land and resources, whose own children are enduring psychological trauma as a result of the many deprivations and terrors of living in an occupied homeland?

That the Canadian government supports these actions is obvious. That the CJC supports them is entirely self-evident. That the First Nations peoples of Canada are ignorant of the Palestinians situation is only obvious by implication –what is not said is revealing of a great ignorance and cultural brain-washing on the part of our own indigenous populations. Instead of just visiting the kibbutz, they could have visited some of the Palestinian refugee camps, or the Gaza strip to see what a large reservation style prison really looks like. Palestinian history and culture is being eradicated, at least in the Israeli and American mind, in a manner very reminiscent of the eradication of indigenous cultures in North America.

Subnation, substandard.

Canada “aspires” to be a great nation, and truthfully that is the fault of many of its policies. Stephen Harper says he is placing Canada where it should be in the world…that unfortunately is as the American sidekick. Canada seeks “an aspirational document which would advance indigenous rights.[5]” It seeks “aspirational targets” for climate control. Unfortunately, all these aspirations are “pronounced with a breathing…a desire for[6]” something undefined, amorphous. It is neither inspirational nor functional or successful, but as with much aspiration, becomes a lot of hot air.

By following the policies of the United States, Canada’s current conservative government (although it is not solely to blame for this as their Liberal counterparts tend this way as well) Canada has reached a new substandard as a subnation, a compliant follower of most that is ‘great’ in America.

The potential is there, as it is with all nations and governments. Only by choosing multi-lateral actions, by truly supporting international law in all areas equally, by becoming a nation of trade and peace and not following the idiocy of the American war on terror, by actually leading and accomplishing something rather than all this heavy breathing about aspirations, only then can Canada establish itself as an independent voice and actor in the world.


[4] Canadian Jewish Council National President. The CJC originated from Jewish Zionist groups, although it claims to represent all Jewish groups in Canada today.

[6] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. 1976. Oxford University Press.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.
 
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