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Opposition MPs in the West Bank

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September 16, 2009

Opposition MPs in the West Bank

Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs visit Palestinian evictees, call on Canada to respond

by Carmelle Wolfson

Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Association (CPFA) representatives Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Libby Davies and Richard Nadeau, with Ehab Lotayef, in the East Jersalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Photo: Kim Elliott, rabble.ca

JERUSALEM—Following a trip to Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza in August, members of parliament from Canada's three opposition parties say they are committed to pushing their parties, and the government, on Canada’s role in the region.

Responding to Israel's seige on Gaza, Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Association (CPFA) representatives Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Liberal), Libby Davies (New Democratic Party) and Richard Nadeau (Bloc Québecois) flew to the Middle East to assess the humanitarian situation.

Reached by phone after returning to Canada, Davies (Vancouver East) said the Canadian government is silent when it should join in international condemnation of Israel's human rights abuses. The pressure on the Israeli state that is coming from Canadian civil society, including the Jewish community, is “not happening at the political level,” according to Davies.

The delegation entered and exited Gaza at the Rafah crossing, except for Wrzesnewskyj, who parted ways with the group in Egypt.

Wrzesnewskyj, MP for Etobicoke Centre and founder of the CPFA, was more optimistic than Davies. (Wrzesnewskyj resigned as Liberal foreign affairs critic after coming under fire for calling on Canada to dialogue with Hezbollah during the Lebanon War.)

“One day in the not too distant future, I hope that everyone there, regardless of who they are, could have the same hopes and dreams as the children living here in Canada,” he told me after his visit.

Turning his attention to the heart of the Palestinian struggle, Wrzesnewskyj remarked that “obviously East Jerusalem is going to be key for negotiations.”

Both Palestinians and Israelis lay claim to Jerusalem as their eternal capital. But Palestinian residents of the city are being forced out of their homes by Israeli soldiers.

Fifty-three Palestinians were evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem last month. Wrzesnewskyj argued that Israel's actions present a call for President Obama to act. However Wrzesnewskyj mentioned nothing about a similar response from Ottawa.

When, on August 8, Liberal, NDP and Bloc members stepped out of the Ambassador Hotel and into the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, they glimpsed a crucial instance of what is impeding Israeli-Palestinian peace. A few minutes away, Palestinians were camping on the sidewalk after being violently evacuated from their homes by hundreds of police six days before.

Settlement companies plan to increase Jewish residence in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian refugees were given housing by Jordan and UN Relief and Works Agency in 1956. An hour after the Gawi and Hannoun families were evicted on August 2, Jewish settlers seized their houses. Israeli police and private security have since been guarding the properties.

The evictions and occupations of Palestinian homes began after Israeli courts allowed a Jewish association to claim ownership over land in Sheikh Jarrah from deeds dating back to the 1800s. But Palestinian refugees, like the Hannouns who were forced to flee their home in Haifa—now northern Israel—in the 1948 war, cannot return to homes they lost 61 years ago.

Orthodox residents talking to police in Sheikh Jarrah. Jewish settlers have been moving into homes in the neighbourhood, sometimes hours after their Palestinian residents have been evicted. Photo: Kim Elliott, rabble.ca

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Since Canada would not fund or facilitate the CPFA reps' visit to Gaza, the officials' travel was facilitated by the North American feminist and peace organization, Codepink. Strolling to the Old City to grab dinner, the delegation of three MPs and members of Codepink were confronted instead by flashing blue lights from three police cars and Israeli border police in military wear with M16’s dangling from their shoulders.

Outside the Gawis’ house stood a blue three-by-three-metre tent, and about 50 people milling about underneath.

A religious Jewish man walked by, blood dripping from his forehead. More police arrived. Palestinians said a settler attacked their relative and the police then arrested a Palestinian man.

Moving away from the scene outside the Gawis’ home, the delegation followed Charihen Hannoun, 20, to the makeshift camp outside their home.

“We need all the world to know about our situation here and to help us back into our house,” she told the delegation.

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Over the phone Davies said she will share this information with parliament. However, she says, it is “a challenge in and of itself to pressure our own government to be more proactive on upholding human rights and international law, whether it’s in Jerusalem or Gaza.”

Wrzesnewskyj believes that practically, only the US can push Israel on this issue. But there are signs the US is giving in to Israeli demands to leave East Jerusalem out of a settlement freeze.

Davies pointed out that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian question, Canada’s foreign affairs website mentions UN resolutions, international law, the Green Line and the illegality of the separation barrier. “But what they have on paper, on the website, and what they actually do are two completely different things.”

Following the evictions, the UN, US and EU condemned Israel’s actions. I asked Davies about Canada’s position. “Well, I’m not aware that Canada’s said anything, are you?”

However, according to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Rodney Moore, Canada registered its concerns directly to the Israeli government on this issue.

The delegation has not yet completed their report.

Carmelle Wolfson is an independent journalist from Toronto currently based in Israel/Palestine, and a copy editor for Briarpatch Magazine.

A version of this article originally appeared in NOW Magazine.

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