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Canada's Drift on Israel

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Issue: 40 Section: Foreign Policy Israel, Palestine Topics: diplomacy

September 11, 2006

Canada's Drift on Israel

From abstention to unconditional support

by Justin Podur

justin_allan_web.jpg
Allan Rock at the United Nations. photo: DFAIR
In December 2004, under the Martin Liberal government, Canada changed its voting pattern at the United Nations. Previously, Canada had abstained from several votes requiring Israel to comply with its obligations under international law and withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967. The Ambassador at the time, Allan Rock, said that the "value added" of the committees trying to put Palestinian rights on the agenda at the UN was "questionable." Canada began to vote against these resolutions.

Well before this, in October 2003, the UN Special Rapporteur for Food found that 22 per cent of children in Gaza were starving as a direct result of Israel's siege policy: Gaza had long been surrounded by electric fences, its population of 1.25 million imprisoned, and its economy shut down. Unemployment was nearly total; poverty was at 75 per cent. The UN Special Rapporteur's findings were confirmed by the World Bank and by USAID. All understood that the starvation was a direct result of the closures. By 2006, the World Food Program was reporting that 51 per cent of Palestinians – 2 million people – were malnourished.

In addition to the starvation and siege, Israeli warships, snipers, and planes continued to attack Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank.

Between the October 2003 report of the UN and the December 2004 decision by the Martin government, there had passed over a year of unabated starvation and siege. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society's figures, Israel had killed over 1000 Palestinians in this same period.

Since Canada changed its voting pattern in 2004, three key events occurred that have changed the Canada-Israel relationship even further.

First, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented his 'unilateral disengagement plan'. Under this plan, Israeli settlers who lived in Israeli-only colonies in Gaza were evacuated. Billed as a peace maneuver and a painful sacrifice for the colonists, the "disengagement" did not give the Palestinians of Gaza any freedom of movement, nor did it prevent Israel from continuing its shelling, bombing, siege, and starvation.

Second, the Martin government fell and was replaced by the Harper Tories. Like their counterparts in the US, they sought to distinguish themselves from the Liberals by more aggressively supporting Israel's violence against the Palestinians. Because the Liberals had already come so far so fast in the same direction, the Tories had to shift the spectrum even further.

Third, Palestinians held a democratic election. The result of this fair election was the party that prioritized resistance (Hamas) defeated the party (Fatah) that had been roped into a perpetual "dialogue" with a state that simultaneously starved, bombed, and imprisoned its people. The response of Canada, under Harper, to this democratic result was to cut aid to the starving and besieged Palestinians. Harper was following senior advisor to Ariel Sharon, Dov Weisglass, who announced a plan to "put Palestinians on a diet." In addition to putting Palestinians on a diet, Israel maintained a campaign of escalating massacres, including the major massacre of an entire family of 7 on a beach in Gaza on June 9, another major massacre on June 13 (11 people), another on June 20 (3 children), and yet another on June 21 (a pregnant woman and her brother).

A central issue for Hamas is the Palestinian prisoners. Some 9 000, including 400 children and 100 women, are locked up in Israeli prisons. Among those who have been tried (at least 1 000 have never been charged for any crime), many were convicted on confessions extracted by torture conducted by their Israeli captors. Israel forces periodically kidnap Palestinians in different parts of the Palestinian territory. Such a kidnapping precipitated the ongoing crisis in the region. On June 24, Israeli commandos kidnapped two Palestinian civilians. On June 25, Palestinians attacked a military outpost, killing two soldiers, losing two of their own, and taking a tank gunner prisoner. Hamas said it would release the tank gunner in exchange for the 400 children and 100 women being held in prison.

When Israel instead launched air raids, destroyed Gaza's power plant, and invaded the area with thousands of troops, Harper said he thought Israel's response, "under the circumstances," was "measured."

On July 12, the Lebanese group Hizb'ullah captured several Israeli soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. Hizb'ullah, like Hamas, sought a prisoner exchange. Some analysts have said that the operation may have been intended to take some of the military pressure off of Gaza, since the 'international community' had remained silent, called for 'restraint' like Kofi Annan, or, like Harper, endorsed the Gaza invasion.

Israel responded by invading Lebanon, destroying its airports, roads, factories, homes, displacing over a million people, and killing over 1 000, including eight Canadian citizens and a Canadian UN monitor. In the Palestinian territories, Israel killed about 55 Palestinians in June and 162 in July. Hizb'ullah used rockets to attack Israeli military installations and towns, killing dozens of Israeli civilians, though most of the Israeli dead in the war were soldiers. Most of the Lebanese dead, by contrast, were civilians – a high proportion of whom were children. Harper's Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay, assessed this situation as follows: Hizb'ullah were 'cold blooded killers' and a 'cancer on Lebanon.'

A long-standing campaign by groups like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives calling for a Canadian foreign policy more closely aligned with that of the United States began to bear fruit with the Martin Liberal government, and is rapidly finding its completion in Stephen Harper's administration. Canada's continuous drift towards unambiguous support for Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories reflects the pressure put on politicians for a pro-US foreign policy in general and a pro-Israel foreign policy in particular.

This drift in Canada's foreign policy is unlikely to stop, barring the effective mobilization of forces that will oppose it. Recent polls suggest that Canada's "neutrality" in the region is valued by its citizenry; whether a position that actively opposes war crimes and policies of economic strangulation is similarly popular is not known, as the question is usually not asked.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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