The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has stirred passionate emotions around the world.
In Canada, all major political leaders have rushed to offer support for Israel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland all spoke at pro-Israel rallies, while even ostensible “progressives” like Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow denounced rallies held in support of Palestinians.
Right-wing commentators, fresh from denouncing “wokeness” as a threat to free speech and democratic values, are now demanding Palestinian sympathizers be charged with hate crimes.
The widespread condemnation of Hamas and its brutal crimes is entirely appropriate. There can be no excuse for murdering civilians, particularly children. Canada must always oppose these types of war crimes and uphold the principles of international law and rules of war. These are universal principles, and their violation can never be tolerated.
At the same time, Canadians must resist offensive and ahistorical efforts by pro-Israeli advocates to equate concern for the plight of Palestinian civilians with anti-Semitism. There is no better way to honour the innocent Jewish victims of the Holocaust or pogroms than to seek out a world in which the powerless are defended and all innocent civilians are protected from violence.
This is why thousands of Jews and dozens of Jewish organizations continue to support the cause of Palestinian freedom.
Sadly, by failing to resolutely oppose Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza and its decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, Canada failed to meet its obligations as a responsible member of the family of nations. Currently, the Canadian government is offering blind support to Israel’s violent reprisals. By doing so, the government renders Canadians complicit in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.
The Gaza Strip has been subject to a land, sea and air blockade by Israel since 2007. The overwhelming consensus among scholars of international law is that this blockade is illegal and constitutes an act of war by Israel against the people of Gaza. It has been denounced by the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and Amnesty International. The effects on Gaza’s civilian population have been devastating.
According to UNICEF, Gaza has among the highest unemployment rates in the world, 62% of Gazans require food assistance, 78% of water is unfit for human consumption, and tens of thousands of Gazans are routinely denied permission to access necessary medical care. It is worth noting that about half of Gazans are children.
Israel intends to inflict even more brutality on this already immiserated population. When asked about its war plans, Israeli Defence Forces official Daniel Hagari said “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.”
That statement is chilling when one considers the tiny size of the strip (slightly larger than the City of Kamloops) and its largely defenceless civilian population.
Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, a religious extremist with a long record of racist and homophobic remarks, stated: In war you have to be brutal…We need to deal a blow that hasn’t been seen in 50 years and take down Gaza.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to “flatten” Gaza.
The language employed by Israeli leaders betrays genocidal intentions towards Palestinians. Israeli actions so far seem to match the rhetoric. Reports from Gaza indicate more than 22,000 homes have already been destroyed, along with 90 schools, 18 places of worship, 19 health centres, 20 ambulances and 49 media offices. Israel has also cut off food, water and power to the Gaza Strip, precipitating a looming humanitarian crisis of unspeakable proportions.
As is always the case during this conflict, Palestinian casualties will dwarf those incurred by Israel and much of the suffering will be borne by women, children, and the elderly.
Canada has a responsibility to oppose this criminal and disproportionate response. We must support international humanitarian efforts to bring about an immediate ceasefire and allow as much humanitarian aid as possible to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians victimized by Hamas and the Israeli government.
Ideally, all perpetrators of war crimes, whether they be Hamas fighters or soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces should be held accountable for their crimes. Only when the killing stops can negotiations begin to bring about a sustainable, just, and lasting peace in the region.
Joe Killoran is a former history and politics teacher. He is currently a criminal defence lawyer in Kamloops.
(Edit. Note: On Wednesday, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to deliver limited humanitarian aid to Gaza.)