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Harper's One-sided Approach to Gaza is a Betrayal of Canadian Values

By Linda McQuaig

July 19, 2014 "ICH" - "Rabble" - - Certain minimal standards are expected of a national leader in what is known as the ‘civilized world’.

One of those standards would seem to be that, when massive numbers of defenceless civilians are being killed, a national leader should call for the killing to stop.

Questions about responsibility, blame, punishment, repercussions, etc., can always follow. But surely the first order of business — the one with moral urgency — is to halt the killing of innocent people.

So it’s quite extraordinary, as well as appalling, that our prime minister has steadfastly declined to join other world leaders in calling for a halt to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, which has killed more than 200 people and left more than 1,500 injured.

Instead, Stephen Harper asserted over the weekend that “Canada is unequivocally behind Israel” — a ringing endorsement uttered not long after Israeli bombs ripped through a house in Gaza, killing five children and thirteen other members of an extended family, and also destroyed a centre for the disabled, killing two.

The message from Harper seemed to be: Let the killing continue!

Of course, Harper is correct in saying Israel has a right to defend itself. And the militant group Hamas is criminally responsible for launching hundreds of rockets into Israel in the past week with the intent of causing death and destruction, killing one Israeli so far.

But the lopsided nature of the death toll (200:1) highlights the enormous power imbalance between the two sides — one equipped with home-made rockets and no air defence, and the other fielding the most sophisticated laser-guided missiles and a state-of-the-art defence system, backed up by nuclear weapons.

Harper insists that Israel goes to great lengths to avoid killing civilians. But Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador, noted on CBC TV’s Power and Politics on Tuesday that international law prohibits Israel from, for instance, attacking a military target if it is located in a densely populated building.

Harper maintains that Israel notifies residents of its impending attacks, but Heinbecker points out that there is essentially nowhere to flee to safety in Gaza — a tiny, poverty-stricken strip of land where some 1.8 million people live crowded together, trapped on all sides.

What is striking about Harper’s intensely one-sided approach is the way he resolutely avoids dealing with the central fact of this decades-old conflict: that millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under Israeli military occupation for more than forty-five years, and that Israel has effectively annexed what used to be their land, building settlements on it that now accommodate more than 600,000 Israelis.

Harper’s refusal to take any of this into consideration flies in the face of Canada’s long-standing position on the Mideast conflict — a position that still appears on the Canadian government’s website.

Officially, according to the website, Canada does not condone Israel’s military occupation and supports UN resolution 242 calling for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. While you’d never know it from listening to Harper, Canada still “supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state.”

Canada’s official website further states that “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention” and that the “settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

Of course, these positions, updated on the website last January, were developed under earlier Canadian governments that recognized the land issue as integral to a peaceful solution.

The Harper government hasn’t yet had the nerve to renounce these positions, apparently fearful of drawing fresh attention to its abandonment of Canada’s tradition of support for the UN and our role as peacekeepers — traditions many Canadians still revere.

By keeping his focus exclusively on the current bombing (and only on the bombing by Hamas), Harper helps divert attention from the real story behind the conflict: the relentless takeover of Palestinian land.

In statements that have received little notice (at least here in Canada), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week indicated that Israel has no intention of ever giving up control of the West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians live. In other words, the military occupation will continue. Israel’s official “withdrawal” from Gaza in 2005 has resulted in tighter, not looser, Israeli military control over the territory.

Canadians are often asked to imagine the plight of Israelis, who must endure indiscriminate rocket attacks. But we’re rarely asked to imagine the plight of Palestinians, who not only endure far more devastating attacks with no place to hide, but also watch as their land is slowly but inexorably taken over — with the apparent support of seemingly fair-minded people, like the Canadians.

Of course, most ordinary Canadians know little about all this. They’re caught up in their daily lives, and trust their government to represent their values and speak for them in world matters.

Under the Harper government, that trust couldn’t be more flagrantly abused.

Winner of a National Newspaper Award, Linda McQuaig has been a reporter for the Globe and Mail, a columnist for the National Post and the Toronto Star. She was the New Democrat candidate in Toronto Centre in 2013. She is the author of seven controversial best-sellers, including Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths and It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. Her most recent book (co-written with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World, and How We Can Take It Back.

You can reach her at linda@lindamcquaig.com

Copyright © 2001-2014 the authors

 

Tories Release Pro-Israel Ad Amid War In Gaza, But They Don't Want Everyone To See It (VIDEO)

By Michael Bolen

 

July 19, 2014 "ICH" - The Huffington Post Canada --- As the conflict in Gaza escalates, the Conservatives have released a dramatic new ad that highlights the party's staunch support for Israel, but it seems they aren't looking for a wide audience.

Titled "Through Fire and Water", the web commercial features Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaking about Canada's friendship with Israel interspersed with footage of the PM's recent trip to Israel. The music accompanying the ad is reminiscent of tracks used in movie trailers.

Comments on the video have been disabled and the clip was originally "unlisted", which means YouTube did not display it in search results or on any of the website's public pages. Essentially, you needed to be sent a direct link in order to access the video. You couldn't even find it on the Conservative's YouTube page.

Conservative communications director Cory Hann told HuffPost that publishing the video unlisted was an "administrative error." The video is no longer unlisted. Hann also pointed out that the clip was shared by the party on Twitter and Facebook. Baird tweeted a link to the ad and Harper retweeted it.

A link in the video's comments directs to a fundraising page for the Conservative Party.

Conservative pundit and consultant Gerry Nicholls, who worked with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition, told Yahoo! News the video is aimed primarily at Canada's Jewish community but also at the Tory base, which is pro-Israel.

"I suspect the Israel issue cuts well for the Conservative, in that it's an issue that unites the Tories but divides both the NDP and Liberals. If either NDP leader Thomas Mulcair or Liberal leader Justin Trudeau try to match Harper's pro-Israel rhetoric it might alienate part of their rank and file," Nicholls said. "So Harper basically owns this issue and he's making the most of it."

 

Earlier this week former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra attacked the Conservatives for playing politics with the conflict in Gaza.

"The Conservatives are shameless and disgusting," Alghabra said. "There is no limit to their ugly politics and no cause, no matter how tragic or serious it is, they are unwilling to exploit."

Alghabra made the comments after the Tories attacked him for a Facebook post he made saying his thoughts and prayers were with the Palestinian civilians caught in the "blind and cruel bombing." Aghabra later edited the post to express concern for civilians on both sides.

Tory MP Costas Menegakis attacked Alghabra for the post but also criticized Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for not "standing with Israel."

In April, Trudeau released a video with the title "We Have Israel's Back." On Tuesday, Trudeau condemned Hamas for violating a ceasefire agreement and launching rocket attacks on civilians.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Both the Liberals and NDP have called for negotiations that might lead to a cessation of hostilities.

The Liberals have yet to comment on Israel's ground offensive. Trudeau is currently away on vacation.

The Conservatives have long voiced support for Israel while criticizing the Hamas government in Gaza.

Earlier in the week Baird slammed Hamas for violating the ceasefire. "It is a conflict between an international terrorist organization and the Jewish state," he said Tuesday. "Hamas started this bloodshed. Hamas can end it."

Baird said he regrets the loss of life in the region and feels the sympathy everyone should feel toward the innocent victims of the conflict, but said Israel has been left with no choice but to defend itself.

Also this week, Baird attacked UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for criticizing Israel's rocket attacks on Gaza.

In 2012, Canada was among the nine countries that voted against granting Palestine official status as a non-member state at the United Nations. Many Canadians wrote to the Conservatives to express their outrage at the move, with many complaining that the government does not represent the views of Canadians on the region.

Early this year Harper became the first Canadian prime minister to speak to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. During the trip. Harper was feted with an honorary university degree, as well as a tour of a bird sanctuary that will bear his name. He also visited the West Bank and pledged $66 million in aid for the Palestinians.

Israel launched a ground offensive on Thursday after weeks of rocket attacks from Gaza. More than 25 Palestinians were dead as of Friday morning, including an infant, two children and a 70-year-old woman. One Israeli soldier died in the operation and several others were wounded.

With files from The Canadian Press

 

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