On Thursday St. John’s will join a growing number of cities in Canada and around the world where people are speaking out against Israel’s ongoing siege in Gaza and its latest military ground offensive, which as of Wednesday morning has resulted in the killing of more than 650 Palestinians — most of them civilians, including reportedly over 160 children — since the recent bout of violence began on July 8.
To date a reported 32 Israelis have been killed in the violence, plus three civilians, and more than 4,000 Palestinians have been injured. Israel has declared almost half of the Gaza Strip a war buffer zone and more than 100,000 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes.
An organizer of the St. John’s rally said the event will also serve to condemn Canada’s support of Israel and to call on the federal government to join the United Nations and a host of countries in condemning what is widely being called a massacre.
“The main thing for me and a few others I’ve talked to is to show the world that Canadian citizens do not support Stephen Harper and the Conservative government’s views on Israel and Palestine,” said Laura Ashfield, who recently moved to St. John’s from Ontario and has visited Palestine twice. “Because to me Canadians are complicit in what is happening over there right now. Our government supports Israel with money and words, so I think it’s important for us as Canadians to say we don’t support this.”
Possible war crimes
On Wednesday the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an investigation into both Israel and Hamas’ actions in recent days, which she said could amount to war crimes.
Israel has repeatedly defended its actions, saying it must stop Hamas — Gaza’s governing party which was democratically elected in 2006, and whose military wing is currently carrying out attacks on Israel, though with much less effect than Israel’s offensive on Gaza — from accessing underground tunnels between Israel and Gaza, and that it will “do what we need to do to defend ourselves,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Israel imposed a siege, an economic blockade, on Gaza seven years ago, restricting the flow of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. Its argument of self-defense against rocket fire by Hamas has been widely disputed relative to the precision of its own targets, which includes schools, mosques, hospitals and other well known public spaces in Gaza.
A recent effort by Egypt — backed Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — to broker a ceasefire was rejected by Hamas since the agreement did not include an end to Israel’s blockade on Gaza. On Tuesday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas publicly supported Hamas’ demand for an end to the siege. The United States, Canada and other Western nations have called Hamas a “terrorist organization”, and even many in Palestine are opposed to the group’s militant tactics. However, amidst and in the context of a war, Palestinians are reportedly increasingly supportive of Hamas’ military effort, particularly after Abbas’ statement of support.
“Through fire and water”: Harper’s undying support for Israel
In January Stephen Harper became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli Parliament. “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he said to the Knesset in Jerusalem.
“But, I would argue, support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative,” he continued. “It is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own long-term interests.
“Indeed, Israel is the only country in the Middle East Which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
“Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you,” Harper assured the Israeli government.
Earlier this week Newfoundland resident Andrew Abbass started a petition on Change.org calling for Harper’s arrest, alongside National Defense Minister John Baird, who he claims have participated in the dissemination of “hate propaganda” and subsequently supported genocide in Palestine. As of Wednesday afternoon 845 people had signed the petition, which is being sent to the RCMP, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Tom Mulcair, and Minister of Justice Peter McKay.
Parts of Harper’s speech to the Knesset were used in an ad released by the Conservative Party last week, after Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza. In the ad Baird says, “Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens.”
The State of Israel’s history and its occupation of Palestine are controversial, to say the least. For a relatively accessible history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, click here. But for Canada to pledge allegiance with Israel, instead of leading efforts to broker peace, in the midst of Israel’s violent assault on Palestinians is not surprising, Québec-based writer Nora Loreto recently wrote for Rabble.ca. “Why is condemning Israel’s actions so difficult for Canadian politicians?” she asks in the July 21 article. “The answer is simple: Israel’s present is Canada’s past. To condemn Israel is to accept that Canada’s crimes have been just as bad.”
“A place of indescribable loss”
Israel has bombarded Gaza — one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world with more than 1.5 million people living in a 360 square kilometer area — from land, air and sea, hitting homes, mosques and hospitals, killing hundreds of civilians, including women, children, the elderly, and even injured patients in a recovery hospital.
On Wednesday Democracy Now! reported Israel had bombed Gaza’s sole power plant, that 475 Palestinian homes had been destroyed (though Amnesty International puts the number at more than 1,000), and that Israel has struck 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals. The New York-based independent network’s correspondent in Gaza City, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, has offered detailed, on-the-ground accounts of the grim situation for Palestinians in recent days, calling Gaza a “place of indescribable loss” with a “growing humanitarian crisis”.
Ashfield said while it may seem like there’s nothing that can be done from afar, Canadians can in fact impact the outcome of the violence in Israel and Palestine by holding our own government to account. In recent years the Harper government has positioned Canada as one of Israel’s most strategic supporters, despite Israel’s continued aggression against Palestinian civilians. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 300 people had RSVP’d to the St. John’s Gaza Peace Rally Facebook event. “I think there’s just as much concern here as there is in other places in Canada, so I just thought why not do this and get us all together talking about it?” Ashfield said.
The Gaza Peace Rally begins at 6 p.m. at Harbourside Park in St. John’s and will include a peaceful march along Water Street beginning at 6:30 p.m. “Our government is supporting these atrocities and we should show the world that Stephen Harper’s views do not reflect those of all Canadians,” the event page reads. “Bring banners and your voices to show solidarity with the people of Palestine!”
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