Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
Arab News (Opinion)
December 1, 2011 - 1:00am

Such an appeal would have found receptive ears in the days when Canada supported the United Nations and sought to promote peace with justice and respect for human rights everywhere, including the Middle East. But then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr. moved away from Canada's traditional fairness in favor of unquestioned backing of Israel. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has gone even farther.

Last May when US President Barak Obama reiterated support for a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living in peace on roughly the 1967 borders — the position most countries favor -Harper objected to the G8 leaders endorsing this principled policy. In recent months the prime minister, Foreign Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have been suggesting that Israel is being singled out for criticism, its very existence faces a threat, its neighbors are hostile, it's a democracy where all citizens enjoy full rights, it shares common values with Canada and that Canada's backing for Israel is based on principles.

Canada opposed the Palestinian Authority's bid for admission to the United Nations and its agencies. The prime minister stated correctly that entry into the United Nations would not create a Palestinian state, only negotiations with Israel would. But the reality is that Palestinian territories have been under Israeli occupation since 1967 and no end seems to be in sight. More than 500,000 illegal settlers have taken Palestinian lands and the process continues unabated. These settlements defy United Nations resolutions, the findings of the International Court of Justice and international law. As British author William Parry says in his book, Against the Wall, Israeli "colonies themselves occupy just 3 percent of the West Bank; however, the complex 'security' apparatus and infrastructure that serve these illegal colonies and their 500,000 Jewish settlers and connect them to Israel, require Israeli control over a staggering 45 percent of the Palestinian West Bank." The Wall, he states, will be 709 km long with about 85 percent being built on West Bank land.

To ask the Palestinians and Israelis to reach a peace agreement, in these circumstances, would be like asking the Afghans, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, to avoid the United Nations and seek a settlement by negotiating with the Kremlin.

Though the Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank and Hamas rules over Gaza, Israelis still control the occupied territories through military checkposts, the navy, border crossings, construction activities, roads and facilities built for settlers and all aspects of daily life, as Israeli journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have emphasized in Canada.

The Arab countries and the Palestinians have offered to make peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution, but Israel keeps building settlements and retains military control. It receives billions of dollars in military and economic aid from the United States and has dozens of nuclear weapons. Far from facing a threat to its existence, it is the region's unchallenged superpower.

Israel is, of course, a democracy with an independent judiciary. Israeli Arabs enjoy political rights and are represented in the Knesset. But France and Great Britain were also democracies when they waged brutal wars against their colonies that were seeking independence. US was also a democracy when it waged an undeclared war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and when it brutally attacked and occupied Iraq. Israel faces international criticism not because of its system of government, but because of its continuing colonial occupation of Palestinian lands.

In Israel numerous laws deny or offer rights to people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. This has led to former US President Jimmy Carter and South Africa's Archbishop Demond Tutu calling the Israeli system akin to apartheid.

Last year, for the first time in 50 years, Canada failed to win one of the 10 elected spots in the UN Security Council. Canada reportedly spent nearly a million dollars in its campaign to win that seat, but lost to Portugal. Canada's leaders and right-wing media said that they were proud they lost because of opposition of dictators and sheikhs. Canada lost, in reality, because the Third World saw that Canada has abandoned its support for justice and freedom.

Another factor might be the thousands of refugees who throng to Canada every year, fleeing persecution or cruel and unusual treatment and punishment. Many of them are from Muslim countries and include non-Muslims as well as Muslims. Canada is magnanimous in providing safety to refugees. But their stories of horror have severely damaged the image of Islam and may have influenced Canada's policy-makers.

But the biggest cause of Canada abandoning its traditional support for peace, justice and the rule of law and supporting Israel unquestioningly is the desire to woo Canadian Jews. They used to vote for the Liberals but have switched to Harper. In this year's federal election a majority of Jews - 57 percent - supported the Tories for the first time. This is a major achievement which would not have come about without the Tories supporting Israel blindly.

The shift it has diminished Canada's standing in the world. As Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, wrote: "Our government has criticized the Palestinian application (for membership in the UN) as 'unilateral'. What much of the world sees as unilateral, and also illegal, is the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, the 44-years long occupation of the West Bank, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian property, the decades of building Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and the continuing transfer of Israeli civilians there - 500,000 to date - the placement of the security barrier not on the 1967 borders but on Palestinian land, the punitive character of the blockade of Gaza, the flouting of UN resolutions, etc. "

"Canada took the wrong side," said the article's headline. Canada has chosen to switch to the wrong side of history. It is in Israel's long-term interest - security and prosperity - to reach a just settlement and live in peace and harmony with the Palestinians and neighboring states. As Israeli dissidents say, Israel cannot forever impose its will on others. History shows that the oppressed ultimately find ways to break their shackles, gain their freedom and topple their oppressors and their misguided allies.


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