by Stephen Gowans
Along with others, Zev Tiefenbach,
a Montreal Jew, recently occupied the office of a Canadian
politician, Irwin Colter, to protest Canada’s support for Israel.
Mr. Colter, the protesters said, "embodies the hypocrisy of
(Canada’s) policy...(He) is a renowned international human-rights
lawyer who pathologically ignores Israeli violations of Palestinian
Colter’s human rights advocacy, in
other words, stops at the Palestinians.
Ignoring Israeli violations of
Palestinian human rights is nothing new in Canada, where the Palestinian
struggle against Israeli occupation is presented free of context and
history, the latest Initifada understood as little more than another
chapter in an ongoing saga of hate. The occupation is rarely mentioned or
understood. The question of what Palestinians who dwell in refugee camps
have taken refuge from is never asked. Israel’s defiance of international
law and countless UN Resolutions is hidden away.
It’s as if you were transported from
Mars and plopped down in the middle of occupied France with not a word of
explanation of what is going on.
Tiefenbach says he learned from his
grandparents -- all of them Holocaust survivors -- that "never again"
applies to all humanity, not just Jews.
But in Canada, in a charge led by Irwin
Colter and others, the idea of "never again" is to apply to Jews alone, or
more broadly, to all but Palestinians.
Svend Robinson knows that all too well.
As foreign affairs critic for the New
Democrats, a left-leaning party, Robinson spoke out "for peace and justice
in the Middle East, and for an end to the illegal, violent and
dehumanizing Israeli occupation."
For that, Robinson was denounced as a
"histrionic crank" by Bob Rae, a former party leader and one-time premier
of Ontario, Canada’s largest province. Robinson has since been fired from
his job as the party’s foreign affairs critic -- for the crime of "taking
But pointing out that Palestinians have
a just set of grievances is pointing out nothing more than what the
international community has affirmed for decades. So why was Robinson
The implication of Robinson’s words are
what enrages Israel’s supporters. If the Palestinian cause is just, then
Israeli actions are unjust. This can never be admitted to, so Canadians
who are inclined to sympathize with the Palestinian struggle are urged to
be impartial and not take sides.
This suits supporters of the
occupation, for it ensures that the magnitude of Israeli crimes is hidden
behind a veil of pseudo-impartiality, where both sides are to be held
equally accountable for "the violence." Palestinians are to be denounced
for suicide bomb attacks;. Israelis to be chided for not showing enough
restraint. "If only they’d both learn to get along with each other,"
Imagine the same approach applied to
the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The question of why Jews had been herded into
a ghetto would never be asked, and the reasons for the uprising would
never be addressed. Instead, attacks on Nazi soldiers would be deplored as
terrorism, while the Reich government would be cautioned against excessive
use of force. If rather than being taken to task for obvious crimes, the
Nazi’s actions were met by a "I wish they’d learn to get along together"
who could be more pleased than the Nazis...and who could be more abandoned
than the Jews?
Today, the Palestinian cause has been
largely abandoned in Canada, the struggle against occupation and
displacement reduced to mutual hatred and inability to live together. The
inevitable response is that "it’s all an insoluble mess."
But is it, really?
Those Canadians who read him must have
been stunned when Globe and Mail columnist Rick Salutin declared the
Middle East crisis to be the most resoluble problem around, if only you
lay aside the fact that neither Israel nor the United States care to
The outline of the solution has been
known for decades, laid out in UN Resolutions. Dismantle the illegal
settlements; end the illegal occupation; lift the illegal prohibition
against Palestinian refugees returning to the homeland they fled or were
driven from in 1948 and 1967.
All of these measures Israel has
strenuously opposed. They are, after all, at odds with the Zionist project
-- to claim historical Palestine for the Jews. All of these measures have
been mandated by the UN, and all blocked by the United States exercising
its Security Council veto.
Had Canadians been presented with the
conflict’s history and context, Salutin’s claim that the problem is
readily resolved would not seem so shocking. And Tel Aviv’s and
Washington’s role in blocking a just peace would be clear.
But so long as exposing the depth of
the injustices Palestinians have endured for over 50 years is smeared as
unbalanced, the conflict's history, and its solutions, will remain just
where the occupation's defenders want them to remain -- in the shadows.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.