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Why Aren't Harper And Baird Angry About Dead Babies In Gaza?

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BAIRD HARPER
CP

Should the government of Canada denounce the intentional and accidental slaughter of babies and other civilians caught in the crossfire between two military forces?

It's a question as redundant as "does Red Lobster serve Lobster?"

Yes. Of course the government, or any other organization run by rational and peace-loving people, should condemn such violence. The killing of civilians has always and will always be a reprehensible act.

And yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird remain silent on the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza.

It's baffling, since a quick peek at Baird's Twitter timeline or a gander at his foreign affairs press releases will reveal that he regularly condemns a lot of things: church attacks in Nigeria, the destruction of a historic tomb in Iraq, violence in Libya and much, much more.

But not the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. It's strange, since the Tory government regularly condemned Syria's Bashar al-Assad for that, as well as the rebels trying to topple him.

The main commentary Baird and Harper offer, that Hamas should not fire rockets toward Israel and that Israel has the right to defend itself, might have seemed like a reasonably centrist response to the situation early on.

But that commentary didn't change when legions of civilians and children were killed by Israeli airstrikes. It didn't change when we heard from foreign journalists who witnessed four children -- all related -- get struck by an Israeli gunboat while kicking a ball around on a beach. Baird and Harper didn't alter their message when more than 20 Gazans from the same family were killed in an airstrike on their home.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama, his top diplomat John Kerry and the United Nations have expressed concern about Palestinian civilian deaths. Harper and Baird have not.

We've reached a point in foreign relations at which even the U.S., Israel's largest military and financial backer, is saying "Woah buddy, slow down." But Harper and Baird continue to parrot Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's talking points.

The Israeli military attempts to justify the civilian deaths by claiming that Hamas uses the people of Gaza as human shields. Baird adopted the talking point almost immediately. By that logic, we're either to believe that Gazans are zealous robots ready to die for their tyrannical overlords or helpless cattle rounded up and thrown in front of Israeli airstrikes. They're neither. They're civilians stuck in the middle of a conflict. They're not responsible for the rockets fired by Hamas. They're helpless in front of the Israeli military's airstrikes.

The Israeli military, according to, well, the Israeli military, is doing all it can to minimize civilian casualties. Its main method is the "knock on roof" policy -- the firing of rockets with non-explosive warheads as a precursor to a deadlier attack.

Let us inhale this unfathomably ridiculous fact: The Israeli Defence Force is absolving itself of responsibility for dead civilians by firing weaker missiles as a warning before launching stronger missiles. The Canadian government has not expressed any kind of concern with this careless strategy.

But if Israel's pounding of Gaza -- which has now killed more than 1,100 people as of Tuesday, July 29 -- is one country's legitimate reaction to a legitimate threat, does that mean all the consequences of that defence mechanism are acceptable? Is it OK for Israel to kill four children playing on a beach in order to defend itself? If a Hamas leader is suspected of taking refuge with civilians, is it OK to kill babies to get at him?

If the answer is "yes," which seems to be the case for Harper and Baird, then we're all forced to ask if Red Lobster serves lobster.

The government of Canada, along with this fine country's media, needs to establish the crucial distinction between criticizing the State of Israel and the actions of the State of Israel.

Saying the State of Israel is being too violent and reckless in its retaliation against Hamas is not saying the State of Israel has no right to protect itself. Harper, Baird -- as well as Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair -- can and should say the former. So far, they have not.

Claiming that the State of Israel's killing of children -- accidental or intentional -- is wrong is not claiming that the State of Israel is a ruthless, child-murdering apartheid state. Harper and Baird can and should say the former. So far, they have not.

Harper and Baird should express outrage at the human toll of the campaign in Gaza. The majority of them were civilians. At least 200 were innocent children.

If the Conservative leadership is worried that some might remember their criticism of Israel's military actions, they can rest assured that everyone will remember them as human beings who spoke out about the suffering of helpless babies in Gaza.

Harper and Baird lamented the death of children in Syria while criticizing the actions of both the rebels and the government. They can do the same for Gaza.

The Conservative government can oppose some of Israel's actions without opposing Israel's existence. Harper and Baird can stand up for Israel just as much as they stand up for Palestinian human rights.

They can start by demanding an end to the killing of innocent civilians.

Mohamed Omar is an associate editor at Huffington Post Canada. He is Palestinian-Canadian. Follow/berate him on Twitter @ThatMohamedOmar.

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