After weeks of callous indifference, the Canadian Liberal government has finally broken its silence on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza. In a statement last Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote: "Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people."
He goes on to express his outrage that Canadian Doctor Tarek Loubani was among the injured, calling for "an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground — including any incitement, violence and the excessive use of force."
Such a statement comes when, at the time of writing, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had killed more than 100 Palestinian protesters and injured thousands more since the beginning of the Great March of Return on March 30. Israeli Human Rights organization B'Tselem called the shootings "an appalling indifference to human life." Among the dead were children, some as young as 8 months old, and several journalists and medical personnel.
Failing to name Israel as the chief perpetrator of this violence simultaneously robs Palestinians of their personhood while blaming them for the violence done to them.
Despite this, Prime Minister Trudeau's statement, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's tweet preceding it, make no mention of how it is the Palestinians are being killed, and that it is the Israeli military that is doing the killing. Failing to name Israel as the chief perpetrator of this violence simultaneously robs Palestinians of their personhood while blaming them for the violence done to them. Under this narrative, Palestinians aren't killed, as they have been by Israeli forces premeditatively and without discretion — they simply die. And the Israeli military, in its deadliest attack since 2014, evades all responsibility for their deaths.
However, in what has been described as "the swiftest and most cowardly flip-flops in Canadian political history," a mere two days after stating that it favoured an inquiry into the violence in Gaza, Canada voiced its opposition to the independent investigation into the Gaza massacre at the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The reason? The UNHRC resolution calling for the investigation "prejudges the outcome of such an investigation," is "one-sided and does not advance the prospects for a peaceful, negotiated settlement" between Israelis and Palestinians, and "singles out Israel without reference to other actors." Others, such as human rights lawyer Dimitri Lascaris, have already unpacked the absurdity of such statements, leaving the rest of us to marvel at the Canadian government's degree of hypocrisy. People in Gaza are being slaughtered, as world leaders offer nothing but silence or empty platitudes rather than concrete action to stop it.
The "violence on both sides" rhetoric is equally insulting. Suggesting that Palestinians in Gaza, a population living under constant siege in what Israeli academic Ilan Pappe labels "the world's largest open air prison," are in some way to blame for their own death erases the larger context of land theft and apartheid in which the protests are occurring. For 10 years, Israel's siege on Gaza — its land, sea and air blockade (deemed illegal under international law) — has created a situation wherein the United Nations predicts that Gaza will become "unlivable" by 2020. Over 98 per cent of the water is polluted and undrinkable. The population is allowed access to only two to four hours of electricity each day. Over 2 million people are denied freedom of movement.
Moreover, there have been no Israeli casualties. Not one. Palestinians have been shot, maimed and killed by the thousands, yet the Canadian government, along with right-wing pundits and members of the media, continue to tout the myth of a "balanced response" to a inherently unbalanced conflict.
The time for standing on the sidelines is over, for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people has become the moral question of our time.
Perhaps more appalling is the response of right-wing Jewish groups to Israel's massacre. Organizations like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B'nai Brith Canada who position themselves as the voice of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community, have condemned Trudeau's statement, placing the entirety of the blame for the bloodshed on groups like Hamas without ever once mentioning Israel's murder of unarmed civilians. In fact, rather than condemn the killings, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel wrote that Israel had "no choice but to use force," calling the deaths of protesters "public relations achievements" for Hamas.
Such despicable acts of whitewashing show how divorced groups like CIJA are from progressive Jewish communities and Jewish people like myself who are tired of having our identities co-opted to further the war crimes of the Israeli state. Around the world, more and more Jewish people are speaking out to condemn Israel's policies of occupation and institutionalized discrimination that are being perpetuated against Palestinians in our name. And our movement is growing: while groups like CIJA continue to defend the indefensible, organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices Canada and IfNotNow have been organizing in solidarity with Palestinians, holding rallies and vigils, including the traditional Jewish mourners' prayer for those killed in Israel's massacre.
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The time for standing on the sidelines is over, for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people has become the moral question of our time. Now more than ever, Canadian Jews and all people of conscience must call out the organizations and institutions that purport to speak on behalf of our communities. We must call on our government to take immediate and concrete action, in the form of an arms embargo against Israel and other forms of non-violent diplomatic and economic pressures.
We must see our own liberation, and the liberation of all people, as one that is inextricably bound to the advancement of Palestinian rights and nationhood. We can no longer stay silent for, on Gaza, silence signals our complicity.
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