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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Canada has become indifferent to Palestinian suffering

Ottawa is fooling nobody with its song and dance about the international rules-based order

Canadian PoliticsMiddle EastWar ZonesHuman Rights

Smoke billows and debris flies in the air as Gaza City is targeted during Israeli airstrikes, October 9, 2023. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP.

In a Global News segment this past week, a journalist asked a Canadian diplomat if there were any Palestinian death toll in Gaza that would be too much—a “red line.” It’s a sickening and perverse question, as if there’s a penance in Palestinian blood that needs to be paid, and the Liberal government isn’t satisfied yet. But it is a question that Canadians honestly need to ask of their government, because the answer doesn’t seem clear.

Like on many other issues, this government tries to have it both ways when it comes to respect for international law and human rights. On the one hand, the Global Affairs Canada website asserts that “Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights,” that Canada “believe[s] in human dignity and a more just, inclusive, sustainable and safe world.” Justin Trudeau and his Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland swear allegiance, ad naseum, to the rules-based international order—at least when it comes to Ukraine.

But Canadians who are genuinely concerned about the situation are watching in horror as three weeks have passed and the Trudeau government remains unwilling to press Israel to respect international law amidst its brutal siege of the Gaza Strip.

Notwithstanding its shock and horror at Hamas’s attacks on October 7, Israel is not permitted to starve and strangle Gaza’s civilian population of 2.3 million. And in spite of its professed desire for revenge, Israel is not justified in punishing Gazans, half of whom are children, for the crimes of the militant group. But this Canadian government—so vocal about Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine—has utterly lost its way when it comes to Israel’s grave and longstanding mistreatment and occupation of the Palestinian people.

Late last week, Canada abstained on a vote in the United Nations urging a ceasefire and calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza; a simple enough ask that 120 countries found the will to support. Canada, however, was unable to muster the will to stand up for its professed values.

The UN resolution didn’t choose sides. It called for a humanitarian truce; it called for respect for international law; it called for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter Gaza; it called for the freeing of all hostages.

The problem, it seems, is that the resolution was too even-handed for Canada. Our government, as made clear by its attempted amendment of the resolution, wanted the whole horrifying debacle of the past three weeks to be blamed squarely on Hamas, ignoring Israel’s 55-year-long military occupation of Palestinian lands. So when Canada should have been pushing for the protection of Gaza civilians, it was playing petty political games at the UN.

There is no time to waste. Israel’s relentless bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip—one of the world’s most densely populated areas—has wrought dizzying levels of carnage. At the time of writing, more than 8,500 Palestinians have been killed, half of them children. Israel has destroyed over 50 percent of the total civilian infrastructure in the area and has driven over a million civilians out of their homes.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said that without fuel, hospitals cannot continue to function. Similarly, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was forced to cease operations in Gaza due to shortages of fuel. There are about 50,000 pregnant women currently in Gaza with no access to hospitals. More than 150 women are estimated to give birth every day, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Israel’s siege is intentional and barbaric. It is even being termed a genocide by many experts. “We are sounding the alarm: There is an ongoing campaign by Israel resulting in crimes against humanity in Gaza [and] a risk of genocide against the Palestine people,” a group of seven UN human rights experts warned last week.

Canada is fooling nobody with its song and dance about the international rules-based order. Our refusal to call for a ceasefire speaks for itself.

“Is there a death toll that is too high for Canada? A red line?” asked the Global News journalist. The Canadian diplomat responded saying that Canada is watching for “criminal indifference and intentional disregard for human life.” If Canada actually were watching for such indifference and disregard, they would have seen that the red line was crossed weeks ago.

The sad reality is that this Canadian government is indifferent to Palestinian suffering. Has it lost its humanity? There clearly is no red line, and Palestinians will ultimately pay the price.

Grace Batchoun is a Palestinian-Canadian and co-founder of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

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