This article is the first in a 3-part series that investigates Israel’s massacres in Gaza from a UBC perspective. This article is a general overview of Canada’s relationship with Israel. The next segment will look at challenges to Palestinian solidarity activism on campus. It will be followed by a piece on Hillel UBC.
As students living, studying, and working on the unceded territories of the ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) people here at the University of British Columbia, we must address the need for decolonization in our own context. We are in a position to understand how identities are erased, how people are displaced, and what it means to be a part of these processes. We therefore have a responsibility to protest against the integration of colonial efforts globally. Canada’s support for Israel is one such dynamic.
This responsibility includes a simple acknowledgement: Canada is complicit in a human catastrophe. Indeed, our elected representatives enabled it.
From 8 July to 26 August, Israel conducted its third military excursion into the Gaza Strip in five years. The ensuing massacre, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” has resulted in the deaths of 2,131 Palestinians, including 1,473 civilians. 501 of these were children. Additionally, 18,000 homes have been decimated, leaving 108,000 people homeless. 450,000 people are without access to municipal water supplies and 110,000 are internally displaced.
Israel’s murderous forays into Gaza, revoltingly referred to as “Mowing the lawn” by the Israel Defense Forces, have been repeatedly condemned by the international community. Despite this international opposition, Israel has found a zealous ally in the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservative.ca website implores Canadians to “Stand with Israel,” to support the Occupation and to support this year’s massacre. Responding to the situation in Palestine, Harper proclaimed that “Canada is unequivocally behind Israel. We support its right to defend itself, by itself, against these terror attacks, and urge Hamas to immediately cease their indiscriminate attacks on innocent Israeli civilians.” At no point during Operation Protective Edge did Prime Minister Harper or Foreign Minister John Baird call for an end to the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the destruction of homes, schools and hospitals within the Gaza Strip.
The Political Spectrum is Blue and White
The Canadian regime bears responsibility for enabling Israel. I refer here to the Canadian regime broadly because complicity does not begin and end with the Conservative Party of Canada. The Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (whose Policy Book articulates support for Palestinian liberation) have both iterated their support for Israel and its “right to defend itself.” There appears to be a bipartisan consensus on the sadistic dispossession and deprivation of a people. The rationale is always the same: Hamas is a terrorist organization, and as long as Hamas is firing its rockets into Israel, Israel has the right to initiate the wholesale destruction of the Gaza Strip. The line of argument defending Israel’s right to self-defense is a commonplace in Canadian politics. In its most common configuration the argument invokes Israel’s right to both its sovereignty and territorial integrity. To prove that these rights have been infringed upon, Canadian politicians cite Hamas’s rocket attacks. The argument is important both because of what it leaves out and because of what it suggests about the collective attitude of those with political capital in Canada. Why does Palestine not have these rights? How can collective punishment be described as “defense” in any manner consistent with international law? How can Hamas, an organization that exists only as a reaction to the brutality of the Occupation, be used to retroactively justify this Occupation?
Declarations of support for Israel are not just made by the leaders of Canada’s federal parties. Going far beyond her jurisdiction as BC Premier, Christy Clark declared her official support for Israel’s operation in Gaza. Clark has no mandate to weigh in on matters of Canadian foreign policy. Her maneuver was little more than political grandstanding, but it remains illustrative of a pro-Israel rhetoric that has percolated through Canadian politics. That the spokespeople of the Canadian regime are silent on the atrocities committed by Israel make them enablers of Israeli aggression. Silence is their contribution to the institutionalized disregard for Palestinian life.
There is complicity on campus, too. UBC Hillel has openly supported Israel throughout this summer’s massacre. Indeed, the Executive Director of UBC Hillel, Rabbi Philip Bregman, is organizing a volunteer trip to Israel entitled “Operation Help Israel.” Volunteers will directly assist the Israel Defense Force, a military responsible for thousands of civilian deaths. Those considering registration for this program should think about what Israel needs help with, especially considering its tremendous foreign financial assistance and the power of its military.
Even with the complicity of Canada’s major political parties accounted for, the unqualified support provided by the Harper Conservatives is startling. Every year the UN General Assembly votes on a resolution titled Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine. Every year the results of this vote are the same: on one side, the entire world favouring a resolution consistent with the demands of international law; on the other, a small gang of dissenters. In 2012, Canada voted with the filibusters. The next year, Canada was again among a tiny group of states that voted against Palestinian self-determination and acknowledgement of their full human rights.
A Colonial Romance
Both Canada and Israel are built on stolen land. This fact should be acute for students studying at the University of British Columbia. It should be acute for all those who live, work, and study in Canada. We should not feel at a loss to understand our government’s support for Israel in this settler-colonial context. Canada’s security agreements with Israel are designed to deal with “common threats”. As Canada and Israel strengthen their military and security ties, we should be wary of the import of methods of surveillance and pacification, what The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions calls the “Matrix of Control,” a complex management apparatus under which the Palestinians are both oppressed and coerced into acquiescing to the terms of this oppression.
Canada and Israel have signed a number of bilateral agreements intended to strengthen their economic and security relations. In 2008 the CPC signed a public security agreement with Israel. The agreement stipulates that Canada and Israel “Build on their shared commitment to facilitate and enhance cooperation to protect their respective countries’ population, assets and interests from common threats.” The agreement also commits Canada to direct participation in the Occupation, stating that both parties will “Facilitate technical exchange cooperation, including education, training, and exercises.” This year Canada and Israel signed the Memorandum of Understanding, an agreement reiterating ongoing bilateral commitment to economic, political and military cooperation.
There is more to this relationship than free trade agreements and security pacts. Harper may see in Israel a model to be replicated. Israel subjects the Palestinians in Gaza to elaborate surveillance and human management, a massive effort in deprivation. Canadians are familiar with Harper’s drive to transform Canada into an energy superpower, a project that requires the ceaseless expropriation of Indigenous land. This process has been met with concerted resistance. Israel represents for the Conservative Party of Canada a real-world model in high-tech suppression, a draconian management regime that pervasively keeps the Palestinians down.
Canada has also become a centre for militant Zionism. The Jewish Defense League, a political and religious organization on the extreme right, is legally established in Canada. The JDL is a recognized hate group in the United States and the European Union. Two of the JDL’s partner movements have even been outlawed in Israel. Despite the JDL’s international reputation as a violent hate group, it enjoys an entrenched presence here in Canada, where they continue to open new chapters.
Canada’s support for the Israeli Occupation articulates a domestic policy of expropriation and control. This similarity has been noticed by Indigenous communities across Canada, who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinians. As Canada and Israel synthesize their security concerns, we must consider the possibility that the CPC’s unqualified support for Israel speaks to domestic control and exploitation. Domestic and international politics are not easily separated. The Canadian state’s support for Israel is the outward projection of its own settler-colonial project.
So where do we go from here?
Canadians must understand both the nature and the severity of Canada’s complicity in Israel’s Occupation. This complicity did not begin in July of 2014. As human beings, we should feel revulsion at the massacre of innocents, the obliteration of their homes, the expropriation of their land, the restriction of their movement, and the utter disregard for their rights. As Canadians, we should feel anger. We should feel anger as our government provides Israel with the capital, political and otherwise, it requires to murder, detain and displace the Palestinians with impunity.
Does Harper perhaps fear that condemning the Israeli Occupation will lead to accusations of gross hypocrisy? Harper has demonstrated no concern for the systematic oppression of Canada’s First Nations. Perhaps Harper sees all Palestinians as terrorists, just as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did. Within the CPC’s rhetorical framework, they are obstacles and problems that must somehow be dealt with. This language is consistent with a long rhetorical history framing the Palestinians as abject others, not as rights-possessing persons.
An ominous question looms over all of this: what can we do? If our answer is to simply elect a different party, a further question is begged: what will change? Canadians must make it clear that this complicity will not be tolerated. Just as we must force our so-called representatives to activate against human rights violations at home, so too must we refuse to permit them abroad. No leader and no party should ever believe that it will earn your vote and keep your support when it encourages massacres. How many Members of Parliament kept quiet when they knew better? How many censured themselves to tow the party line?
From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime.