Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jack Layton & the human rights of Palestinians

Gentle readers, you know that I am terribly busy--I teach classes at the university, at the college, for 7 Generations, last night I taught my yoga class (we did "Animal Asanas"), I am also busy today organizing a Palestine Awareness Event, along with a host of other activities, never mind getting the laundry done--so I am behind in my posting. I have promised you posts on which I have yet to deliver: on the Vigil for the killed children of Gaza; my visit (with others) to our local Minister of Parliament's open house (carrying a sign: Gaza-Canada's Shame); stories on The Hummingbird of Hope (who came to visit me while Israel was brutally bombing Lebanon), The Blueberry Time-bomb story (about the chemical "bombing" of the forests around my city); there are others. You also know, gentle readers, that I write letters to the Canadian government to bring pressure on our elected representatives to recognize Palestinian rights and to support justice for Palestine. Last week, I received a response from Jack Layton, the NDP party leader, to a letter I had written to him earlier. So, I was compelled to craft another letter to him, in consultation with some of the community groups I engage with. Here is that letter:

Dear Honorable Jack Layton, critic of foreign affairs Paul Dewar, and MP Bruce Hyer,

We thank the Honorable Jack Layton for his response, and we are glad to know that the NDP is speaking out to challenge the Harper government and its representatives such as Peter Kent, John Baird, and others, and, we hope, Ignatieff and the Liberals, who are following the same defense of Israel that continues to silence that state's violations of Palestinian human rights.

We urgently call upon the NDP to become stronger in articulating, not only in government venues, but particularly in the media, the human rights of the Palestinian people and challenging the continuing impunity of Israel, its representatives and international supporters, such as Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, for allowing--indeed, abetting--that impunity. Israel has refused to abide by international laws, UN Resolutions, and the Geneva Convention and there is no outcry from the NDP about this. Why is that? Many people and groups across the world are working to collect evidence of Israel's war crimes, from the Spanish judiciary, French lawyers, Amnesty International and others, to take the Israeli government and military representatives to world court.

This action is undertaken in recognition of the flagrant abuse and violation of Palestinian human rights. According to the Geneva Convention, occupying powers must protect the civilians who are subject to them; further, during times of war, certain protocols must be maintained; instead, Israel dropped phosphorus bombs on densely inhabited Palestinian civilian areas and killed civilians who held white flags in their hands, to name a few of the war crimes they committed and which are documented in images, videos, and statements.

Protecting human rights of all people, no matter what group, nation or individual is violating those rights, is not controversial but a basic legal standard.

Where is the NDP voice on this? We have not heard it.

The NDP has to take the human rights of the Palestinian people to the forefront in their public statements. Recognizing the occupation and the violation of Palestinian human rights is a necessary first step in order to call for "both sides to stop the violence." If the occupation is not recognized, then a "both sides need to stop the violence" approach just perpetuates obfuscation of Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights. The NDP must recognize and speak out on the human rights violations that the Palestinians have been subjected to by the state of Israel, not just during the Gaza massacre, but for more than 60 years.

The occupation, the blockade, the illegal settlements, the electrified fence around Gaza and the Apartheid Wall around the West Bank and their surveillance towers are at the root of the so-called "Palestine-Israeli conflict." This "conflict" is unbalanced: a powerful state occupier and colonizer armed with $3 billion worth of US military aid and state-of-the art military technologies (which Barack Obama, as per his official website, is seeking to increase along with increasing financial aid), versus the rockets and stones of the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank.

The "conflict" is an occupation and resistance to occupation; we call upon the NDP to be more clear on that, and on expressing that to the public and to the Conservatives and the Liberals. The problem is not Hamas rockets; the problem is occupation, colonization, continued expansion of illegal settlements--and Canada's silence about that; indeed, incredibly, Canadians built, with tax deductions, Canada Park and the John Diefenbaker Roadway in Israel ON OCCUPIED LAND. Israeli Uri Avnery has stated that Canada is committing war crimes because the land legally, by international law, is part of the West Bank. Resistance in the West Bank and Gaza, including Hamas rockets, is the effect of 60 years of occupation and Canadian complicity in that occupation, as Canada Park, the Canadian call for the blockade against Gaza, and the denial of the rights of the Palestinian people to defend themselves, makes clear.

[on Canada Park:

Further, before the death tally of the Gaza massacre, 8 Palestinians, mostly civilians and children, are killed every day by the Israeli army or settlers in Gaza and the West Bank. In light of this continued oppression of the human rights of Palestinians and their legitimate right to defend themselves against a brutal occupation, continuing illegal settlements, and land encroachment due to the Apartheid Wall, we find very troubling part of Jack Layton's Friday Jan. 16 Press Statement, which we have excerpted and highlighted below:

"Working with the international community, Canada has a role to play in helping to end the violence. Canada should express its readiness to facilitate negotiations and assist with the international monitoring of the ceasefire, including by providing Canadians troops as UN peacekeepers. The monitoring must be implemented in a way that prevents rocket attacks on Israel and the smuggling of weapons into Gaza."

Our questions include: where is the reference to the continuing bombardment of Gaza by Israeli weapons in this statement? do the people of Gaza not have the right to defend themselves or is defense only a right for occupying or sovereign nations like Israel, Canada, and the US? Are the people of Palestine not allowed to arm themselves against aggressors or the threat of aggression and have an army, like we do in Canada? Or are they somehow outside our idea of a nation and a people? Will the Canadian government speak with the elected representatives of the people of Gaza to ask if Canadian troops as UN peacekeepers are desired? If Canadian troops as part of UN peacekeeping troops are implemented without Palestinian approval would we not then be an arm of the occupation? Will those Canadian UN peacekeeping troops also monitor the Israeli army, and if so will they then be stationed on Israeli land to stop the Israeli army from inflicting more carnage on the Palestinian people or from partaking of house demolitions, more land theft, and the building of more illegal settlements in the West Bank? Further, what role will Canadian UN peacekeeping troops be called upon to play within the US-Israel agreements to end Gaza arms smuggling which clearly labels elected Palestinian representatives that are not compliant to Israeli occupation, terrorists? What is the NDP position on this?

We have read the text of the U.S.-Israel agreement to end Gaza arms smuggling document and find what it says about "international cooperation" to prevent the Palestinian people from defending themselves from an occupying state, extremely problematic, particularly the new tools and initiatives, and are very concerned about where Canadian troops as UN peacekeepers fit in this pro-occupation agreement that obliterates the right of Palestinians to self-defense, as well as, labels their duly elected representatives as 'terrorists', hence, disallowing any meaningful way forward to a just solution to the Palestinian crisis and occupation and to the recognition of their human rights.

We have excerpted a section below that is extremely troubling, yet noting that we find the entire text of this document troubling.

[ ]

We would like the NDP to respond to this document and clarify the role they see Canadian troops as UN peacekeepers playing in light of the trajectory and goals of this agreement. Further, we call upon the NDP to question the Conservative government and the Liberal Party on what role they project for Canadians in this US-Israeli agreement that seeks fusion with international entities, given the continuing Canadian support of the state of Israel and its impunity.

· Enhanced U.S. security and intelligence cooperation with regional governments on actions to prevent weapons and explosives flows to Gaza that originate in or transit their territories; including through the involvement of relevant components of the U.S. Government, such as U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

· Enhanced intelligence fusion with key international and coalition naval forces and other appropriate entities to address weapons supply to Gaza;

· Enhancement of the existing international sanctions and enforcement mechanisms against provision of material support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, including through an international response to those states, such as Iran, who are determined to be sources of weapons and explosives supply to Gaza.

Urgently, we call upon the NDP to publicly recognize the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Thank you for addressing our concerns,

We look forward to hearing from you, in correspondence and in the media,

Walid and Taina Chahal, Arab Association of Thunder Bay;
Thunder Bay Muslim Association

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