Canada: rise to the ‘humanity of the moment’ and support a ceasefire now


Media Reports on 18 November 2023 include another attack on a UN-run school in Jabalia refugee camp that housed thousands of displaced Palestinians and the panicked evacuation of patients, staff and displaced persons at Al Shifa hospital. In a rare piece of good news, Reuters reported on 19 November 2023 that:

Ambulance crews of the Palestinian Red Crescent evacuated 31 premature babies from Shifa Hospital on Sunday in coordination with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The babies were transferred to the south of Gaza “in preparation for their transfer to the Emirates Hospital in Rafah.”

The situation as of 17 November 2023 

11,400 dead, 4,700 of whom are children

Editor’s note: with almost every hospital out of commission, the Gaza Health Ministry is struggling to record accurate numbers, but is now reporting at least 12,000 dead.

Imminent risk of starvation and disease

I do believe there is a deliberate attempt to strangle our operation and paralyze UNRWA operations. – UNRWA Commissioner General Phillipe Lazzarini

In a Guardian article entitled Gaza faces ‘immediate possibility’ of starvation as disease spreads, UN says” (17 November 2023), Emma Graham-Harrison writes:

The UN has warned that Gaza’s civilians face the “immediate possibility” of starvation, and that overcrowding and lack of clean water are speeding the spread of diseases as winter approaches.”

Aid agencies have said that deliveries of already scarce food and other supplies have been halted in recent days because of shortages of fuel for trucks and a communications blackout, also due to the lack of fuel, that has made it impossible to coordinate deliveries.

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Cindy McCain further explains:

Supplies of food and water are practically non-existent in Gaza and only a fraction of what is needed is arriving through the borders.

According to the WFP, “the food that has entered Gaza is only enough to meet 7 percent of the people’s daily minimum caloric needs.”

The shortage of fuel is crippling humanitarian distribution

The overall UN Chief of humanitarian operations, Martin Griffiths, had explained in detail on 15 November 2023 exactly how much fuel is needed per day:

to cover the whole of the Gazan territory and therefore all of the people in need, we would need about 200,000 liters a day. Now, this has been happening for years. UNRWA has extensive experience in this. UNOPS [the UN Office for Project Services] has extensive experience also in helping make the distribution of fuel. And we understand the need for monitoring.

This puts in perspective the latest Israeli decision, in response to a US request, to allow

the entry of two diesel fuel tankers per day for the needs of the UN to support water and sewer infrastructure… provided that it does not reach Hamas.

The Scottish newspaper The National adds that, in announcing this decision, Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s National Security Adviser, described the quantity as “very minimal”.

Starvation as a weapon is a war crime comments:

A unanimous decision to allow two UN fuel tankers per day into Gaza is powerful evidence — in an ICC prosecution that will someday take place — of the complicity of the entire Israeli war cabinet in the ongoing war crime of the denial of the basic necessities of life to 2.2 million Gazans.

Growing concerns for civilians in southern Gaza

The Guardian also reports on 17 November 2023 that

Fears are also growing for people crowded into the south of the Gaza Strip, as Israel’s military consolidates its control of the northern areas around Gaza City, and appears to be preparing to step up operations elsewhere.

The report continues:

Civilians in parts of south-east Gaza have been told in leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft to move into a smaller “safe zone” in the coastal town of Mawasi, which covers just 14 sq km (5.4 sq miles).

In response, UN and other humanitarian chiefs issued a joint statement warning:

Without the right conditions, concentrating civilians in such zones in the context of active hostilities can raise the risk of attack and additional harm….

No ‘safe zone’ is truly safe when it is declared unilaterally or enforced by the presence of armed forces.

As the Guardian notes, the broadening operation raises concerns about where civilians would find shelter. Egypt has repeatedly said it will not allow an exodus onto its territory.

Israeli air strikes continue in the south in any event

As we have repeatedly noted in past blog posts, despite urging civilians to move south for their safety, Israeli attacks have continued there, though with less intensity than in the north.

RI President Peggy Mason asks:

Are our governments really going to stand by and allow IDF ground operations in the South to wreak the same carnage on innocent civilians as we have seen — and continue to see — in the North?

The situation in the Occupied West Bank worsens

I am deeply concerned about the intensification of violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk

On 16 November 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) gave an informal briefing following his mission to Egypt and Jordan.  After commenting on the “catastrophic harm” that ordinary people in Gaza were suffering, he went on to highlight his concerns over the situation in the occupied West Bank, where at least 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or by settlers since the beginning of October, ending with this statement:

I want to be clear: we are well beyond the level of early warning. I am ringing the loudest possible alarm bell about the occupied West Bank.

“Binding” UN Security Council resolution is passed calling for humanitarian pauses reports:

After 40 days of war in Gaza, [on 15 November 2023] the United Nations Security Council finally passed a binding resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” in Gaza for “a sufficient number of days” to allow full, rapid, safe and unhindered access for UN agencies and partners to enable essential help to reach civilians, especially children, in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan immediately wrote on X/Twitter:

The UN Security Council’s resolution is disconnected from reality and is meaningless…. It will not happen. Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned.

The Ambassador further wrote:

Hamas’s strategy is to deliberately deteriorate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and increase the number of Palestinian casualties in order to motivate the UN and the Security Council to stop Israel.

The US abstained because the resolution did not condemn Hamas but did not use its veto to defeat the resolution in order, experts argue, to help quell domestic anger, including from within the administration, for its full-throated backing of Israel.

UN Security Council resolutions are binding but not self-enforcing

Why did Israel thumb its nose at a binding UN Security Council resolution?

RI President Peggy Mason responds:

UN Security Council resolutions require additional actions, such as sanctions, against states that fail to heed them. But Israel knows with near certainty that it will be shielded by the US veto from any real consequences of its failure to heed the resolution in any way.

The hypocrisy of the rules-based international order (RBIO) laid bare

A searing article by Spencer Ackerman in The Nation (17 November 2023) unveils the true meaning of the rules-based international order (RBIO). Entitled Gaza Shows the Difference Between International Law and the “Rules-Based International Order, the under-banner reads:

Adherence to US hegemony determines who does—and does not—get to violate the architecture restraining state violence.

Ackerman explains:

[RBIO] doesn’t replace the mechanisms of international law; it places asterisks beside them. The rules may bind US adversaries, but the US and its clients can opt out.

He quotes Mary Ellen O’Connell, an international law expert and professor at the University of Notre Dame, who first states that RBIO

cannot replace international law—international law is inherent in the very concept of a state, of an international boundary, of treaties, of human rights. But what it can do is undermine knowledge and respect for the system of international law.

She explains:

The law’s capacity to support solutions to global challenges from war and peace to climate change and poverty is being severely degraded by this competing, deeply flawed [RBIO] concept.

Applying this analysis to Gaza, Ackerman writes:

There is no way to square those [civilian casualty] figures with international law’s demands for distinction and proportionality. Israel, however, knows it has something stronger than international law: the protection of the rules-based international order.

On the gravity of the Israeli breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza, Ackerman writes:

Holocaust scholars like Raz Segal of Stockton University and Omer Bartov of Brown University consider Israel to be at or past the threshold of committing genocide, the most horrific of atrocities that a state calling itself Jewish could possibly commit.

He grimly concludes:

Now the world is watching Israel annihilate Gaza with US weapons and diplomatic support. In doing so, Biden and Netanyahu show what the rules-based international order really is: not a world of liberty under law but a mass grave.

Whither Canada?

Canada first signalled its embrace of the concept in a 6 June 2017 address to Parliament by then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities, with one reference each to “international law” and “an international order based on rules”.

By her 13 June 2018 speech in Washington, D.C. when receiving Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year Award, Freeland used the term no less than 9 times, with not one reference to “international law”.

Hospitals and Hamas military infrastructure: Israel claims as yet unproven

Israel has been maintaining for weeks that Hamas uses civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, for its operations. In particular, it has alleged that Al Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, is central to the Hamas military effort.

Israel says it knows with certainty that there is a Hamas command centre underneath Shifa. – IDF spokesperson RAdm Daniel Hagari

Hamas has consistently denied these claims and has repeatedly called for a committee from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross to verify Israel’s claims of Hamas tunnels under Gaza hospitals.

Information missteps have led to questions about Israel’s credibility – NBC News

On 14 November the US publicly backed these accusations, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the assessment was based partially “on intercepted communications of fighters inside the compound.”

The mainstream media, however, including the Washington Post and the BBC, have not taken these Israeli assertions at face value, despite Biden’s backing.

Remember Colin Powell’s infamous intelligence briefing to the UN on alleged WMD in Iraq?

In so far as the US backing of the claims is concerned, perhaps the media is remembering the farcical American presentation by then Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council of so-called intelligence — including intercepted communications — in support of Saddam Hussein’s alleged [but in actuality non-existent] weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — and the mainstream media’s collective gullibility in unquestioningly accepting as true what turned out to be completely bogus information.

As for Israel’s evidence in support of its claims, here is what Washington Post journalists wrote on 16 November 2023:

Israel has yet to produce findings that corroborate its claims that al-Shifa sits atop a Hamas headquarters and was central to the militant group’s operations in northern Gaza.

Jeremy Bowen, BBC International editor, in a 17 November 2023 article entitled Ceasefire demands will grow without proof of Hamas HQ at Al-Shifa (, writes first:

We have to remember that there is no independent scrutiny inside the hospital; journalists cannot move freely into Gaza, and any who are reporting from the site are working under the aegis of the Israeli military.

He continues:

The evidence Israel has produced, so far, I do not believe to be convincing in terms of the kind of rhetoric Israelis were using about the set-up at the hospital, which suggested this was a nerve centre for the Hamas operation.

Human Rights Watch says insufficient evidence for Al Shifa to lose protected status

Reuters reported on 16 November 2023 that, according to Human Rights Watch, images released by Israel of weapons it says its soldiers found inside Shifa were not sufficient to justify revoking the hospital’s status as protected by the laws of war:

Hospitals only lose those protections if it can be shown that harmful acts have been carried out from the premises. The Israeli government hasn’t provided any evidence of that.

For more on the evidentiary issue, see Israel’s Ludicrous Propaganda Wins Over the Only Audience That Counts (Jeet Heer,, 17 November 2023). comments:

We remind once again that, even if Israel finds convincing evidence Hamas has been using civilian infrastructure for military purposes, that does not remove the obligation under international law for Israel not to directly, indiscriminately or disproportionately target civilians — an obligation it is blatantly and consistently flouting.

Growing calls for a ceasefire now

The Bowen article referenced above also draws attention to an Open Letter to President Biden from the Elders, a group of retired prime ministers, presidents and elder statesmen and women from around the world, which condemns Hamas atrocities but goes on to say:

Destroying Gaza and killing civilians is not making Israel safer. These actions will breed more terrorism across the region and beyond. There is no military solution to the conflict.

Balfour Project: Gaza ceasefire now

We have previously cited the Balfour Project and their superb Open letter to the UK government outlining the applicable international humanitarian law and the steps — including first and foremost a ceasefire — that the UK government needs to take to live up to its obligations under that law.

Building hope for a better future for Palestinians and Israelis, with equal rights and mutual security

In a new call on the British government, released on 14 November 2023, the Balfour Project again urges the UK to support an immediate Gaza ceasefire and lays out a plan for “Building hope for a better future for Palestinians and Israelis, with equal rights and mutual security”.

Temporary international administration in Gaza

One noteworthy aspect of their proposals is an initiative rooted in international law, reuniting Gaza with the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the form of

a temporary international administration … in Gaza, under a joint UN Security Council and Arab League mandate, to begin the rebuilding and to support a new international initiative for a political process to bring hope of a better future for all: a future of equality.

Powerful open letter decrying lack of Canadian government support for a ceasefire

Over 200 lawyers and legal scholars have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau decrying Canada’s failure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. (The number of signatories has since grown to over 300). It begins:

As lawyers and legal scholars, we find the Canadian government’s ongoing failure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza unconscionable and to be in shocking disregard of vital international humanitarian and human rights legal standards that Canada regularly champions around the world.

The letter also states:

Your government has been clear and unequivocal in condemning the Hamas attacks — which have been widely decried as war crimes — and insisting that all hostages be released. We join you in that call.

But the failure to be equally clear and unequivocal in condemning unlawful actions taken by Israel in response to those attacks is of deep concern and makes a mockery of the universal nature of human rights.

The letter calls on Canada to:

  • honour its specific obligation to prevent genocide and its wider responsibility to act to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law in Gaza, including by immediately calling for a ceasefire;
  • support international mechanisms to address the underlying causes for violence, including by removing objections to the ongoing legal proceedings before the International Court of Justice and ongoing investigations by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;
  • cease any complicity with Israel’s violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through provision of arms and other forms of trade; and
  • ensure that the freedom of expression in Canada to criticize Israel’s violations is upheld.

Update on halting arms transfers to Israel

Control Arms, the leading NGO supporting the Arms Trade Treaty, posted on X/Twitter a copy of its letter to the European Commission calling for a halt to all arms transfers to the Israel and Palestine conflict.

In addition, the Dutch chapters of Amnesty International, PAX and Oxfam are preparing legal action against the Dutch government regarding arms exports to Israel.

Whither Canada?

On 15 November 2023 at a press conference in Vancouver Prime Minister Trudeau stated:

I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint…. The world is watching, on TV, on social media — we’re hearing the testimonies of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who have lost their parents.

The also reported that

The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau… enraged Israel by calling on its forces to stop “killing babies”.

Israeli PM Netanyahu responded almost immediately on X/Twitter, alleging that Israel was “doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way” and placing all the blame for civilian casualties on Hamas.

In a telephone conversation the next day with a member of Netanyahu’s wartime cabinet, Benny Gantz, Trudeau seemingly returned to his pre-Vancouver talking points by reaffirming Canada’s

longstanding support for Israel and its right to defend itself in accordance with international law

while at the same time stressing that Israel needs to take “all possible measures to protect civilians and minimize casualties.”

On 17 November 2023 Trudeau repeats call for Israel to show “maximum restraint”

The Canadian Press reported on 17 November 2023 that Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters at the APEC summit in San Francisco:

Canada is extremely concerned about the number of civilian casualties in Gaza.

Both because the loss of life is heartbreaking to see, but also because the pathway toward a secure, viable, independent Jewish state alongside a secure, viable independent Palestinian state is getting more difficult with all the hardship that Palestinians are going through.

Most significantly, Canadian Press reports that

Trudeau, when asked, also repeated his call for Israel to show “maximum restraint” — a phrase he had used Tuesday that prompted an immediate, public rebuke from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He also stated:

Even as we absolutely must see releasing of hostages and a condemnation and justice for the Hamas terrorists, we need to also be moving toward peace and stability in the region, and that means protecting civilian life; it means getting necessary aid and medication and water into Gaza. comments:

The UN Security Council has finally passed a binding resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” in Gaza for “a sufficient number of days” to allow full, rapid, safe and unhindered access for UN agencies and partners”.  At the very least, Prime Minister Trudeau should bolster his latest, welcome, statements with a specific and unequivocal call for Israel to act in accordance with this binding UN Security Council resolution.

On Israel-Gaza, Canada must rise to the humanity of the moment

The former longtime head of Amnesty International Canada, Alex Neve, and several other distinguished Canadians have written a powerful commentary for the Hill Times entitled On Israel-Gaza, Canada must rise to the humanity of the moment (15 November 2023).

It ends with this statement:

The Canadian government’s actions will be judged by history and are under scrutiny today. Now is the moment to breathe life—Palestinian life—into Canada’s commitment to the international legal system.

Canada must support a ceasefire now and take other urgent actions to help stop the Gaza carnage and to secure the release and return of hostages.

We first reiterate our previous urgent calls to action by the Government of Canada in relation to the Gaza conflict, particularly support for an immediate ceasefire.

In addition, in line with the recent call from eminent Canadian lawyers and scholars, we call upon the Government of Canada to:

  • honour its specific obligation to prevent genocide and its wider responsibility to act to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law in Gaza, including by immediately calling for a ceasefire;  
  • support international mechanisms to address the underlying causes for violence, including by removing objections to the ongoing legal proceedings before the International Court of Justice and ongoing investigations by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;  
  • cease any complicity with Israel’s violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through provision of arms and other forms of trade; and  
  • ensure that the freedom of expression in Canada to criticize Israel’s violations is upheld.




The parliamentary e-petition that we referenced in our last three blog posts — calling for an immediate ceasefire — now has over 271,700 signatures.  It will remain open for more signatures until 23 November 2023 at 3:20 pm EDT.

Click HERE to sign this parliamentary e-petition.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: <  >

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < >

Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < >

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < >

Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: <>

Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < >

And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.

ADDENDUM: Remember the Pierre Trudeau Peace Initiative?

For a glimpse into the past and a better time in Canadian foreign policy activism, see Today in Canada’s Political History: PM Pierre Trudeau and President Ronald Reagan discuss Trudeau’s Peace Initiative (Arthur Milnes,, 17 November 2023).

Note that, while Secretary of State Shultz, not President Reagan, attended the opening of the Stockholm Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures in Europe, the process begun there became a key stepping stone in the establishment of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Photo credit: Al Jazeera upload (Gaza under blockade and bombardment, 9 October 2023) is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support…. 

Tags: Al Shifa hospital, Control Arms, Daniel Hagari, Gaza ceasefire, humanitarian aid to Gaza, Israel and Gaza war, Netanyahu, Petition e-4649, starvation as a weapon, Trudeau and maximum restraint, U.N. Security Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, War crimes