ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND THE WAR ON GAZA
The situation in Gaza as of 7 November 2023
Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children. – UN Secretary-General
At least 10,328 Palestinians have been killed in Israel air strikes on the Gaza Strip since 7 October, including 4,237 children and 3,000 women. 1,400 Israeli civilians have died, mainly in the initial Hamas attacks inside Israel.
According to Jason Lee, Save the Children’s director for the Palestinian territories,
We are now in a situation where one child is killed every 10 minutes.
By way of comparison, according to Euronews.com,
On day 618 [3 November 2023] of the war in Ukraine, the number of civilian deaths reported by the United Nations reached more than 9,900.
In other words, more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli bombardments in one month than Ukrainian civilians in 20 months of war with Russia.
Intensive aerial bombardment of tiny, densely populated enclave
This shocking difference is due to the fact that Gaza, a 25-mile-long strip of land and one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, has been subject to intensive Israeli aerial bombardment totaling 25,000 tonnes of explosives between 7 October and 2 November 2023. And since that time, the bombardments have only increased.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on 6th November:
Ground operations by the Israel Defense Forces and continued bombardment are hitting civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churches and U.N. facilities — including shelters. No one is safe.
Unprecedented joint call by 18 UN agencies and NGOs for an immediate ceasefire
The situation is so catastrophic that the leaders of 18 United Nations agencies and non-profit organisations (NGOs) have called for an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli-Hamas war, expressing “shock and horror” at the mounting death toll from the conflict:
We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now.
On Saturday, 4 November 2023, UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillippe Lazzarini, having just returned from Gaza, addressed a committee of the General Assembly.
He noted that 72 UNRWA staff have been killed in Gaza:
the highest number of aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time in the history of the UN.
Blinken’s humanitarian pauses, tactical pauses and other diversions
In response to demands from Arab states for an immediate ceasefire, US Secretary of State Blinken has responded that
a ceasefire would only benefit the militant group Hamas … allowing it to regroup.
Instead, he has been futilely pursuing the concept of location-specific “humanitarian pauses” — recently extended to include “tactical pauses” of an hour here or there, with no explanation of how they might work in practice given the sheer scale of the humanitarian needs and which Israel has, in any event, rejected without the release, by Hamas, of the hostages.
Hamas in turn has said they will only release the hostages if Israel frees all Palestinian prisoners.
How could a ceasefire only benefit Hamas?
Consider again Blinken’s comment — that a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas. Presumably, he means militarily it would only benefit Hamas and not Israel. But it would also end the deprivation of over two million civilians (almost half of whom are children) of food, water, fuel, and lifesaving medicines.
Hence the need to distract with manifestly unworkable proposals for humanitarian or tactical pauses.
Netanyahu adds: no fuel either until hostages released
Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that no fuel will be delivered to Gaza until the hostages are released, putting himself in the position of purporting to horse trade in war crimes.
Editor’s note: We will address the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in Tokyo and their support for humanitarian pauses in our upcoming blog post this Friday, 10 November 2023. We take this opportunity, however, to rejoice in the safe passage of the first tranche of the more than 500 Canadians trapped in Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.
Biden’s approval rating among Democrats has plummeted over blind support for Israel
According to the website Axios, President Biden’s approval rating among Democrats has plummeted to a record low of 75% — down a staggering 11 percentage points over just the last month, according to a new Gallup poll conducted between October 2 and October 23.
In their assessment:
Biden is at risk of alienating members of his own party with his unequivocal support for Israel, which has carried out a weeks-long bombardment and total siege of Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.
Surge of violence by extremist Israeli settlers and security forces in the Occupied West Bank
The United Nations, human rights groups, and locals describe a “surge of violence” by extremist Israeli settlers and security forces against Palestinians in the West Bank since 7 October.
According to an NBC news.com report:
While international attention has been focused on Hamas’ terror attack and Israel’s aerial and ground assault of Gaza, watchdogs say the killings [in the Occupied West Bank] have been encouraged and even aided by Israel’s security forces and hard-right government — which has openly armed the settlers with rifles and military gear while whipping up anti-Palestinian rhetoric.
For the latest from the International Crisis Group on these atrocities, click HERE. For a 3 November 2023 briefing on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), click HERE.
Israeli war propaganda emphasizes its evacuation orders and “windows” for Gazans to flee south
As the global outcry against the horrifying devastation in Gaza continued to mount, the Israeli military gave a briefing on 5 November in which it emphasized its many warnings and “windows” for Palestinians to flee south, which many networks carried without any additional commentary on Israel’s legal obligations regardless of these measures.
There’s no obligation for civilians to evacuate even if they get an evacuation order. Not displacing themselves, not heeding these warnings, not heeding the evacuation orders doesn’t affect their status and their entitlement to immunity from attack and protection at all.
There’s really only one way in which a civilian can lose that immunity from attack or their other protections become weakened, and that is direct participation in hostilities.
In conclusion then, even if Gazans could evacuate safely — which they cannot — to a safe place — of which there are none — their failure to do so does not change their protected status, with all that entails, including not being targeted directly, nor the subject of an indiscriminate or disproportionate attack on an alleged military object.
Concept paper on forcible transfer to Sinai
an Israeli government ministry has drafted a wartime proposal to transfer the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
According to AP:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office played down the report compiled by the Intelligence Ministry as a hypothetical exercise — a “concept paper.”
AP further wrote that, notwithstanding this disclaimer, the report’s conclusions
deepened long-standing Egyptian fears that Israel wants to make Gaza into Egypt’s problem, and revived for Palestinians memories of their greatest trauma — the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people who fled or were forced from their homes during the fighting surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
What about Hamas and human shields?
Amanda Taub, a former human rights lawyer and New York Times writer for the feature called “The Interpreter”, addresses Israel’s main rationale for attacking civilian targets in Gaza.
It is a war crime to use civilians’ presence to shield a particular military target from attack. Israel has claimed that Hamas operates from within hospitals and other civilian buildings as a way to protect itself. Hamas denies doing so.
But whether Hamas does or doesn’t use civilians as human shields, Israel’s legal responsibility to protect those civilians remains the same: It cannot disproportionately harm them, or target them directly.
For more information on how international humanitarian law applies in Israel and Gaza, see the analysis by Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser for Human Rights Watch, available HERE.
Israel long-term surveillance of Gaza and the Occupied West Bank
There is one more extremely important point when it comes to Israel’s culpability for bombing civilian infrastructure in Gaza: its detailed knowledge of every inch of the territory, due to its long-term electronic surveillance of what has long been called “an open-air prison.”
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Anyone who has seen the acclaimed documentary The Gatekeepers, featuring six former heads of the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet, will not forget the extent of Palestinian monitoring it vividly portrayed.
Nor will they fail to recall that, “to a man” the Shin Bet leaders decried the political leaders who ignored their recommendations to keep the peace process alive.
Latest UN statements on potential war crimes in Gaza conflict, including the risk of genocide
On 2 November 2023, UN human rights experts issued a statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled Gaza is ‘running out of time’ UN experts warn, demanding a ceasefire to prevent genocide.
The experts began with this warning:
We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide. The time for action is now.
This is not the first time that UN experts have warned of the need to prevent genocide.
These same UN experts back on 19 October 2023 raised warnings about a potential genocide, saying:
We are sounding the alarm: There is an ongoing campaign by Israel resulting in crimes against humanity in Gaza. Considering statements made by Israeli political leaders and their allies, accompanied by military action in Gaza and escalation of arrests and killing in the West Bank, there is also a risk of genocide against the Palestinian People.
Since that reference to highly problematic statements made by Israeli political leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has invoked the “Amalek” narrative in a 30 October speech about the expanding IDF operation in Gaza, stating:
You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible.
According to the Middle East Monitor, critics have highlighted that the text in the Hebrew Bible which addresses revenge on the Amalek constitutes a ‘narrative of genocide’:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
The article also includes a video of Netanyahu making this statement in Hebrew, which can be accessed HERE.
The 2 November 2023 statement by the UN experts next focused on Israel’s allies — which would of course include Canada. They said:
Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.
We further address the duty to act to prevent genocide — and uphold international humanitarian law in general — later in this post.
Israel has committed war crimes in the view of UN experts
The UN experts continue:
The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law — and a war crime. Attacking a camp sheltering civilians including women and children is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians.
Since that statement, the IDF has bombed the refugee camp several more times, bombed an ambulance convoy, bombed a children’s hospital, and bombed several UN schools sheltering countless Palestinian civilians.
The statement ends with a call for an “immediate ceasefire.”
It is available in full HERE.
The only statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights himself was transmitted in the form of a tweet on 1 November and uses careful language that nonetheless carries a clear warning to Israel.
1 November 2023
#Gaza – Given the high number of civilian casualties & the scale of destruction following Israeli airstrikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes. pic.twitter.com/ky2jYVrhJq
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) November 1, 2023
Situation exponentially worse since those warnings from UN human rights experts
Middle East Eye reports that Israel’s Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said on Sunday [5 November] that dropping a nuclear weapon on the Gaza Strip is “an option”, according to Haaretz.
The minister made the comments in a radio interview during which he maintained that “there are no non-combatants in Gaza,” adding that providing humanitarian aid to the Strip would constitute “a failure”.
Eliyahu was then asked if, since there are no non-combatants in his view, a nuclear attack on the Gaza Strip is an option. He responded:
That’s one way.
When asked about the fate of Palestinians, he said:
They can go to Ireland or deserts, the monsters in Gaza should find a solution by themselves.
He also said the Gaza Strip has no right to exist, adding that anyone waving a Palestinian or Hamas flag
shouldn’t continue living on the face of the earth.
Netanyahu’s response has been to suspend the minister from Cabinet until further notice.
Middle East Eye also reports:
Around 100 Israeli doctors have signed an open letter calling on the army to bomb hospitals in Gaza, saying that they are “infrastructure used by Hamas”.
Ishaan Tharoor, in a 7 November Washington Post article entitled Israel’s war in Gaza and the specter of ‘genocide’, writes:
Prominent Israeli officials have called not simply for the defeat of Hamas but for the annihilation of Gaza, the starving of its population, and the removal of Palestinians from some or all of its territory. The Israeli president suggested that civilians in the Hamas-controlled territory are not “innocent.”
The article also notes that
US rationale for blindly supporting Israel
In a 20 October speech from the Oval Office setting out “the United States’ Response to Hamas’s Terrorist Attacks Against Israel and Russia’s ongoing Brutal War Against Ukraine,” President Biden stated:
Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.
The remarks are critiqued by David Klion in a Nation editorial entitled Memo to Biden: Israel and Ukraine Are Not the Same (1 November 2023).
Describing the comparison as “awkward, even offensive,” Klion then proceeds to demolish it, first dealing with the Ukraine conflict:
Russia is Ukraine’s former imperial master and a much larger and more powerful country. Most Americans rightly understand Russia to be waging a straightforward war of aggression—and that by refusing to surrender to Russia, Ukrainians have been engaged in a war of resistance, defending their basic right to sovereignty.
Turning next to the Gaza war, Klion writes:
By contrast, it is Israel that militarily dominates the Palestinians, not the other way around. It’s Israel that occupies the West Bank and colonizes it with settlers in violation of international law; Israel that maintains the suffocating blockade that keeps more than 2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza and dependent on Israel for food, water, and electricity; Israel that has international legal recognition, a high-tech army, and, like Russia, nuclear weapons.
Biden’s comparison of Putin, the dictator of a major world power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, to Hamas, a militant faction officially recognized by no government on earth, is laughable; it is also a succinct encapsulation of US policy.
Following his speech, US President Joe Biden submitted a request to Congress for more than $105bn to provide humanitarian and military aid to Israel and Ukraine and humanitarian assistance for Gaza. On 7 November it was widely reported that the US was also moving ahead on a transfer of $320 million worth of precision-guided bomb equipment to Israel, in a transaction approved prior to the October 7 Hamas attack.
Josh Paul resignation
More light is thrown on the thinking of the Biden administration in an interview withJosh Paul, an 11-year veteran of the US State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs who resigned in protest on 18 October 2023.
On a LinkedIn post to which Paul attached his resignation note, he began:
Today I informed my colleagues that I have resigned from the State Department, due to a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel. To further explain my rationale for doing so, I have written the attached note.
His letter focuses on his concerns over the “expanded and expedited” provision of lethal arms to Israel, in accordance with a longstanding policy that shields Israel from any scrutiny or accountability for its use of those armaments.
In Paul’s view, this is one aspect of America’s “blind support” for Israel which serves neither country’s long-term interests.
We cannot be both for freedom, and against it. And we cannot be for a better world, while contributing to one that is materially worse.
Describing Hamas’ attack on Israel as a “monstrosity of monstrosities,” he continues:
I believe … that the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response, and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and Palestinian people — and is not in the long term American interest.
Josh Paul then provides this astute assessment of a policy many of us find not only reprehensible but incomprehensible, writing:
This Administration’s response — and much of Congress’ as well — is an impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy, and bureaucratic inertia.
In his view, and we would strongly agree:
Decades of the same approach have shown that security for peace leads to neither security, nor to peace.
What exactly is “security for peace”?
In a separate opinion piece in the Washington Post on 23 October Paul elaborates further on this misguided concept, writing:
A basic premise of U.S. military assistance to Israel since the Oslo Accords has been “security for peace” — the notion that if Israel can feel secure, including through the provision of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-funded arms transfers each year, it can more readily make the concessions allowing for the emergence of a Palestinian state.
That has been anything but the actual result, as Paul further elaborates in his Washington Post commentary:
the track record shows that U.S.-provided arms have not led Israel to peace. Rather, in the West Bank, they have facilitated the growth of a settlement infrastructure that now makes a Palestinian state increasingly unlikely, while in the densely populated Gaza Strip, bombings have inflicted mass trauma and casualties, contributing nothing to Israeli security.
In his resignation letter, Paul adds:
The fact is, blind support for one side is destructive in the long term to the interests of both sides.
Canada echoes “security for peace” rationale in Foreign Affairs Committee briefing
In a 23 October briefing on the situation in Israel and Gaza by Global Affairs officials to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ms. Ann Flanagan Whalen, director general, North Africa, Israel, West Bank/Gaza, in response to a question from BQ MP Jean-Denis Garon, stated in part:
We think we need to make it clear that Israel, following this horrible terrorist attack, has the right to defend itself according to the principles of international law. That is central for us as well, and we are profoundly preoccupied with Israel’s security in the region. Without security for Israel, there is no sustainable peace in this region either.
The reality is that Israel has been emboldened to believe it can have security without peace and indeed without a Palestinian state at all.
Suppressing accurate media coverage and critiques of Israel
we cover the way the news is covered
The Listening Post is a weekly programme on Al Jazeera that “does not cover the news but the way the news is covered.”
Its 28 October episode is entitled Reporting under Israeli bombardment. Hosted by Richard Gizbert, the video is available by clicking on the arrow below.
The print summary of the programme states in part:
After three weeks of punishing Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Israel is still refusing to allow international journalists in.
This means that news outlets and audiences are entirely reliant on local journalists — Palestinians in Gaza — to find out what is going on.
After reading that summary, ask yourself whether you have read — or heard — in any mainstream commentary that Israel is refusing to allow international journalists or investigators into Gaza?
Host Richard Gizbert describes the risks to these brave locals:
In 2022 a total of 67 journalists and media workers were killed around the world. In Gaza they are being killed at a rate of roughly one per day. At least two dozen in less than three weeks. It is a journalistic killing field.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director, Human Rights Watch, comments on this vital journalistic work:
The limited snapshots we are able to get … are so critical for human rights advocates, for governments, for historians, for so many others to understand in real time what is taking place.
Host Gizbert continues:
Israel will not allow international reporters or investigators in [to Gaza], which has given its officials space to cast doubt on the death toll.
He then plays a clip where Eylon Levy, Israel Government Spokesperson, states:
When we talk about Gaza health authorities, we are talking about Hamas.
Another clip is then played where President Biden echoes these allegations:
I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.
Richard Gizbert responds:
The fact of the matter is, however, that doctors in Gaza have developed an expertise in how to identify and account for the dead, a methodology born of necessity.
Omar Shakir comments further:
not only does Human Rights Watch, but the UN as well as the US State Department in their Annual Human Rights Reports, all use the figures from Gaza’s Ministry of Health.
International media reliant on Israeli PR machine
Host Richard Gizbert explains that a key focus of Israeli leaders and their PR machine is the global media, the journalists that Israel has locked out.
It is a strategy that Israel admits to without shame.
Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician of the centrist Yesh Atid party and a former journalist and leader of the Opposition since January 2023, is then shown in a clip making the following statement:
If the international media is objective, it serves Hamas. If it just shows both sides, it serves Hamas.
International media does not acknowledge or explain these restrictions
Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an independent ezine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, comments:
In a different world every news report about this war by any foreign news agency would start by emphasizing that ‘we are unable to enter the Gaza Strip and to report from the scene … because the Israeli military has banned us from entering’.
But anyone watching mainstream news channels, other than Al Jazeera, will know this is not what is happening.
IDF has made claims about Al Shifa Hospital since 2008 without proof
The IDF claims that Hamas routinely uses hospitals for its military operations. They have been making this specific claim about the Al-Shifa hospital since 2008.
Shifa Hospital open for any UN investigative body
The Middle East Eye is reporting that the Director of Gaza’s main Al-Shifa Hospital has called on the United Nations to send an inquiry delegation to investigate allegations made by Israel regarding the presence of Hamas infrastructure in the hospital, calling the allegations ‘lies’.
The article continues:
The director emphasised that all health facilities in Gaza are open for scrutiny by any international body willing to investigate the claims.
See also the challenge launched by Dr. Mads Gilbert, a veteran Norwegian physician in the NORWAC (Norwegian Aid Committee) emergency team for Gaza, who has worked with Palestinians as a specialist in emergency medicine for 45 years.
I challenge Netanyahu to show proof that Al Shifa Hospital is a Hamas hideout.
Dr. Gilbert, popularly known as Dr. Mads, was in Lebanon in 1982 when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) invaded southern Lebanon. He was in Gaza offering emergency medical services during the Israeli bombardments of 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2014.
On this occasion, he was speaking from his hotel room in Cairo, Egypt, where he awaits an opportunity to enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to join and assist Palestinian healthcare workers whose hospitals are hanging by a thread in the face of the weeks-long IDF onslaught.
ICRC medical convoy fired on in Gaza City on 7 November 2023
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is deeply troubled that its humanitarian convoy in Gaza City came under fire on Tuesday.
On 7 November the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement condemning the attack on its convoy carrying “lifesaving medical supplies to health facilities, including to Al Quds hospital of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society”.
Biden called on Qatar to “tone down” Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera is one of the few news organisations with a functioning bureau in Gaza, enabling it to report directly on the hugely destructive impact of Israel’s heavy bombardment of the territory, as anyone watching that network can surely confirm.
In the words of Listening Post host Richard Gizbert:
It is the kind of first-hand accounting of the impact of Israeli bombs and missiles that the Netanyahu government does not want the world to see.
And there is evidence that the Biden administration also finds such journalism problematic.
According to theguardian.com:
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has reportedly asked Qatar to moderate Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israel’s war against Hamas, amid concerns within the Biden administration that the channel is inflaming public opinion.
That same Guardian article also included this comment on the quality of Al Jazeera’s coverage:
Trita Parsi, of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Al Jazeera was widely respected in the Arab world as an authoritative source on the current war because it had continued to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even after other Arab media outlets had scaled back their coverage.
BBC staff ‘crying at work’ over Israel-Gaza coverage
According to a 23 October 2023 story in The [UK] Times:
The BBC has been accused by its journalists of being too lenient on Israel and “dehumanising” Palestinian civilians, allegedly leaving staff crying in lavatories and taking time off work.
The article continues:
Concerns were raised with senior editorial figures in a meeting this week. An email setting out fears that the BBC was “treating Israeli lives as more worthy than Palestinian lives” was sent to Tim Davie, the director-general.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Al Jazeera is relentlessly cataloguing the unimaginable destruction in Gaza while BBC has largely been broadcasting from sunny Jerusalem and southern Israel. The contrast is almost surreal.
Social media is another front in this war
The Listening Post next turns to a segment by AJ journalist Flo Phillips on social media as another front in this war.
This past Wednesday [25 October] Meta raised eyebrows for closing the account Eye on Palestine which has more than 6 million Instagram followers. The account going dark is being seen as a prime example of anti-Palestinian censorship but Meta insists it disabled the account because of security concerns.
Other actions include:
- Increased warnings attached to footage showing bomb devastation or traumatized Gazans have not been applied to similar footage related to Russia’s war on Ukraine.
- Application of “age gating” restrictions – requiring proof of age before footage can be seen – to Gaza but not Ukraine footage.
No such restrictions have been applied to the Israeli government’s online ads, many of which feature shocking images and texts.
But the battle to portray what is happening is not limited to journalists and social media.
Polarization and dehumanization are being fueled by a tsunami of disinformation.
We must stand up to the forces of antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and all forms of hate.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 5, 2023
The silencing of critics inside and outside Israel
We are seeing draconian efforts in Israel to silence internal critics of its Gaza war policy while the most extreme hate speech against Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel, is untouched.
The crackdown on so-called Palestinian incitement to terrorism now encompasses over 126 criminal investigations, as well as countless university suspensions of professors or students.
Monitoring of extremist speech does not apply to Jewish-Israeli extremists
Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer and author, writes:
As far as I can tell, not a single Jewish Israeli who has issued calls to “erase Gaza,” carry out a “second nakba” … or called for other acts of terrorism against Palestinian civilians has been summoned by the police.
Suppression of critics of Israel in the United States
a wave of McCarthyite backlash
Chris McGreal, writing for the Guardian US on 30 October, describes warnings from American civil rights leaders of a “wave of McCarthyite backlash” against criticism of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza after Americans expressing support for the Palestinians have been sacked, faced threats of violence and hounded by pro-Israel groups.
US officials should protect free speech and peaceful protest, regardless of viewpoint, consistent with international human rights standards.
The situation in the US has become so alarming that Human Rights Watch on 2 November 2023 issued a statement calling on government officials, law enforcement, college and university administrators, and employers, among others, “to step up to uphold” the fundamental human rights to free speech and assembly.
Canada too is not immune
Ontario MLA Sarah Jama and the danger to free speech
Rookie MLA Sarah Jama was censured by the Ontario legislature even after she apologized for failing to condemn the October 7 attacks by Hamas in a tweet expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause. She was also ousted from the NDP caucus for alleged insubordination.
Here is her post on X, formerly Twitter:
— Sarah Jama (@SarahJama_) October 10, 2023
Hon. Paul Calandra:
I move that this House expresses its disapproval of, and dissociates itself from, continued disreputable conduct by the member for Hamilton Centre, most specifically her use of social media to make anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements related to the existence of the State of Israel and its defence against Hamas terrorists;
However wrongheaded it was for Sarah Jama to fail to condemn the horrific October 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians — for which failure she subsequently apologized — how can her comments, which called for an immediate ceasefire and criticised the Israeli occupation of Palestine, be construed as “anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements related to the existence of the State of Israel”?
In a nutshell, we see the biggest danger to free speech of all when it comes to Israel and Palestine — the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
For a very thoughtful discussion of the importance of protecting free speech on Canadian university campuses, see Amid on-campus tensions brought on by Israel-Hamas war, experts worry about free expression (Jessica Wong, cbc.ca, 28 October 2023).
Whither Canada? We demand support for an immediate ceasefire.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s website includes a short summary of his 4 November 2023 phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including:
- Canada’s support for Israel and its right to defend itself in accordance with international law, in the face of Hamas’ brutal attacks
- The need for the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza
- Ongoing efforts to get foreign citizens out of Gaza including Canadians.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed the importance of upholding international humanitarian law and making every effort to protect Palestinian civilians.
He also highlighted his deep concerns with the dire humanitarian crisis, and reiterated Canada’s position on the immediate need to create conditions for urgent and necessary humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.
But the Government of Canada remains silent in the face of overwhelming evidence of grave violations of international humanitarian law by Israel.
satellite images that showed entire areas bombed, homes of thousands of people destroyed and medical facilities attacked … [are] “clearly problematic” from an international humanitarian law perspective. – Norwegian Foreign Minister
In contrast, as far back as 29 October the Norwegian Prime Minister has spoken out against the “disproportionate” Israeli response to the Hamas attack, concerns echoed by Norway’s Foreign Minister in the quotation above. Ireland’s Prime Minister did the same on 3 November.
Verbal support for IHL is meaningless in the face of silence over gross violations
The unwillingness to even acknowledge that the denial of the basic necessities of life is a war crime extends to Canadian officials, as we see from this exchange between a Bloc MP and GAC official Ann Flanagan Whalen at the Foreign Affairs Committee briefing on the situation in Israel and Gaza referenced earlier in this blog post on the security for peace issue:
According to you, and according to the Government of Canada, is the current blockade a violation of international law?
I’m not in a position to assess whether this is a violation of international humanitarian law.
Canada has not yet taken an official position on the status of this blockade with respect to international law.
Is that correct?
Canada has not taken a position on that. We’re not in a position to determine that.
Yesterday, Canada and its main allies “reiterated their support for Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism and called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.”
Can you tell us exactly how far Israel’s right to defend itself extends? Is it limited in any way?
It’s a question of proportionality and international law that I believe you’re referring to here. We can return to you in writing with some further detail on that.
Canada and its legal obligations under International Humanitarian Law
We call on the … Government to act urgently to fulfil its international legal obligations
While GAC officials are educating themselves on the basic provisions of international humanitarian law, we turn to a superb open letter from a large number of legal practitioners, legal academics, and former members of the judiciary in the UK who call on the UK Government to “act urgently to fulfil its international legal obligations” in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
These obligations, summarized below, are equally applicable to Canada.
First, the actions of Hamas in Israel — the murder of hundreds of civilians and other atrocities — are crimes against humanity. They are also war crimes, as is the taking of hostages. Under the Geneva Conventions, Hamas’ actions cannot be justified by any previous acts of war by Israel. Furthermore, under international law, Hamas’ actions do not justify crimes by Israel
Second, Israel has the right in international law to respond in self-defence to the attacks of 7 October 2023. However, such responses must distinguish between civilians and combatants and therefore avoid such blanket techniques as area bombardment and the damage of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.
Third, in armed conflict, the civilians of Gaza have the right to protection according to the framework that governs how nations respond to attack. Whatever the provocation, every nation is bound to comply with the rules of war. These were established to limit the harm that can be inflicted on other human beings, however strong the desire for retribution.
The complete siege of Gaza, the evacuation orders and the population transfers are violations of international law. Depriving over two million civilians (almost half of whom are children) of food, water and fuel is a war crime.
Fourth relevant principle — the duty to respect and ensure respect for IHL
The UK is duty-bound to “respect and ensure respect” for international humanitarian law as set out in the Four Geneva Conventions in all circumstances (1949 Geneva Conventions, Common Art 1).
The UK lawyers’ letter explains the meaning of the fourth principle — to respect and ensure respect for IHL:
That means that the UK [and therefore Canada] must not itself violate international humanitarian law, as set out therein and that it must neither encourage, nor aid or assist its violation by others.
It is also interpreted as incorporating a duty on States to do everything in their power to prevent or bring to an end any such violations of the law by other parties (ICRC Commentaries).[emphasis added]
Duty to Act under the Genocide Convention
The Contracting parties confirm that genocide … is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.
The UK lawyers’ letter makes specific mention of the Genocide Convention:
As a State party to the Genocide Convention, the UK Government is also required to act to prevent genocide where there is a risk of genocide occurring.
The lawyers’ letter then sets out what is necessary, in their view, for the UK — and therefore Canada — to fulfill those obligations in the case of the situation in Gaza:
Urgently work for a ceasefire
Pursuant to those obligations, we call upon the UK Government urgently to exert its influence to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank, and to ensure the urgent and adequate provision of food, fuel, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and the unconditional restoration of water and electricity; the protection of medical facilities; and the facilitation of safe passage for the critically ill and those requiring treatment abroad. We call on the Government to use its best endeavours to secure the urgent return of the hostages.
Halt arms exports
We also call on the Government immediately to halt the export of weapons from the UK to Israel, given the clear risk that they might be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in breach of the UK’s domestic Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, including its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.
Canada not even reassessing its recent arms exports to Israel according to officials
We have previously noted the Prime Minister’s rhetorical support for
the immediate need to create conditions for urgent and necessary humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.
We will return to this issue after examining Canadian inaction with respect to its military exports to Israel.
Consider the following exchange between NDP Foreign Affairs critic Heather McPherson and the hapless GAC official, Ann Flanagan Whalen, during the aforementioned GAC briefing on the situation in Gaza:
What I want to ask about now is military sales, military goods that go to Israel every year.
Canada exports about $22 million in military goods each year. We’ve long called for a ban on those arms sales to Israel while the occupation continues. Canada is also a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty. Obviously, that requires the states that have signed on to consider human rights in their arms deals.
Do you track whether any of those military goods or technologies sold to Israel are being used in the war in Gaza? Also, how can Canada be in compliance with the Arms Trade Treaty while it continues to export weapons to Israel at this time?
We do keep track of the goods that we ship. We do the assessment at the time they are exported to make sure that it is done under the conditions of our own legislation as well as the Arms Trade Treaty. That is where we are right now.
I don’t have information about anything that is currently going into Gaza, but certainly anything that would be applied for to go into Gaza now would be looked at against the criteria to try to figure out whether it might be a risk to violating our obligations—
In the language of export controls — where permits previously granted allow ongoing shipments under the permit unless reassessed — this response means that Canada does not intend to reassess the current permit authorizations despite the catastrophically enhanced risk of their potential use contrary to international humanitarian law. But Canada would consider the possible risk if new requests for permits were made.
In short, no reassessment of ongoing exports under existing permits and no commitment to halt new shipments of military goods.
Its duty under international law is clear. Canada needs to urgently work for a ceasefire and halt all further arms exports to Israel.
Leading Canadian humanitarian agencies held a press conference in Ottawa on 7 November calling for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access.
And the majority of Canadians want a ceasefire, as the latest Angus Reid poll clearly demonstrates — with two-thirds backing either a temporary or full ceasing of hostilities.
The nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is a crisis of humanity.
We demand — in the name of international law and our country’s clear obligations thereunder, and in the name of our common humanity — that the Government of Canada forthrightly announce its support for and its commitment to doing everything it can diplomatically:
- To secure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and to ensure
- the urgent and adequate provision of food, fuel, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance to Gaza;
- the unconditional restoration of water and electricity;
- the protection of medical facilities; and
- the facilitation of safe passage for the critically ill and those requiring treatment abroad.
We also call on the Government to use its best endeavours to secure the urgent release and return of the hostages, and we stress, in that regard, the contribution that an immediate ceasefire could make to this end.
We further call on the Government of Canada to halt all arms exports to Israel.
WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY
Parliamentary e-petition e-4649 has been started by a Montreal resident, with the support of NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, calling for an immediate ceasefire and related measures, including the lifting of the Gaza blockade and a “humanitarian corridor”.
It also calls on Canada to seek Israeli compliance with its international legal obligations, to meet its own obligations to promote and defend human rights and
to take any other measures necessary to protect civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians, and help foster a climate conducive to building a lasting peace.
Editor’s note: The language of the petition is a little awkward but its meaning remains clear.
LET THE PRIME MINISTER AND OTHER PARLIAMENTARIANS KNOW THAT YOU ARE DEMANDING AN IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE AND FULL HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO GAZA.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < email@example.com >
Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >
Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>
Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >
And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.
Photo credit: Wikimedia images (bombardment of Gaza, October 2023)
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