Questions offered to Journalists to pose to the PM during his visit to Israel.
Part 1: Six questions to ask Mr. Harper during his visit to Israel
Prime Minister Harper has indicated that he sees his Middle East trip as a means to promote “essential Canadian values” such as human rights, and to strengthen international relationships throughout the region.
“Canada recognizes the importance of building inclusive and stable societies, underpinned by democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Harper told a crowd at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in December when he announced that he would be travelling to Israel.
In this regard, Canadians should know the answers to 6 key issues relating to Canada, and the Israel/Palestine issue.
1. Is it still Canada’s official policy that the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is illegal? If so, what are we doing to support that policy? In March 2010, former minister Lawrence Cannon said that Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem “is contrary to international law and (we) therefore condemn it. We are very concerned about what is taking place.” Yet barely a year later Hon. John Baird held an unprecedented meeting with an Israeli official in occupied East Jerusalem. This would seem to indicate a change in the Canadian position, and to presage Canadian approval of the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel.
2. How does Canada view the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank? Does Canada agree that this is an obstacle to peace? Since the signing of the Oslo accords, over 400,000 additional Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), bringing the total to over 650,000. There is now an almost continuous circle of Israeli settlements around Jerusalem and also over 100 more settlements scattered across the West Bank. Most observers feel that ongoing settlement construction is a major obstacle to an eventual peace agreement. What is Canada’s opinion on the newest batch of settlements announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu? Will Canada ask Israel to stop settlement construction as the UK and the US have done?
3. Will Canada join Britain, France and other countries that have called for goods from the Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be labelled as such? The United Church of Canada, our largest Protestant church, has called for a boycott of all goods exported from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Many EU countries, including the UK and France are demanding that settlement products be labelled, as they do not qualify for trade benefits. Yet the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement extends benefits to goods coming from the settlements. Thus at the same time Canada says that the occupation is illegal while supporting trade in goods from the settlements.
4. Given the resonance in Canada to the late Nelson Mandela’s successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, what does the Prime Minister feel about the apartheid-style developments in the West Bank? Many observers, from Bishop Desmond Tutu, to former President Jimmy Carter, have warned about the apartheid-like features of Israeli rule in the West Bank. Mandela himself stated “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Former NYTimes Jerusalem Bureau Chief Clyde Haberman has referred to the “suffocating blanket of permanent restrictions” on Palestinians in the West Bank. A short drive around Jerusalem to the other side of the wall will reveal the network of controlled access roads, checkpoints, barricades and other evidence of the separation of Palestinians from the Israeli settlers in their midst.
5. Given the Prime Minister’s well known concern for the protection of children, what is his attitude to the recent UNICEF report detailing widespread and extensive abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces? Last March, UNICEF released a briefing paper titled “Children in Israeli military detention” which was severely critical of the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military custody. The report said that 7,000 minors, some as young as 9, had been detained between 2002 and 2012. The paper stated that there appeared to be a pattern of ill-treatment during the arrest, transfer and interrogation of child detainees in the West Bank.
6. Given Canada’s commitment to religious freedom, will the Prime Minister express Canada’s concerns about the difficulties imposed by Israel on Christian and Muslim Palestinians who wish to practice their faith? Palestinian Christians who live on the other side of the “separation barrier” must get a permit from Israeli security before visiting Jerusalem including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Similarly, Palestinian Muslims from either side of the barrier are regularly denied the right to visit the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims.
Part 2: Nine background questions for Canadians to consider during Mr. Harper’s trip to Israel
1. Is the Steven J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary just an environmental project? Mr. Harper was recently honoured by the Jewish National Fund of Canada which announced that the Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary would carry his name.
But the “Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary” hides a dark past. In 1948 there were several small Palestinian villages eking out a poor living in the malaria infested marshy valley by fishing and weaving papyrus mats.
According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the Hula Valley was cleared of its Bedouin inhabitants in 1948 (before the declaration of Israeli independence) in "Operation Broom" led by Israeli General Yigal Allon. In Morris' account, the soldiers were ordered to attack villages in the area, and that "their inhabitants expelled and the[ir] houses blown up." An eyewitness quoted by Morris described the scene:
“House after house was bombed and torched, then matters proceeded towards the Jordan. All was bombed, the tents and huts were burned. All day there were explosions, and smoke and fire were visible.”
General Allon described the effect of psychological warfare on the Palestinian Arabs:
"The confidence of thousands of [Palestinian] Arabs of the Hula [Valley] was shaken . . . We had ONLY five days left . . . until 15 May . We regarded it as imperative to CLEANSE [of Palestinian Arabs] the interior of the Galilee and create JEWISH territorial continuity in the whole of the Upper Galilee.”
The confiscated land was allocated for the development of kibbutzim, but the reclamation was a failure and most of the valley has subsequently returned to its natural state. The Palestinian villagers have never been allowed to return to their land. They were permanently displaced without compensation.
It is on and around these ruins that The Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre will be built.
For more information, please refer to: The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947–1948, Benny Morris, 1989
2. Should Canada recognize Israel as a “Jewish State”? Mr. Harper has stated that Canada recognizes Israel’s right to exist “as a Jewish State”, repeating a demand that Israeli PM Netanyahu first formulated in 2009 as a “condition” for negotiations with the PLO. To superficial observers, the notion that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state”, seems benign – both a reflection of the reality that 75% of the Israeli population is Jewish, and a reflection of the desire to ensure that the Jewish people is able to protect itself against any repetition of the horrendous occurrences of the Holocaust.
On closer examination however, the demand seems to have another purpose – to make it impossible for the PLO to agree to any peace deal. It is certainly not a requirement for any peace agreement. Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. In both accords, the parties recognized the State of Israel. But there was no mention of recognizing Israel “as a Jewish state”.
But why would it be so difficult for the PLO to agree to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state?”
Three main reasons:
a. It is not clear what this would mean in law. Based on Israel’s current practice, it certainly means that Jewish Israelis will get some rights that non-Jewish Israelis won’t get. But which privileges? How far would it go? Would it mean the end of the Arab school system inside Israel? Would it mean the end of the right to vote for non-Jewish citizens? Would it mean even more aggressive programs of “Judaization” like those currently being applied in the Galilee and in the Negev. Would it go so far as to support more “ethnic cleansing”? There are already powerful voices in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition who openly call for the expulsion of the Palestinians who still live in Israel.
b. Recognizing Israel “as a Jewish state” would be comparable to asking Quebecers to recognize Canada as an “English and Protestant” State, or for the US to declare that it is a “white” state. In Canada, this would be seen as a huge step backward – away from the common conception of “equality of all citizens” in any state. This is now the Canadian norm, and indeed the international norm. If Israel were to be recognized “as a Jewish state”, this would open the door to allowing many kinds of discrimination against its non Jewish citizens.
c. The only way Israel can be guaranteed to be a “Jewish state” is to guarantee a “Jewish majority” - which means refusing forever the right of return to the Palestinian refugees. There are approximately 5 million Palestinian refugees. They are the families of those who were expelled from Israel in 1948 and whose lands and goods were confiscated without compensation by Israel only a few years after Jewish art and other valuables were confiscated by the Nazis in Europe. They await implementation of several UN resolutions (which Canada has supported) affirming their right to return to their homes and farms. Most of them live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. Giving up this right is another “impossible” condition for the PLO.
This also poses a dilemma for Canada. In 1949, Canada voted in favour of a UN resolution calling on Israel to readmit the refugees. In fact, admission of Israel as a member to the UN was conditional on Israel’s acceptance of the right of the refugees to return. Canada voted in favour of this resolution as well. But if Canada recognizes Israel “as a Jewish state”, this means that Canada no longer supports the rights of those refugees to return.
For more information on the consequences of “Israel as a Jewish state”, you might want to contact Jonathon Cook, a journalist living in Nazareth. http://www.jonathan-cook.net/
3. Should Canadians be concerned about the human rights of the Negev Bedouin? For the last several months tensions have been mounting in Israel over plans to evict the Bedouins who live in the Negev desert, which constitutes the southern half of Israel. Bedouins have been living here for centuries, certainly long before the creation of the State of Israel. (Many of them have documents from Ottoman times showing that they have possession of land.) Israel has been promoting a plan to “remove” the Bedouin to a few concentrated areas. The stated objective is to more easily provide services (education, water, sewage etc.) in a few cities, rather than spread out across the desert. In this it is reminiscent of the closing of Newfoundland’s outports in the ‘1970s, except it applies only to Bedouins, not to Jews living in the area.
However, the Bedouins have been actively resisting. Demonstrations were held all across Israel on November 30th. The Bedouin argue that far from seeking to provide better services, the Government of Israel is trying to “ethnically cleanse” the Negev, by driving out the Bedouin and at the same time using subsidies including housing and water, to attract Jews to settle in the area.
Over a hundred high profile Canadian artists and authors, including Margaret Atwood and John Ralston Saul signed a petition last July urging the Israeli government to drop its plan. https://www.cjpme.org/DisplayHTMLDocument.aspx?DO=795&ICID=3&RecID=1124&SaveMode=0
Several European countries, including the United Kingdom, have expressed discomfort with the plan after sending their ambassadors to check out the situation first hand. So far, there is no indication that Canada’s ambassador to Israel has paid any attention to this issue.
A month ago, Israel withdrew its proposal from consideration by the Knesset. However, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has said the plan is still under review.
More information is available from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, (ACRI) which is Israel’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Www.acri.il
4. Should Canadians be embarrassed about having our name associated with Israel’s “Canada Park”, built atop 3 destroyed Palestinian villages? Ayalon Canada Park is a 2,000 acre recreation area situated on the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Its forested area serves as a picnic area for Israeli families to relax on most weekends. The park was created on the ruins of 3 Palestinian villages which were destroyed during the ’67 war (also known as the 6 day war). The 3 villages (Imwas, Beit Nuba and Yalo), were attacked and then bulldozed by the Israeli Defense Forces, driving out nearly 10,000 unarmed and unprotected Palestinians civilians who became refugees. Today this would be known as "ethnic cleansing".
The land was subsequently confiscated without compensation and given to the Jewish National Fund.
Using money donated by the Jewish National Fund (Canada), trees were planted over the hills and valleys, almost completely obscuring the fact that there ever were Arab villages in the area. In recognition of Canada’s contribution, the park was named “Canada Park”, and the names of many Canadian donors appear on a large monument in the park.
A powerful video on Canada was made by the CBC’s “Fifth Estate” in 1991.
Many Canadians have asked that Canada’s name be dissociated from this embarrassing episode. So far, our name still appears on the entrance to the park.
For more information, contact Dr. Ismael Zayid, of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr. Zayid is a Canadian citizen who was born in, and expelled from, what is now Canada Park. His website is: http://izayid.tripod.com
5. Should Canadians be concerned about freedom of the press in Israel – and the reliability of the information we receive in Canada on Israel/Palestine issues? Mr. Harper often refers to Israel as a “bulwark of democracy” in the Middle East. One of the cornerstones of democracy is undoubtedly press freedom – the freedom of the press to put the actions of powerful people, including the government, under scrutiny. However, Israel now stands in 112th position on “freedom of the press” according to Reporters without Borders (RSF) http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html
In certain respects, Press Freedom in Israel is similar to Canada’s. Papers like Ha’aretz can be very critical of the government. But in other respects, less so. During the attack on Gaza in 2012, the RSF reported that “IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. ”
In addition, Israel has an official “military censor” who has the authority to review and limit any press or media article. Furthermore, other reports indicate that “self-censorship” is an even bigger issue in Israel. For example there are no Israeli journalists in Gaza.
Reference: For more information on Israeli censorship and self censorship see:
Or contact Jaffa based Independent Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky (Lia.Tarachansky@gmail.com)
6. How can Canada help the current peace process? Canada has indicated that it would like to assist in the current “peace process”. Fairness, as well as practicality, would seem to require a minimal understanding of the issues and the realities on the ground, including in those Palestinian territories which are under Israeli occupation.
While Mr. Harper may not have time for such visits, here are some suggestions for the reporters who are travelling with him, either during this trip or on another occasion. Their reports would be useful to inform Canadians about the various aspects of the conflict:
a. Visit Gaza. The United Nations has said that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, based on water, sewage, lack of housing. Israeli sources say that there is no such crisis. A visit could easily be arranged through the offices of UNRWA.
b. Visit Hebron or some Palestinian cities in the West Bank outside of Ramallah. Hebron is a city where a small number of Jewish settlers protected by the IDF have taken over the centre of the town. Tensions with local residents are very high. A tour of Hebron could be organized by: The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. Contact: Walid Abu_Alhalaweh firstname.lastname@example.org, Public Relations Director, cell: 972-0599-801118
c. Visit a Palestinian refugee camp. There are approximately 5 million Palestinian refugees, who have been expelled from Israel and denied the right to return. They are in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. There are several refugee camps in Bethlehem that are very easy to visit.
d. Visit Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution operated under the patronage of the Vatican. At BU the mostly female Palestinian students – both Muslim and Christian study together. (Unfortunately, Israeli law does not allow Jewish Israelis to study there however.)
7. Does Israel really share the basic Canadian value of equality of its citizens? No value runs deeper in the Canadian ethic than that the law treats all citizens equally. However, this is not the case in Israel. According to official Israeli statistics, Israel’s Jewish citizens have better housing, better jobs, better education, better health outcomes than its (non-Jewish) Arab Israeli citizens. Of course Canada, too, has citizens with a disadvantaged profile. (e.g. first nations) But in Israel, discrimination against non-Jews is widespread in practice and permitted by law. For example, Jewish municipalities can pass regulations excluding Arabs from living there, and this is tolerated by the Supreme Court. Indeed, the very notion of municipalities segregated along ethnic or religious lines is antithetical to Canadian values.
Increasingly right wing Israeli governments have recently enacted legislation which excludes, ignores, and discriminates against the Palestinian Arab minority. Since the establishment of the state, Israel has relied upon these laws to ground their discriminatory treatment of Arab citizens and allow the unequal status and unequal treatment of Jewish and Arab citizens to persist.
For further information, Haifa based ADALAH, (The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) has documented both the inequalities facing Israeli Arabs and the legal structure that supports it. Of particular interest are two ADALAH reports.
One lists a series of 29 new or impending discriminatory laws that have been presented to the Knesset in the last few years.
Another, “The Inequality Report”, documents the economic inequality facing Palestinian Israelis and describes the legal structure which ensures it. http://adalah.org/upfiles/2011/Adalah_The_Inequality_Report_March_2011.pdf
8. Should Canada re-examine the role of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) with an eye to reconsider its tax exempt status in Canada? JNF Canada (the organization which honoured Mr. Harper at its “Negev Dinner” in Toronto last month) has “charitable” status in Canada and receives millions of dollars in tax deductible donations every year. It promotes itself as an environmental organization, and undoubtedly does some valuable land reclamation projects. However, critics in Canada (including Jewish critics) have noted that the JNF is inherently discriminatory – its statutes mandate it to hold land for “Jewish use” and it is forbidden to sell its land to Israeli Arabs. Furthermore, some of the projects it finances (like the Canada Park project mentioned above) have as their objective to eradicate signs of Palestinian life both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
Given that non-discrimination and equality are Canadian values, it seems hard to justify giving JNF Canada tax deductible status.
For more information on the JNF, contact Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). www.ijvcanada.ca
9. Should Canada encourage Israel to join the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and submit to UN inspection of its nuclear weapons program? According to Janes Defence Weekly, a British publication, Israel has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, making it the world’s 6th nuclear power. It also says Israel has long and medium range Jericho rockets. Israel has had an undeclared nuclear weapons program since the mid ‘60’s. It has consistently refused to enter UN-sponsored negotiations towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, even though, ironically, Iran has done so.