International law and human rights

After latest Gaza massacre, Canada must impose sanctions on Israel

Civil society groups from across Canada release open letter to party leaders
Photo: Joe Catron

In the wake of last week's horrific massacre by Israeli forces in Gaza, today over 40 community groups and civil society organizations have delivered the following open letter to the leaders of all major Canadian political parties calling for economic sanctions to be imposed on Israel.

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On March 30, 1976, in response to the Israeli government’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of Palestinian land for illegal settlement purposes, a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns. In the ensuing demonstrations, the Israeli army and police killed six unarmed Palestinian citizens and wounded about one hundred demonstrators. Hundreds of others were arrested.

On March 30, 2018, after 42 more years of dispossession and brutal suppression of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, thousands of Palestinians gathered peacefully near the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In this non-violent action - now known to the world as “Land Day” - Israeli forces reportedly killed at least 17 Palestinians and wounded over 1400 more. These demonstrations were the launch of the Palestinians’ “Great March of Return,” which promises to last until May 15.

Israel’s latest Land Day massacre occurred in the context of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. That blockade, along with Israel’s devastating assaults on the enclave of over 2 million Palestinians, has rendered Gaza nearly unlivable. As stated by Robert Piper, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s blockade is an “extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling gradually two million civilians in Gaza that really pose a threat to nobody.”

Successive Canadian governments have acknowledged, albeit meekly, Israel’s abject disregard for international humanitarian law. Canada's Global Affairs website states: “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip). The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel's obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace."

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory has now endured for over 50 years and the dispossession of Palestinians has endured for 70 years. Israel’s settlements, which plainly meet the definition of a war crime under Article 2(b)(vii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, are more extensive than ever. The extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu openly supports Israel’s annexation of illegal West Bank settlements, manifests utter contempt for the two-state solution, and, with the support of the Trump administration, has laid exclusive claim to Jerusalem in flagrant violation of international law.

A law that is never enforced is a dead letter. If the Palestinian people are ever to have justice, and if Canada’s government is truly committed to doing its “utmost” to defend human rights, then Canada must take strong action now.

As stated by Western University law professor Michael Lynk, the current U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories: “International law is the promise that states make to one another, and to their people, that rights will be respected, protections will be honoured, agreements and obligations will be satisfied, and peace with justice will be pursued. It is a tribute to the international community that it has sustained this vision of international law throughout its supervision of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory. But it is no tribute that – as the occupation deepened, as the occupier’s intentions became crystal clear, and as its defiance grew – the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process.”

On March 31, 2018, Amnesty International denounced Israel’s violent suppression of unarmed Land Day protests, stating: “Having consistently ignored the human rights of Palestinian refugees for 70 years, Israel must at least hear their demands and allow peaceful demonstrations and protests to take place.”

Amnesty also called for “independent and effective investigations to be launched immediately into reports that Israeli soldiers have unlawfully used firearms against unarmed protesters.”

Two days before Israel’s latest Land Day massacre, Foreign Minister Freeland tweeted, “Canada will always do its utmost to defend #humanrights around the world.” Nonetheless, Canada’s government appears to have taken no action to protect Palestinian protesters or to ensure that those who have violated their rights are held accountable.

Canada currently subjects numerous human rights violators to economic sanctions. The targets of Canadian sanctions include Russia. With the support of all parties having representation in Parliament, Canada’s government imposed sanctions on Russia due in large part to its recent 'annexation' of Crimea. Yet, despite Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and its pending annexation of West Bank settlements, the Canadian government has imposed no economic sanctions on the State of Israel.

We note Canada’s obligation under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to “ensure respect” for the Convention “in all circumstances.” By refusing to take any concrete action to oppose Israel’s violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Canada is flouting its obligation under Article 1 thereof.

A law that is never enforced is a dead letter. If the Palestinian people are ever to have justice, and if Canada’s government is truly committed to doing its “utmost” to defend human rights, then Canada must take strong action now.

Accordingly, we, the undersigned organizations and individuals, call upon the Government of Canada and all political parties having representation in Parliament to:

Condemn Israel’s use of lethal force to suppress peaceful protest; demand an independent and transparent investigation into the killing and wounding of unarmed Land Day protesters by Israeli forces; and call for the imposition of appropriate economic sanctions by the Canadian government and UN on those parties who are complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

Yours very truly,

Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians

Bathurst Street United Church – Toronto

Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation

Beit Zatoun

Canada Palestine Association, Vancouver

Canada Palestine Support Network

Canadian Arab Federation

Canadian BDS Coalition

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Canadian Friends of Sabeel

Canadian Palestinian Foundation of Quebec

Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

Canadian Union of Postal Workers / Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses des Postes

Christian Peacemaker Teams Ontario

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid Victoria

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid Toronto

Educators for Peace and Justice

Faculty for Palestine

Green Party of Quebec / Parti vert du Québec

Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War

Independent Jewish Voices - Canada

Independent Jewish Voices - Hamilton

Independent Jewish Voices - Vancouver

International League of Peoples’ Struggle – Canada

Jewish Liberation Theology Institute

Just Peace Advocates / Mouvement pour les paix juste

Justice for Palestinians, Calgary

Labour for Palestine

MidIslanders for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Oakville Palestinian Rights Association

Palestinian Association of Hamilton

Palestinian and Jewish Unity

Palestinian Canadian Congress

Palestine House, Mississauga

Palestine Solidarity Network - Edmonton

Palestine Solidarity Working Group-Sudbury

People for Peace (London)

Regina Peace Council

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

Socialist Action / Ligue pour Action socialiste

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – Concordia University

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights - Queen’s University

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – UBC

Solidarity with Palestine St. John's

St. John's Working Group for Justice and Peace in Palestine

Toronto BDS Action

United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel

Vancouver and District Labour Council

Young New Democrats of Quebec

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