News from Israel/Palestine

Depressed about the situation in the Middle East? You may not be looking in the right places

Israel has carried out deadly bombing raids over Gaza, killling and wounding many in alleged reprisals for a kidnapping/murder in the West Bank. But what effect is its show of muscle having on Israel's reputation around the world?

Several people have written to me in the last week about how discouraged they are about recent developments in the Middle East.
" How much more pain and suffering can anyone endure?"
"Will it ever change?"

In fact there is lots of reason to be optimistic if you look at what is happening on the world scene.

 2014 has been a rather bad year for Israel

As long as Israel enjoys the massive political, economic and military support of the USA and the other western powers, it has little to fear and little reason to compromise. But if that support diminishes, Israel will almost certainly strike a new posture.

The dilemma for Israeli policymakers is that as Israel continues to show intransigence on the main issues, (settlements, refugees, human rights, etc.) backed up by its awesome military might, its image around the world appears to be slowly declining. 

In the wake of the failed negotiation process, both the US and Europe seemed to mostly blame Israel. Since then, fourteen EU countries (including France, Germany and the UK) have warned their citizens not to invest in the West Bank. Even in the USA, it is hard to imagine Netanyahu today getting 29 standing ovations in Congress as he did in 2011.

Here in Canada too, there are a few glimmers that the influence of the Israel lobby is starting to slip, particularly among church groups, the artistic community and the labour movement.

Following is a selection of Canadian news items from the first half of 2014 which probably did not appear in your local newspaper. If they had, you might feel a lot more encouraged.

1. January - Ottawa. The highest Catholic body in Canada intervened with the Canadian government to take up the defence of Palestinians.
“As President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), I write to express our concerns about the security wall in the Cremisan Valley which will cut off some 58 Christian families from their agricultural land and some 400 impoverished children from their school”, wrote The Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau and President of the CCCB, in a powerful letter to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

April - Victoria, BC. The Palestinian human rights advocacy group CJPME organized a photo display which made parallels between Canadian aboriginals, Black South Africans and Palestinians, at a local art gallery. The local chapter of Bnai Brith tried to stop the show. After some discussion, the local gallery was not intimidated. The show went on and was a big success.

The CJPME exhibit "Dispossessed but Defiant: Indigenous struggles from around the world,” was successfully shown in Victoria in May, despite attempts by the Israel lobby to block it. It continues to show in various locations across Canada. (photo credit: CJPME)

3. May -  Ottawa. Palestinian Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal was invited by an independent artistic panel to show her work at a gallery in Ottawa City hall. Her installation graphically showed Israeli violence against Palestinian prisoners at Israel's largest prison. The Israel lobby intervened, lobbying the mayor, demanding that it be taken down. (It even later paid for a full page newspaper ad denouncing the work and attacking the City council). Despite the pressure, the Mayor and city council stood firm. The exhibit stayed up.

4. May - Montreal. The Unitarian Church of Canada tackled the thorny issue of Israel/Palestine at its annual gathering, despite some vigorous attempts to keep the issue off the table. A resolution to study the issue was eventually put off to another day, but in the wake of the debate there are now more than a dozen "study groups" at different Unitarian congregations across the country which are examining the question. A big step forward.

5. May - Montreal. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), which represents over 3 million Canadian workers, elected a new executive. It includes for the first time, a Muslim Canadian as president (Hassan Yussuf), and a new executive vice-president (Donald Lafleur), a well known supporter of human rights for Palestinians. For many years the CLC has been under the influence of the Zionist Israeli labour organization, the Histadruth and resisted attempts by human rights in the labour movement to criticize Israel. The influence of the Histadruth on the CLC is now open to challenge.

The news on the ground in Israel/Palestine is both shocking and heartwrenching. No wonder people are discouraged.

But there are lots of small positive signs in Canada, in Europe and even in the USA that the tide is starting to turn. We should pay attention to them.

Peter Larson
National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine
National Council on Canada-Arab Relations


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