In BDS, Canada, Gaza, International Law, Israel-Gaza War, Palestine

Palestinian Flag. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Cosh
November 2, 2023 The Maple

The Trudeau government not only condemns armed tactics — it has opposed or blocked every peaceful method used by Palestine solidarity activists for years.

On October 7, Palestinian resistance factions led by Hamas broke through the Israeli military’s fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, and proceeded to kill more than 1,400 Israelis and take another 230 hostage. The majority of the Israelis whom the Palestinian factions killed were civilians, but the dead also included 373 Israeli military personnel and police officers. Allegations about the brutality of the attacks — many of which have been verified, and others that are unsupported by evidence — were widely reported and condemned by Israel-allied governments around the world.

The attack occurred against the backdrop of Israel’s long-standing siege of the Gaza Strip — making conditions in the area “unliveable,” according to the UN — its system of apartheid and attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, where Hamas is not in power. Between 2008 and 2020, 5,590 Palestinians and 251 Israelis were killed as a result of violence stemming from Israel’s occupation, a ratio of approximately 22:1. The Palestinian factions said the October 7 attacks were in response to these long-term conditions, along with the current far-right Israeli government’s more recent intrusions into the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

In its response to the October 7 attacks, Israel launched a massive military bombardment of Gaza that has been variously described by hundreds of leading scholars as either a clear or at least a “potential” case of genocide, and condemned by UN experts as amounting to “collective punishment” against all Palestinians in Gaza. According to the Palestinian health ministry, Israel’s attack has killed more than 8,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the majority of them civilians and 3,457 of them children. This week, the Israeli military admitted that it bombed a Palestinian refugee camp, killing at least 50 people, before striking the same camp again.

Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s mainstream national newspapers, published an editorial on October 8 laying the responsibility for the October 7 attacks entirely on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his decision to form what the editorial described as a government of “annexation and dispossession.” In a recent speech, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the attacks “did not happen in a vacuum,” adding that Palestinian people have been subjected to “56 years of suffocating occupation.”

In the wake of the attacks, however, Israel’s main international allies gave statements that offered no acknowledgement of this context, providing instead full-throated support for what they described as Israel’s right to “self defence,” and expressing muted concerns about the suffering of Palestinians resulting from Israel’s response.

On October 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “Canada unequivocally condemns these terrible [October 7] attacks in the strongest possible terms and reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend itself, in accordance with international law.”

The October 7 attacks were by far the single-most violent assault carried out by Palestinian factions in the resistance movement’s history. But the Trudeau government has not only condemned this kind of armed tactic — it has also opposed or blocked every peaceful method used by Palestine solidarity activists, resistance factions and leaders since Trudeau took power in 2015.

This includes recent protests held across Canada in solidarity with Palestine and calling for an immediate end to Israel’s attack on Gaza, which politicians have characterized as supporting “terrorism.”

This has prompted critics to ask what methods of Palestinian resistance would be deemed acceptable by Israel’s allies. In a recent opinion column for Al Jazeera, journalist Andrew Mitrovica wrote:

“The explicit meaning of this systemic suppression of Palestinian ‘voices’ is that Palestinians must have no ‘voice’ at all […] They should, instead, shut up and accept as a geopolitical reality Israel’s right to steal and evict Palestinians from their land and homes, as well as to traumatise, imprison, maim and kill them, while invading and obliterating what remains of Palestine with carte blanche impunity.”

Below are some prominent examples of peaceful methods that have been used by Palestinians and their international allies in recent years, along with a summary of the Trudeau government’s response to each one.

Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)
What is it: As described on the Palestinian BDS National Committee’s website: “In 2005, Palestinian civil society organizations called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel. The BDS movement was launched by 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Palestinian BDS call urges nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law.”

Trudeau government’s response: In 2019, Trudeau characterized BDS as a form of antisemitism. He said: “Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation […] I will continue to condemn the BDS movement.” In an official statement on Apr. 15, 2021, Trudeau reiterated that “We will continue to oppose efforts to isolate Israel internationally and to condemn BDS and any movement that attacks our Israeli friends.”

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW)
What is it: Prominent human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have all concluded that Israel maintains a constitutionally entrenched system of apartheid over Palestinians, a crime under international law. As explained by the BDS website, “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is a tool for mobilizing grassroots support on the global level for the Palestinian struggle for justice. It is a grassroots mechanism to raise awareness about Israeli apartheid and to mobilize support for strategic BDS campaigns to help bring an end to this system of oppression.” Proposed tactics include film screenings, hosting speakers and running workshops.

Trudeau government’s response: A few months before he became prime minister, Trudeau tweeted that, “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses.” At the same public event in 2019 where he condemned BDS, Trudeau explicitly condemned IAW, citing “Canadian values” and claiming that the campaign made Jewish students feel unsafe.

The Great March Of Return
What is it: These protests began in March 2018. As explained by Al Jazeera in 2019: “Every Friday […] Palestinians in Gaza have protested along the fence separating the besieged strip from Israel. They are demanding the right to return to their ancestors’ homes, which they were expelled from in 1948 when Zionist militias forcefully removed 750,000 Palestinians from their villages to clear the way for Israel’s creation.” According to the UN, the vast majority of protesters acted peacefully, although some threw stones and molotov cocktails at the fence. One Israeli soldier was killed during the course of the protests.

Trudeau government’s response: The Israeli military responded to these protests with sniper fire, killing 214, including 46 children, and injuring 36,100, according to the UN. The Trudeau government only spoke up about this violence when Israeli forces shot and injured Canadian physician Tarek Loubani. On May 16, 2018, the Trudeau government called for an “immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground.” Two days later, however, the Trudeau government opposed a motion by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to launch an independent investigation into the Israeli military’s shooting of the protesters.

The Trudeau government also met with Canada’s leading pro-Israel lobby group, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), in July 2018. According to CIJA’s report of their meeting with the prime minister, “[Trudeau] expressed full confidence in Israel’s capacity and will to hold its troops to a high ethical standard, rather than be singled out for an inherently biased international investigation […] And he reaffirmed Canada’s support for Israel, and committed to be more vigilant in countering anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.” Following this meeting, the Trudeau government’s statements about the Israeli military’s attacks on the protesters emphasized claims about “reported incitement and violence by Hamas.”

UN Votes
What is it: Motions affirming the rights of Palestinians and criticizing Israel’s actions regularly come up for a vote at the UN General Assembly.

Trudeau government’s response: A dashboard assembled by the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) keeps track of how Canada votes on each of these motions. Below is a selection of some of the motions that the Trudeau government has consistently voted against:

“Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” Full text of the motion can be found here
“Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan.” Full text of the motion can be found here.
“Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues.” Full text of the motion can be found here
“Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.” Full text of the motion can be found here

Palestine At The International Criminal Court (ICC)
What is it: In December 2019, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, published a report calling for an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians, as well as those allegedly committed by Hamas. Bensouda wrote: “I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” She asked the court to rule on whether it had jurisdiction in the relevant territories. In February 2021, the ICC determined that it did have jurisdiction.

Trudeau government’s response: Canada sent a letter to the ICC at Israel’s request in February 2020, stating the Canadian government’s view that because it does not recognize a Palestinian state, it believes the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the case of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces. A Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said: “Canada’s long-standing position is that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize the accession of such a state to international treaties.”

Palestine acceded to the ICC in 2015, but Israel does not recognize the court’s authority. In a statement, CJPME said “Trudeau’s letter creates the perfect catch-22. Israel’s disregard for international law makes it impossible for the Palestinians to have a state, while Trudeau argues that until the Palestinians have a state, they cannot enjoy the protections of international law.” Similarly, Canada asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this year to drop an advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s occupation and annexation of Palestinian territories.


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