Saskatchewan protesters rally against Israel’s Gaza invasion
by Gregory Beatty
By the time you read this article, the casualty figures from the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza will surely have spiked higher. But as of July 22, the totals stood at over 600 Palestinians dead (most women, children and other civilians) versus 29 Israelis (most soldiers). In addition, thousands of Palestinians and a few Israelis have been injured.
The totals haven’t yet topped 2009’s casualty figures, when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. But the ground invasion and aerial bombardment isn’t over yet. And with conditions worsening daily in Gaza, medical care and other necessities are becoming harder to obtain.
You can read more about the realpolitik behind the latest “war” between Hamas and Israel, the third since 2008, in Gwynne Dyer’s column. And while realpolitik was on the minds of demonstrators who rallied at the Legislature in Regina July 18 and City Hall in Saskatoon July 19, they were mostly upset at the horrific violence visited on Palestinian civilians.
“It’s more like genocide than war, because with war there’s usually equal power for each side,” says M.D., a Regina rally organizer of Palestinian origin who doesn’t want his name used for fear of repercussions.
Israel, he adds, has one of the world’s top militaries.
“The people there can’t even sleep or eat. It’s the holy month of Ramadan, and people are fasting for 15 hours now. Here, we get to eat when the sun sets. There, people don’t eat for two or three days,” says M.D.
To limit civilian casualties in the densely populated region, Israel provides advance notice of missile strikes.
M.D. says it’s not enough.
“They have 30 seconds or a minute to evacuate. But evacuate to where? The Egyptian border is always closed, which is a shame on the Egyptian government. The Israeli border is closed as well. Even the sea is blockaded by the Israeli military. So people have no choice but to die.”
During the demonstrations, protesters demanded that hawkish Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu resign. The Canadian government was also criticized for its staunch support of Israel and failure to condemn the civilian slaughter.
“At a time when Israel is increasingly isolated internationally, Canada has established itself as Israel’s greatest ally,” says Regina rally participant Valerie Zink.
Still, she adds, that’s not out of character for us.
“Under Harper the support’s intensified, but Canada’s support for Israel dates back to its founding [in 1948],” she says.
The Green Party made headlines that same weekend when leader Elizabeth May endorsed a resolution at the party’s convention stating that “illegal” Israeli settlements were “undeniable obstacles” in reaching peace in the region.
“It’s not news that the settlements are illegal, so it’s not a very revolutionary position,” says Halena Seiferling, a Saskatoon rally organizer. Still, it’s further than the federal Liberals and NDP dare go.
Of course, among western countries in general, support for Israel is strong. Reasons for that range from fear of Islamic radicalism to apocalyptic beliefs of evangelical Christians to broader political and economic interests.
But in Canada, says Seiferling, our own history of colonialism plays a role.
“I’m not in Stephen Harper’s head, so I don’t know why he does the things he does, but I have read some literature [suggesting] that if our political class did start acknowledging in the United Nations and other world forums that Palestinians have a right to self-determination and to return to land they’ve been kicked out of, that would bring into question some of our past and current policies toward indigenous people.”
Even before the outbreak of hostilities, Palestinians in Gaza lived in conditions Canadians would find abhorrent. With Israel maintaining a naval blockade in the Mediterranean and borders closed with Egypt and Israel, they live in a perpetual state of siege with shortages of water, food, fuel and employment opportunities.
Equally intolerable (and illegal) is the growth of “settler communities” on Palestinian lands. Often they’re protected by security checkpoints and huge barriers that run for kilometres and interfere constantly with people’s freedom of movement.
“When the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993 it was stated that we wanted a two-state solution,” says M.D. “The Palestinian territory includes the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Jerusalem is our capital, but right now no one from the West Bank or Gaza can go there.
“I was in the West Bank last summer. It’s unbelievable. There’s a border, but on the Palestinian side there are a lot of Israeli settlers. If Israel really wants peace, why are they allowing these settlements? I was supposed to be on Palestinian land, but everywhere I looked I saw settlers.”
Realizing that Ottawa is unlikely to act on their concerns, demonstrators in both cities promoted a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
“It’s similar to what was applied to South Africa in the apartheid era,” says Zink. “It’s a means for the international community, and us here in Canada, to take action at a grassroots level to sever ties with Israel’s apartheid regime and impose real political and economic costs for its denial of Palestinian rights.”
The BDS campaign takes many different forms. United Church of Canada members, for instance, have voted to boycott products from Israeli settlements. And advocates claim BDS pressure prompted Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to sell his shares in a British security firm with extensive Israeli ties.
Pressure can even be exerted on a national level, as Chile did on July 17 when it suspended free trade talks with Israel.
At the Saskatoon rally, says Seiferling, “we marched to the headquarters of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. They own around 14 per cent of Israeli Chemical Ltd. which is a mineral extraction company with exclusive rights to mine portions of the Dead Sea.”
In Regina, says Zink, a proposed partnership between the University of Regina and Hebrew University in Jerusalem on an MBA in public safety management tied to police training was highlighted.
“I think the obvious question is why the U of R wants students to learn about public safety from an apartheid regime that virtually slaughters civilians and refugees. I hope these events [in Gaza] make it clear that this partnership is morally reprehensible and a stain on the university’s reputation.”
You can find out more about BDS at bdsmovement.net.
This article has been edited to protect the identity of one of the sources.