*Palestinian farmers, fishermen and workers are regularly subjected to Israeli soldiers’ gunfire and shelling on Palestinian land and sea.
Two years ago, just after Israeli soldiers showered myself, my international colleagues and the 6 or 7 farmers we accompanied on land in Abassan Jadida, with continuous and dangerously close machine gun fire for roughly 45 minutes, the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv told me that the Israeli firing on me was not a problem for Canada.
The farmers –men in the early twenties, paid labourers, as well as an older farmer –had harvested parsley on a plot of land 500 metres from the Green Line border between Gaza and Israel for over two hours without incidence, Israeli jeeps driving past along the border but not shooting.
The area along the border is flatland, treeless (bulldozed by the Israelis over the years), and by Israeli imposition without crops any taller than wheat, which is also routinely bulldozed or burned (near time of harvest). It is an open area and the Israeli soldiers half a kilometer away across the border fence can see with clarity who is on the land and what they are doing. If they don’t see with military binoculars, there are drones with cameras and military towers along the border.
But that day as other days the Israeli soldiers saw the farmers and their international accompaniment and they decided to harass.
As the farmers finished piling bundles of parsley onto the donkey cart, the IOF firing began. Flat as the terrain is, there is virtually no where to take cover when Israeli soldiers fire. The farmers dropped to the ground, we stood with hands up and fluorescent yellow vests on. With my glasses for long distance sight, I could see 4 IOF military jeeps and between 3 and 4 IOF soldiers huddled on a dirt mound. These dirt mounds line the border, a strategic vantage point on which to drive up IOF jeeps, tanks, hummers, or from which IOF soldiers assume sniper positions on their farmer prey.
What others would assume were ‘warning shots’ now came within metres of us. I had never heard a bullet’s whizz prior to that day, but whizz those bullets did past our heads.
After 45 minutes of the firing, harassment to be sure but lethally close harassment, we had edged close enough to the Israeli war-toppled house to take cover from the firing.
It was after this that the Canadian embassy called me, beginning with questioning on my whereabouts, finally realizing I was not being shot at by Palestinians but by Israelis.
“How do you know it is Israeli soldiers shooting at you?” she’d [Heather, from the Canadian embassy] asked. I mentioned the 4 jeeps, the soldiers on the mound, the shots from the soldiers on the mound (I didn’t have time to go into past experiences with Israeli soldiers in this very area and a little further south, similar experience of farmers being fired upon while we accompanied them.).
Heather asked if the soldiers had stopped firing, to which I told her, ‘no, they kept firing when we attempted to move away, hands in the air. They fired as we stood still, hands in the air. ” She suggested these were ‘warning shots’ at which I pointed out that warning shots would generally be in the air or 10s of metres away. These were hitting and whizzing past within metres.
She had no further thoughts at time, but did call back minutes later with Jordie Elms, the Canadian attache in the Tel Aviv office, who informed us that “Israel has declared the 1 km area along the border to be a ‘closed military zone’.”
True, Israel has declared the 300 metres to be a no-go zone. But without the jurisdiction to do so. An illegal imposition that Jordie was just fine with. He added: humanitarian and aid workers need to “know the risk of being in a closed area”.
The risk of being on Palestinian land that Israel has arbitrarily closed (rendering farmers land-less, incomeless, rendering Gaza with a significant decrease in local produce) is the risk of being maimed or killed by live ammunition and of being shelled by tank fire or by dart bombs. It would be nice to be surprised by Canada’s blind stance with Israel, but I am not.
Later, in early 2010, when I attempted to coordinate leaving Gaza via the Canadian embassy in Cairo, I was told they could not help me to leave, could not dialogue with the Egyptian authorities or sway the decision in any way. They could forward my email request.
Other embassies were more proactive in helping their citizens to leave Gaza. The problem being the Egyptian control of Rafah and their insistence that only Palestinians enter/exit via Rafah (even this was near impossible). But Canada stepped back and said fend for yourself, what can we do, we’re only an embassy.
Canada’s current policy on Gaza is that Canadians are forbidden from entering the Gaza Strip. Not “strongly advised against” but forbidden, as said by the Canadian embassy in Cairo. The embassy said that it was trying to get Canadians out of Gaza. Where were they in 2010? And why now work to exit Canadians?
The Freedom Flotilla 2 comprises a Canadian boat, in addition to the US boat, European and Turkish boats. Various prominent Canadians support the Canadian Boat to Gaza, among them 2 NDP Members of Parliament:
NDP MPs Alex Atamanenko and Alexandre Boulerice are among a group of Canadians who back a humanitarian flotilla to Gaza…
But the boat and the MPs are being vilified, as per norm according to Canada’s unwavering, blind alliance with Israel.
John Baird, newly appointed Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, called the Flotilla ‘provocative’ but the CBG replies,
“What’s provocative is the government of Israel’s impunity and systemic violations of international law,” says (Ehab) Lotayef. “What’s provocative is the Harper government acting as an apologist for all of Israel’s actions, even when they are illegal and immoral, like the siege of Gaza. CBG and the flotilla are nonviolent direct responses to Israeli provocation.”
In his statement Mr. Baird mentions Israel’s right to prevent the smuggling of weapons. “What is he trying to imply?” asks Goldsmith. “If Mr. Baird has any doubts about our mission or what we will carry, we invite him or any Canadian body to inspect the Canadian Boat to Gaza.” She added.
“We would like to remind Mr. Baird that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the official channels to send aid to Gaza, has itself said: “all States have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel [into Gaza],” not just those passing through channels approved by the government of Israel.”
Kevin Neish, a Canadian on board the Mavi Marmara in 2010 when it was attacked by Israeli commandos who killed 9 passengers and injured over 50, writes to the NDP:
Dear Mr. Layton,
Regarding yours and the NDP leadership’s refusal to support the Canadian Boat to Gaza. As a former executive member of an NDP club and life long supporter, needless to say, I’m not impressed. I was on board the Mavi Marmara last May when it was attacked by Israeli commandos, with 9 aid workers being murdered (5 executed), 54 wounded and many others beaten. I was kidnapped from international waters, robbed of over $4000 and almost all of my belongings, threatened with death several times with guns put to my head, brutalised for 25 hours on the ship and then dumped into an Israeli prison for two sleepless nights, as the guards revelled in waking us up every 90 minutes all night long. My demands for access to my embassy or a lawyer were ignored and laughed at and I was eventually pushed onto a plane and deported, without due process, to Turkey. When I returned home I made a report of all this, and more, to my local NDP MP, in the expectation that “my” party would act. As far as I can see you and the leadership did nothing.
To add insult to injury, I understand that when your MP Libby Davies answered an apparently baited question with an honest answer/mistake, you went to the Israeli embassy to apologize. Pray tell, did you approach the Israeli embassy for their apology regarding my treatment or the treatment of the other two Canadians on board the Mavi Marmara by the Israelis?
Canadians voted for your party, as I have always done, in the hope that the NDP would have the courage to stand up for principles of justice, to be a movement for change, not a vehicle to gather votes at any cost. Thankfully there are some NDP MPs with this courage and they are supporting myself and the Canadian Boat to Gaza as we join the Freedom Flotilla II. What can we expect from “our” party leadership this time?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
The Canadian Boat to Gaza asks supporters for some action:
Please write to or call Jack Layton, Paul Dewar and other members of the NDP caucus NOW, tell them you support the Canadian Boat to Gaza and ask them to support it as well.
It is VERY important to do this NOW to counter media and lobbyist pressure. They need to hear from us (and our friends and families) NOW!
MP contact information (both in Ottawa and in their ridings) can be found here:
Jack Layton: Layton.J@parl.gc.ca 416-405-8914
Paul Dewar: Dewar.P@parl.gc.ca 613-946-8682
articles on Canada’s blind support for Israel:
In 1987, Canada was the only country at the Québec Francophonie Summit to oppose a resolution calling for Palestinian self-determination.
In 1997, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Israel that accepts Israel’s economic boundaries as incorporating the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, thereby giving preferential treatment to goods not just from Israel, but also from Israel’s expanding network of illegal settlements.
In 2006, Canada was the first country to join Israel’s illegal blockade of the Palestinians of Gaza—in punishment for having chosen, in a democratic election, a government of whom Israel and the West disapprove.
In January 2008, by which time the blockade’s devastating impact on public health in Gaza was evident, Canada was the only member of the UN Human Rights Committee to oppose a resolution calling for immediate action to end the blockade.
A year later, during Israel’s military assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, which involved large-scale war crimes and crimes against humanity, Canada was the only member of the UN Human Rights Committee that voted in support of Israel’s actions.
In 2010, the Canadian government refused to condemn Israel’s murderous attack, in international waters, on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish flagship of a flotilla that was seeking to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza.