Contributed to The Globe and Mail
A spokesman for Canadian foreign minister John Baird asked me to apologize to the Israeli government, citing the equivalency I drew between the terror of the self-styled “Islamic State” and that of Israeli settlers who under the banner of a “Jewish State,” and with the backing of their government, have been in a campaign of terror that include the burning of mosques and churches, the destruction of olive groves and the brutal murder of Palestinian civilians.
After spending the past few years listening to Mr. Baird going out of his way to legitimize the banality and brutality of a 50-year-old Israeli occupation, I tell Mr. Baird: enough. If there is anyone that has to apologize, it is Mr. Baird himself. He should first apologize to his own citizenry, many of whom are God-loving Jews, Christians and Muslims who would never condone nor cheer for an Israeli government that stretches support to Israeli settlers who attack churches and mosques.
Mr. Baird should apologize for his active encouragement of Israel’s brute and ugly occupation and its apartheid policies. He should apologize for failing to promote those things Canadians hold dear such as freedom, dignity and human rights and for replacing those ideals with an outspoken support of Israel’s clear and undisputed violations of international law.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister Baird were elected at a time when the most right-wing extremist government in the history of Israel was elected. Instead of using their sympathies and working relations with Israel to promote peace, they decided to side with those policies which the entire world – including the United States of America – have rejected. Its outspoken support of Israel’s policies has placed Canada in an awkward position within the United Nations system and has radically altered its standing and image in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
The Palestinian leadership has been engaged in a diplomatic effort to obtain those very same ideals Canadians hold dear – to achieve freedom and dignity. We have been working tirelessly to exercise our right to self-determination and establish a state of our own – a state that lives in peace and security with its neighbours, including Israel. But we repeatedly face a stumbling block in the form of an Israeli government more interested in the consolidation of its illegal settlement build-up, rather than in achieving peace with its neighbours.
Against this background, we have tried to widen our political horizon, not through violence, nor through terror, but by employing the tools available to us under international law. Instead of rewarding the Palestinians for their insistence on pursuing peace and for their deep commitment to the stability and security of the region, Mr. Baird has chosen to deride and stand against Palestinians at every corner.
When the UN in 2012 upgraded Palestine’s status from an observer entity to an observer state, it was not the Israeli Foreign Minister who travelled to New York in order to defend Israel’s position; unfortunately, it was Mr. Baird. Though his efforts were and remain largely ineffective (the resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of 138, with only 9 voting against), they came as a slap in the face to Palestinian efforts. Canada also lobbied against our UNESCO membership, a move aimed at protecting and preserving sites of universal value, such as the Nativity Church and the Roman terraces of the village of Battir. Last November, Canada was one of six countries voting against several UN resolutions requesting an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestine, and reaffirming the illegality of Israeli policies including the annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem. The six were Canada, the United States, Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Israel.
As a matter of fact, while the whole of the international community condemns Israel for its systematic policy of demolishing Palestinian homes and forcibly displacing Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem, Mr. Baird has decided to legitimize Israel’s illegal, de facto annexation of the city by meeting an Israeli minister in Occupied East Jerusalem.
While thousands of Palestinian civilians were being slaughtered in Gaza, Canada was among the very few countries that encouraged Israel to continue its attack on the besieged territory. Amnesty International had to remind Mr. Baird that “Canadian policy must reflect unwavering commitment to the fundamental international legal principle of civilian protection and must demonstrate equal concern for both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.” Mr. Baird has utterly failed to shape his policy in this way.
But Palestinian lives evidently do not concern Mr. Baird. Yes, those Israeli terrorists who burned alive 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem are no different from those Islamic State terrorists who beheaded Steven Sotloff in Syria. Those who actively burn mosques and churches in Palestine, and campaign to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque, are no less terrorists than those who kicked the Christians out of Mosul. But Canada, instead of supporting the application of international law, has decided to encourage Israel to continue with its crimes. As I stated in a letter to Mr. Baird after his meeting in Occupied East Jerusalem: “Canada’s actions are tantamount to complicity in ongoing Israeli violations of the international laws of war.”
We know that the majority of Canadian citizens disagree with their current leadership’s position vis-à-vis Palestine. Some are silent, but others have made their opinions clear, including the thousands who took to the streets of Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec calling for a just and lasting peace.
Mr. Baird is first and foremost doing his country a disservice by contravening its deep commitment to international law and human rights. He is also doing the region a disservice by supporting those forces standing firmly against peace.
Mr. Baird should apologize: It’s never too late!
Dr. Saeb Erekat is Palestinian chief negotiator and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee.