"Write down!/I am an Arab/and my identity card number is 50,000...Record!/I am an Arab/You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors/And the land which I cultivated/Along with my children/And you left nothing for us/Except for these rocks../So will the State take them/As it has been said?!...Write down on the top of the first page:/I do not hate people/Nor do I encroach/But if I become hungry/The usurper's flesh will be my food/Beware ../Beware ../Of my hunger/And my anger."
---Excerpt from "Identity Card," by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who fled with his family from Galilee to Lebanon when Israel was founded in 1948. The family returned to Israel the next year where Darwish grew up as a "present-absentee," a designation indicating he hadn't returned in time to be recognized as an Israeli Arab.
About 200 people gathered in Halifax last week to hear activist and journalist Yves Engler speak about his new book Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. Engler's talk coincided with Israel's announcement of plans to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli announcement embarrassed US vice-president Joe Biden, who happened to be visiting Israel. Poor Joe. The longstanding Israeli policy of establishing Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territories is a flagrant violation of international law and Biden knows it. Yet only a few hours before the announcement, he had reaffirmed the Obama administration's "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security."
Now, the red-faced American VP was forced to criticize Israel. Canada's Foreign Affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, soon followed suit. It was strangely out of character because the Harper government is normally one of Israel's most fervent backers. "Canada stands side-by-side with the State of Israel, our friend and ally in the democratic family of nations," Harper declared on Israel's 60th anniversary in 2008. "We have stood with Israel even when it has not been popular to do so, and we will continue to stand with Israel, just as I have always said we would."
Harper is not the first Canadian PM to express such support. As Yves Engler's book makes clear, Canada has consistently ignored or glossed over Israel's occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands and its imposition of an apartheid system in which Palestinians are routinely denied their human rights. In the occupied West Bank, for example, Palestinians have been pushed into enclaves "encircled by a massive wall, had their water and land appropriated and are subjected to daily humiliation at military checkpoints."
The 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza live in an open-air prison cut off from the outside world and denied adequate supplies of food, water, medicine, electricity and the building materials needed to rebuild after Israel's devastating 22-day armed assault that left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead.
Engler documents the many ways in which Canada supports Israel's continued occupation in a myriad of ways---everything from sales of military equipment and close co-operation between our spy agencies to the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax-deductible donations that support Israeli institutions such as universities, parks, the military and, in some cases, illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians, meanwhile, find it difficult to raise money in Canada because many of their charities have been listed as illegal terrorist organizations.
Finally, Engler points to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, a group of members of parliament who plan to submit a report to the Harper government this spring. The Coalition says it will not try to persuade Harper to outlaw legitimate criticism of Israel, but it could, for example, seek a ban on Israeli Apartheid Week held every year on university campuses to protest against the oppression of Palestinians. Jewish groups claim that IAW is inherently anti-Semitic and are calling for universities to ban it. Engler argues IAW should widen its focus so that it not only condemns Israeli government actions, but also protests against Canada's complicity in supporting Israel's apartheid regime.