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War crimes

While the rest of the West might have missed the ugly irony of Israel's recent action in Gaza, the old Scottish poet Robert Burns didn't.

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About 150 demonstrators gathered at the foot of the Robbie Burns statue in downtown Halifax last Saturday to protest against the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza. "I know it's a cold day," Ismail Zayid, a retired Dal professor told the shivering crowd, "but there are people in Gaza being subjected to bombardment and killing." He castigated the Canadian government for supporting Israel and the US for providing the sophisticated weapons systems Israel uses to terrorize and massacre Gazans trapped in the tiny, densely populated coastal strip along the Mediterranean. One-and-a-half-million Palestinians are crowded into an area only 41 kilometres long and between six and a dozen kilometres wide. That's equivalent to a narrow swath of land stretching from downtown Halifax to Elmsdale, a few kilometres past Stanfield Airport. Zayid condemned Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its routine demolition of Palestinian homes and, for the last year-and-a-half, its blockade of Gaza, during which people have been denied food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine. "Yet nobody says anything about it," he added. "This siege has transformed Gaza into an open prison, a concentration camp."

Zayid and other speakers were especially critical of Canadian news organizations for their blatantly biased, pro-Israeli coverage. The mainstream media peddle the line, also peddled by Harper, Ignatieff and Bush, that Hamas, which governs Gaza, is nothing but a gang of terrorists bent on destroying Israel. On the other hand, the media portray the Israeli massacres of Palestinians as the regrettable by-product of a democratic nation defending itself from constant rocket attacks. But why are Gazans firing rockets into Israel? Could rockets be a form of resistance to 60 years of Israeli oppression? The media cheered as Afghan "freedom fighters" fired American-made rockets at the evil Soviet invaders but, for some reason, the Palestinians have no right to resist their oppressors. It was left to former US president Jimmy Carter to report recently that Hamas officials told him last April "rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight." That was before the rockets stopped flying in June as part of a six-month ceasefire during which Israel continued trying to starve Gazans into submission. Then, on November 4, the day of the US presidential election, Israel violated the ceasefire when it attacked a tunnel in Gaza killing several Palestinians. The Canadian media however, repeatedly and falsely blamed Hamas for violating the ceasefire, thereby justifying Israel's saturation bombing and its later invasion of Gaza.

The most dramatic moments at last weekend's rally occurred as Asaf Rahid spoke out against companies that support Israel's oppression of Palestinians. Rashid, the campaign co-ordinator for NSPIRG called for a boycott of the Chapters and Indigo book chain. The chain's CEO, Heather Reisman, and her husband Gerry Schwartz have established a foundation which gives financial support to Jews who travel to Israel to serve in its armed forces. The crowd applauded as one woman folded her plastic Chapters/Indigo rewards card in half and tossed it on the pavement.

Rashid also told demonstrators that Motorola makes communications equipment for the Israeli military. "Last year I bought a cellphone. I didn't happen to do my research ahead of time," he said. "It's a Motorola cellphone, so I inadvertently supported the occupation." People gasped as Rashid pulled out his phone and stomped on it. They cheered as he threw it against the granite base of the Robbie Burns statue sending metal splinters flying. Even Robbie himself seemed to smile. Just for an instant his frozen lips parted and his fixed eyes seemed to gleam. Burns, great-hearted poet of the poor and downtrodden, would have recognized this irony: Israel, a nation set up to emancipate the oppressed Jewish people, in turn imprisons oppressed Palestinians. The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley. And leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy.

There's no blockade of your emails to Bruce Wark.Send them to brucew@thecoast.ca.

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