Monday, December 3, 2012

Ceasefire in Gaza: Vancouver Responds with Two Voices

On November 2012 a ceasefire was arrived at between Israel and Palestine ending the latest massacre in the ongoing violence that is the occupation and blockade of the Gaza Strip. 162 Palestinians and 6 Israelis were killed during a ferocious, week-long air and sea bombardment. That same evening, two events were taking place in Vancouver. One was billed an emergency meeting at Temple Shalom that was sponsored by the Governments of Canada and Israel, and a Christian Zionist organization , The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem. The Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the State of Israel, Stockewell Day, and Jason Kenney (via video) were amongst those making the case that "never before has Canada’s support for Israel been so critical. Attend a community-wide emergency briefing this Wednesday evening on the current crisis in Israel." The other event taking place simultaneously was a gathering of local Palestine solidarity activists. They were demonstrating outside the synagogue to protest the arrival of persons implicated in the carnage taking place in Gaza and to demand an end to the violence. One crisis. Two narratives.

After the Netanyahu Government had readied 75,000 soldiers for a ground invasion, the announcement of the ceasefire brokered by Egypt's new President Morsi was very welcome, if not somewhat unanticipated.

By way of self-disclosure, as my political focus embraces international law and upholds universal human rights, when it comes to Palestine-Israel, my position is that ending the illegal military occupation of Palestine is a prerequisite for subsequent negotiations. I was therefor genuinely interested in how a meeting designed to strengthen support for Israel's military assault on Gaza would unfold amidst a call for peace.

To set the stage for the "crisis" that Israel was facing, the evening began with a video filmed in Siderot showing the "devastating effects of Hamas' rockets on the civilian population of Israel". The intended effect of the message was achieved as those in attendance were visibly shocked and angry. What was remarkable was how a shot of a broken car window followed by a scene of someone exhibiting signs of emotional distress, were presented as justification of a massive military assault on the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza. The audience that evening clearly had not seen pictures of the devastation caused by one-ton bombs destroying entire neighborhoods. They hadn't see footage of charred infants being pulled out of destroyed schools and homes. The distorted reality that was created by the carefully prepared propaganda footage was again that Isreal was the victim facing imminent and grave danger. That these events were initiated by Israel within a context of a systematic and institutionalized project of subjugation was entirely missing.

Stockwell Day spoke first. He told how Israel doesn't target civilians. The people nodded approvingly. Some clapped. That he was capable of uttering this lie without mentioning that earlier in the week journalists were willfully targeted and killed, or that ten members of the Dalu family, mainly women and children, were killed by so-called "precision, surgical strikes" was so troubling that I spontaneously stood up and voiced my disagreement. I was afraid to speak out, but I felt I had to, if for nothing else as a way to honor the lives of the innocent children who were discounted by Mr. Day. "Excuse me, Sir, but the well-documented killing of children and journalists are war crimes and these events seriously draw into question your point about Israel avoiding civilian targets." Akin to a school of sardines in the sea, the entire room, like a unified organism, suddenly shifted in their seats and glared at me. I sat down. My heart was pounding with fear and anger. Mr. Day did not skip a beat and the biased misrepresentations continued to gush forth non-stop. The crowd was entranced by his appeal to Jewish pride conveyed in a highly emotive, evangelical tone. I felt disturbed how this holy place of reflection and transcendence was being used to merge blind faith with a fervent and angry Nationalism.

The second time I spoke up was when Mr. Day talked of how the United Nations had agreed on the right of Israel to exist from the time of the State's inception in 1948. As there was no mention that in fact the UN Resolution he was referring to explicitly mandated that the partition of Historic Palestine was to also include a Palestinian State, I mentioned that Palestinians too have a right to exist in their homeland. More glares. More mean-spirited dishonesty. It was intolerable and I decided I had to leave. Someone at about the same time complained about me to security. As I was getting up to depart, two police officers approached me and said that I needed to leave. I told them that I did not need to be "escorted" out, as the information being conveyed was inaccurate and manipulative and I was thus leaving on my own accord. As they were walking me outside, I engaged the two officers in a short conversation. I told them that having been to Palestine on various occasions, I could assure them that the violence committed by the occupying Israeli military was being entirely dismissed this evening. To my surprise, they listened attentively and told me that they understand what I was saying, but as we were out-numbered here, it was best if I took my message outside. I did just that and joined in the chanting, " Viva, viva Palastina!"

I was later told that security personnel checked under my seat after I left. Voicing the truth was explosive enough.

J Max Soos