War is Over. If You Want It.
It was a bright, cold January day in Toronto. The year was 1969. I was a high school student gazing upwards in wonderment, as the small airplane was skywriting John and Yoko’s message of hope and empowerment. The Vietnam War was raging and world resolve to end it was gathering. It was another six years before that war was to be over.
More recently, between July 7 and August 26, 2014, Israeli forces killed 2,205 Palestinians in Gaza. According to UN figures at least 1,483 of those fatalities were civilians. 521 were children. The Israeli Government had the temerity to call this one-sided massacre Operation Protective Edge. 71 Israelis were also killed in the fighting; 66 were soldiers. In other words, 70% of Palestinian deaths were civilians and 8% of Israeli deaths were civilians. All human life is sacred, but to claim victimhood and shared culpability (“Israel is exercising its right to defend herself”) amidst such disproportionate carnage is turning reality on its head. 18,000 homes were destroyed in those fifty-one days last summer, leaving over 100,000 Palestinians homeless. One year after the ceasefire, the rubble remains and those 100,000 people are still internally displaced. Nearly 80% of the population requires food aid. Electricity and potable water are in short supply. (One Israeli home was destroyed during the same period.) Entire families, places of worship, journalists and their news gathering organizations, hospitals and clinics, UN facilities, schools, civilian infrastructure – were all targeted and destroyed. Beyond the devastating loss of life and enormous structural damage is the on-going psychological trauma that negatively impacts all aspects of daily life. Over 300,000 children require psychosocial assistance to help them cope with the loss of family members, physical disabilities sustained, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and the ever-present fear of subsequent bombardments. Children six years and older living in Gaza have experienced three wars in their short lives. Long-term consequences of such barbarity are inestimable. Indeed the phrase “post traumatic stress” is misleading in this context of interminable suffering. There is nothing “post” about the continuous trauma of living life amidst on-going military occupation and siege.
A ceasefire was agreed upon on August 26, 2014. Benjamin Netanyahu disturbingly boasted of Israel’s “great military and political achievement.” The apocalyptic air, sea and land assault on a captive, largely civilian population is a war crime. Reframing it as a great achievement is unconscionable. Terms of the ceasefire included an easing of the seven-year crippling blockade of Gaza. Israeli forces continue, however to shoot at Gazan fishers, target farmers working their fields – and not one single home has since been rebuilt! This is an on-going human rights and public health catastrophe. Not a ceasefire.
According to a recent World Bank report, Gaza is “on the verge of collapse”. Less then 28% of international reconstruction pledges have been disbursed and at 43% – Gaza has the world’s highest rate of unemployment. With more then half the population under the age of 18, a youth unemployment rate greater then 60% is especially troubling. This unfathomable devastation is the result not of an earthquake or hurricane, but of a carefully planned, long-term strategy that over the years has shamefully been given unconditional support by the Harper government. Since 2007, an economic and military blockade has restricted the movement of goods in and out of Gaza resulting in the catastrophic de-development of society, and a concomitant deep deterioration of the quality of life of the 1.8 million inhabitants who are locked-in and isolated within the 360 square kilometre tiny Gaza Strip. Recurring ferocious military attacks within this hapless context puts all humanity to shame.
On the first anniversary of the supposed ceasefire – where the oppressor continues to be recast as victim, and occupation forces continue to traumatize the besieged people of Gaza – it is time for Canadians to insist that this country uphold its obligations under international law and demand an end to war crimes in Palestine. It is totally unacceptable for the Canadian Government to maintain its uncritical backing of such institutionalized, violent oppression.
It won’t be long before candidates for the Federal Election start soliciting our support. Ask them what their position is on Palestine. Do they endorse a just peace that celebrates the universality of human rights and which reflects international law? What is their position on illegal settlements in the West Bank? What about the on-going illegal blockade of Gaza? Do they acknowledge Palestinian refugees the right to return? Canada’s policies and behaviours in the Middle East can either foster peace or ensure continuing injustice, trauma and chaos. Let’s vote wisely.
End the Occupation. Lift the Siege.
Then as now – War is Over. If You Want It.