Trade, Justice and Peace

by Bekah Sears

“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken,” Micah 4:3b-4.

“This is my home, our roots are in this land…We go forward and continue to work here until the end. We believe always that injustice will never stay forever…. We are praying and waiting for the Son of Justice to rise up.”

– Amal Nassar, Palestinian farmer.

The Nassars, a Palestinian Christian family, run a farm near Bethlehem called the Tent of Nations. The farm is a meeting point of peace between locals and internationals, of all faiths, languages, and ethnicities. The Nassar’s deed to the land extends back to the Ottoman empire. However, even with the papers identifying their ownership of the land, over 25 years ago the Israeli government declared that Nassar land was the property of Israel. The family has been fighting this judgement in an ongoing court case ever since.

Amal Nassar walks with her nephew Bishara Nassar on the hilltop farm where their family has lived for more than 100 years. The farm is near Bethlehem and is surrounded by five Israeli settlements collectively called Gush Etzion. (MCC photo/Emily Loewen, 2017)

In the meantime, five Israeli settlements – illegal under international law and therefore Canadian law – surround the farm. Settlement roads and barriers have made access to the farm increasingly difficult, and the settlements have co-opted much of the surrounding natural resources, including water. Israeli settlement expansion serves as de facto annexation by taking over segments of Palestinian land. In 2020 alone the Israeli government approved more than 12,150 settlement homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the highest number since 2012. Rates of violence, home demolitions and forced displacement have increased as settlements have grown throughout the Occupied Territories.

For the Nassar family, settlement expansion has meant that over the past 25 years, the Israeli Defence forces have destroyed fruit trees en masse and demolished structures on the farm, but the Nassars continue to plant trees and search for innovative alternatives to displacement. Above all, the Nassars have committed to stay on their land and have refused to react with hatred and violence. “We say we are not leaving, and we are not reacting…We say we have to follow the footsteps of Christ…We refuse to be enemies,” says Amal Nassar, one of the siblings.

De facto annexation and formal annexation

The Israeli government has long threatened to formally annex significant parts of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. Promises of formal annexation were a significant part of the recent Israeli federal election campaigns, and annexation was key in the deal to form a unity government in early to mid-2020. The international community reacted swiftly and vocally, rejecting such a plan as a clear violation of international law against the annexation of territory. In the end, Israel suspended these formal plans as a stipulation of entering normalization pacts with several Gulf states, which included trade and commerce.

Although formal annexation was suspended, de facto annexation, such as illustrated by the Nassar’s struggle, continues on a daily basis for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. De facto annexation occurs through growing settlements that expand into neighbouring villages; control of essential resources, such as water; constant military presence, harassment, and intimidation, creating an atmosphere of fear; demolitions en masse and forced evictions; and construction of new roads and barrier walls linking settlements together, often separating one Palestinian village from the others, and separating communities from farmland and essential crops, making sustaining livelihoods and family connections next to impossible.

Moussa Abassi with his grandchildren at the remains of the home he built for two of his son’s and their families. The home was destroyed by the Israeli government because there was no building permit. The grandchildren are Hanan Abassi, 9, in white, Mohamad Abassi, 7, in red, and Ahmad Abassi, 5, in blue. (MCC Photo/Meghan Mast, 2017)

De facto annexation is a much more incremental process, but it is no less illegal under international law and no less urgent for Palestinians and the international community.

What is the Canadian connection?

Long-standing official Canadian policy clearly states that Israeli control over Palestinian territories, including settlements, is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. However, when Canada renewed its Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) with Israel in 2019, there was no clause to distinguish between Israeli products grown or manufactured in Israel-proper and the Occupied Territories, including Israeli settlements in the West Bank, such as the settlements surrounding the Nassar farm.

Under CIFTA, therefore, companies operating or sourcing material from settlements and/or Occupied Territories in general, are unchecked and can profit off the Occupation. As Canadians, unless we do our own in-depth research into every company, we are unaware when we are purchasing products that may have been produced by settlements.  Prospects for a just peace diminish as more and more Palestinian land is taken for settlement use.  

Palestinian farmer Amal Nassar stands with her nephew Bishara on their farm near Bethlehem in Palestine (MCC Photo/Meghan Mast, 2017)

Though Israel suspended its latest formal land annexation plans in 2020 due to international pressure, de facto annexation, like that experienced by the Nassars, continues daily through settlement expansion. By not including this distinction around settlements in CIFTA, our trade practices turn a blind eye to this expansion and to our own official policies.

What can Canada do? What can you do?

As people of faith, we have an opportunity to ask our government to hold to the principles of international law and recognize those who are threatened by settlements.  As an ally of Israel and a supporter of international human rights law, the Government of Canada can act to ensure that our trade and other policies and practices contribute to a just peace for all in the region and do not create further oppression, including through de facto Israeli annexation of Palestinian land.

MCC asks the Canadian government to:

  • Differentiate between products made in legal Israeli territory from the Occupied Territories, much like the European Union has done.
  • Incorporate a human rights clause into CIFTA to investigate possible human rights impacts of CIFTA

MCC believes that these steps fall well within longstanding official Canadian policy. If you agree, will you join us in asking for this change by sending a letter to the Minister of International Trade and your Member of Parliament here>?

Bekah Sears is the policy analyst for MCC Ottawa

To learn more about MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel visit our website here. To get involved, consider also writing a letter to our Canadian government here encouraging our leaders to work for peace and to call for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

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