by Bekah Sears
“I love my children and grandchildren and I want them to live with freedom, I don’t want them to live in oppression. I want them to live in security. I want them to live like all other children in the world,” Moussa Abassi, a Palestinian whose home in Silwan, in occupied East Jerusalem, was demolished by the Israeli Defence Forces in 2017.
The world is watching as the crisis continues to unfold in Palestine and Israel. The global community, including Canada, is speaking out about their concern for this recent rise in violence. The world is paying attention now and that is a good thing. However, these most recent violent escalations cannot be viewed out of context. Palestinian families face systemic injustice and oppression on a daily basis and have so for decades.
June 2021 marks 54 years since Israel militarily occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Throughout the occupation, Israel has maintained a persistent and active military presence in most of these areas through hundreds of checkpoints and outposts, the construction of a Separation Wall, and the forced annexation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements, nature reserves, and the control of access of essential resources, like water.
June 2021 also marks 14 years since the beginning of an Israeli blockade on Gaza, restricting access in and out of the territory of people and goods. This has crippled the livelihoods and future prospects of residents of Gaza, in addition to periodic bombing campaigns.
Over the last few weeks, tensions have mounted over the Israeli government’s planned expulsion of up to 40 Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, in occupied East Jerusalem, to make room for Israeli settlements. Such settlements are illegal under international law and significantly harm the prospect of reaching a just and lasting end to the conflict in the region.
In late April 2021, in anticipation of these evictions, MCC, along with 11 other church denominations and church-based agencies reached out to the Canadian government asking Canada, in advance of the planned evictions to take a bold and decisive stance in line with Canadian commitments to international law:
[These plans are] in violation of international humanitarian and international human rights laws, specifically Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfers as well as deportations of protected people from occupied territory.
Human rights experts say the evictions are not random but strategic and systematic as they are carried out repeatedly, are based on ethnic identity and are aimed at changing the demography of East Jerusalem.
Violence has since escalated, with clashes between Israeli Security forces and worshipers at the crowded al Aqsa Mosque, provocative marches of far-right Israeli groups, rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza on Israel, and retaliatory attacks by Israel on Gaza. The death and casualty toll is rising, including now the specter of inter-communal violence in regions with more mixed populations.
Many Palestinians and Israelis believe that peace will never be achieved through violence. MCC has been working with local partners in the region – both Israeli and Palestinian – for over 70 years, supporting organizations and communities, including those working non-violently towards a just peace for all in the region. MCC’s partners are on the ground, responding to the crisis, supporting their communities and asking that the global community speak out and work for justice for this long-standing conflict.
Canada has addressed the rising levels of violence by calling for a cessation of violence on all sides. We are grateful for Canada’s response, but we also want to implore the Canadian government to dig deeper, to take bold nonviolent action to reduce the root causes of the reoccurring violence and push for a just and peaceful solution for all. The status quo is not a sustainable option for anyone in the region, Palestinians or Israelis. The status quo is the gradual annexation of Palestinian land, continuous forced evictions and the realities of military occupation, blockades and violence, including military arrests of children, and settler attacks on nearby Palestinian communities.
We are calling on Canada to utilize diplomacy, trade and other non-violent foreign policy levers – all clear and evident within official Canadian policy – to bring about systemic change, and to seek a just peace for all, including:
- Fully living out Canada’s stated policy on Palestine and Israel and its emphasis on Palestinian rights and intensifying diplomatic efforts for a just and lasting peace, including an end to the occupation and blockade.
- Calling on the Israeli government to adhere, without exception, to international law – including ceasing all settlement activity, demolitions and forcible transfers of Palestinian communities, and the arrest and detention of children.
- Incorporating a human rights clause to Canada’s ongoing Free Trade Agreement with Israel.
- Cancelling Canada’s arms exports to Israel.
- Urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to uphold the values of international law, as well as peace, justice and equal rights for all peoples.
- Supporting diverse organizations and communities from across the region, working nonviolently for a just peace for all.
Bekah Sears is the Policy Analyst and Government Relations Specialist for the MCC Peace & Justice Office
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Banner image caption: The separation wall as seen in Bethlehem, the West Bank. (MCC Photo/Emily Loewen, 2016)