Aug. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM
In an article in the weekend
former justice minister Irwin Cotler challenged the idea that Canada should not
take sides in order to be "even-handed" in international conflicts, particularly
the Middle East. Cotler argued that the "cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy
in the Middle East is respect for the security, well-being and legitimacy of
Israel." Arab Canadians beg to disagree, Ehab Lotayef writes.
Some people may want to understand "even-handedness" as standing idle and
not taking a position, as being passive. Not us. We understand it as taking
sides but basing our decision on justice and international law, not on the
strength of supporting lobbies.
This brings us directly to the "principle" listed by former justice
minister Irwin Cotler in his weekend article in the Saturday Star.
should the well-being of Israel be rated higher than the well-being of any other
nation or state in the world? What kind of racism or favouritism would that be
and why would Canada be obliged to base its foreign policy in the Middle East on
If we follow the UN resolutions on the Middle East from 1947 to the
present (not pick and choose from them like Cotler did, naming some resolutions
and ignoring others, or choosing parts of one resolution and ignoring the rest
of it) we will find that no country stands in violation of so many UN
resolutions as Israel.
UN resolution 194 calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Not one refugee has been allowed to return since 1948. UN resolution 242 calls
for Israeli withdrawal from the lands it occupied in the 1967 war; Cotler
chooses to write only that this resolution calls for the right of all states in
the Middle East to exist within secure and recognized boundaries free from any
threats or acts of force.
Not only does Israel still occupy Gaza, the West Bank, including East
Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, it has also illegally annexed East Jerusalem
and the Golan Heights, ignoring international law and the UN.
Cotler also mentions the two-state solution while ignoring the fact that
Israel continuously destroys any possibility of the existence of a Palestinian
state by its actions day in and day out.
Settlement expansions in the West Bank coupled with declarations by
politicians across the Israeli political spectrum that some/most/all of those
settlements and the "occupied" lands on which they stand will never be given
away show clearly that Israel will not allow a Palestinian state to ever exist.
Add to this the separation wall that is cutting through the West Bank,
annexing huge chunks of it, and any objective observer can see who does not, and
will not, allow a two-state solution.
When the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand Israel comply
with the International Court of Justice ruling against Israel's wall, Canada
abstained. The justice minister at the time was Cotler, who later challenged
suggestions by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canadian Louise Arbour,
that Israel may have broken international law and committed war crimes by
targeting civilians in Lebanon.
Israel's actions cannot and should not be forgotten nor can their effect
in creating and continuing the turmoil in the Middle East be ignored.
If Canada wants peace in the Middle East we have to base this peace on
justice and respect for international law. The killing of Lebanese civilians and
the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure — a replica of what happened in Gaza
in the days preceding the Israeli-Lebanese war — is a war crime that should not
Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization in Canada (a
decision some Canadians want revisited and the vast majority of countries,
including NATO members, do not concur with), did not even come close to the
shocking ratio of civilian-to-combatant casualties Israel inflicted on the
Last, but not least, the targeted assassinations and the kidnappings from
both Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are atrocities that Cotler appears
to selectively forget when making a case for Israel.
These kidnappings are the reasons for the latest conflict. Both Hamas and
Hezbollah captured Israeli soldiers to negotiate the freedom of their prisoners
kidnapped and held by Israel.
We do not want a passive, meaningless Canadian foreign policy regarding
the Middle East. At the same time we condemn a Canadian position biased toward
Israel and against Arabs, or even one biased in favour of Arabs.
We want a Canadian foreign policy that stands firmly in support of
international law and the right of all people for self-determination and