Micha K. Ben David is a Jerusalemite and a Canadian citizen. He is currently working with Grassroots Jerusalem, a Palestinian platform for political community mobilization. He works with Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem to advocate for freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and for the rights to political assembly and equality. He has participated in UN clusters and provides analysis to political delegates and Consul Generals in the region. After serving in the Israeli army, he co-founded Breaking the Silence in 2004.
For years, Stephen Harper has consistently expressed his support for the peace process in the Middle East. He said he believed in the common vision of "two viable states" based on the 1949 armistice line: a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital. Above all, Harper has noted time and again how he believes in the ongoing diplomatic process to accomplish these goals.
However, in reviewing the various actions by the Conservative government in the Middle East over the last few years, a clear disconnect emerges between what Prime Minister Harper says, and what he does. Indeed, Harper’s unwavering and seemingly unexamined support for Israel displays a willingness to compromise Canadian fundamental values.
In 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was offered a rare invitation to address the Israeli Knesset. At the time, the Knesset housed one of the most rightwing governments in Israel’s history. The audience included party leaders such as Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister and an advocate for a proposal that would require Palestinian citizens to sign a loyalty oath to the Jewish State in return for rights. The audience also included Minister of Economy Naftalie Bennett, whose election campaign laid out a plan to annex Area C of the West Bank (62% of the occupied Palestinian territories for Jewish settlement expansion), leaving only small islands under the control of the contracted Palestinian Authority. And of course, there was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who one day after his recent reelection in April of this year finally professed in English what we have all heard in Hebrew for many years: “There will not be a Palestinian State.”
Harper began his address by acknowledging Israel as one of Canada’s greatest friends and allies. He promised to nurture the strong relationship between Israel and Canada, with an emphasis on long lasting Free Trade agreements between the two countries, and strong military cooperation, especially in times of war. “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you,” Harper declared, prompting a standing ovation.
After Harpers visit to Israel, I imagine I was not alone in my dismay over Canada’s trade agreement with Israel. Harper promotes an Israeli economy that comes at the expense of the Palestinian population through the violation of Palestinian human rights and economic marginalization of their communities and cities. While Palestinians are increasingly confined and warehoused into walled cities where unemployment is reaching all time highs, Israel/Canadian free trade means Israeli exports are tax exempt while Palestinians cannot export at all due to access restrictions. Furthermore, Israel’s successful start-ups are primarily based in high tech, a successful economic branch of Israel’s prolific arms industry. ‘High-teching’ the occupation has become an industry in its own right.
Prime Minister Harper claims to take pride in Canada’s “diplomatic approach to negotiations.” He and the Conservatives have consistently emphasized their belief in the centrality of diplomacy in regards to the peace process. However, in recent years, the peace process has reached a seemingly insurmountable deadlock. Consecutive Israeli governments continue to support the rapid expansion of Israeli-only suburbs and township settlements, and the vast development of segregated highway infrastructure paved through Palestinian farmland in the West Bank but designed to bypass Palestinian cities, eating away at the viability of a Palestinian state and economy. In the mean time, the Israeli negotiation teams have refused to substantively address any of the following issues standing in the way of a viable Palestinian State:
- The growth of Israeli cities in the West Bank;
- The steady expansion of the Israeli Separation wall, the construction of which disrupts the contiguity of land under Palestinian control in the West Bank, and which completely surrounds some Palestinian cities;
- The control of over 75% of Palestinian water resources by Israeli-owned companies; - Israel’s control of all of the international borders surrounding Palestine;
- The Bank of Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy, including PA salaries since the 1994 Paris (Economic) Protocol agreement as part of the Oslo Accords;
- Israel’s controversial claim of Jerusalem/ Al-Quds as the ‘United, undivided capital of the State of Israel’;
- The fate of the millions of Palestinian refuges scattered across the globe, many of who still live in refugee camps.
Thus, left in an inferior bargaining position with no cards in hand, the PA decided to pursue an alternative diplomatic route. In November 2012, in order to take advantage of international law, the Palestinian leadership applied to become a ‘non-member observer state’ of the United Nations.
The government of Israel was vehemently opposed to the statehood bid, and lobbied strongly to get votes against the bid. Why the concern? Well aside from the increased status and international recognition it gives Palestinians, the privileges of the newfound status would also allow the State of Palestine to submit war crime complaints to the International Criminal Court, a body that Canada played a lead role in creating in the 1990s.
Israel is certainly at risk to be brought to task for its actions during it’s occupation and its most recent war on Gaza in 2014, targeting civilians during the 50 day offensive.
An overwhelming 138 member states voted in support of Palestine. Canada, however, was 1 of only 9 countries that voted against the motion. Among those who supported the vote were countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and the Vatican. Germany and the U.K. abstained. In front of the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister John Baird denounced the motion, and stated that, “As a result of this body’s utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps.”
Amid numerous setbacks, the international community has continued its efforts to broker a peace deal. Meanwhile, the Netenyahu government has continued the broader, decades old strategy to eradicate the viability of a Palestinian state by ‘creating facts on the ground.’ Almost 300,000 Israel citizens (settlers) have been enticed to move into East Jerusalem, nearly matching the area’s 360,000 Palestinian residents. Moreover, the separation/annexation wall was constructed far from the green-line (conventionally considered the future two-state border) and instead around the Palestinian central business district, cutting the suburbs and the workforce off from the largest Palestinian metropolis and capital, causing thousands of Palestinian businesses to shut down. Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes while supporting supremacist Jewish communities to grow in the midst of Palestinian neighborhoods. Palestinian Jerusalem is rapidly disappearing.
Despite all these efforts, however, Jerusalem Al-Quds has remained safely under international status quo as the (future) Palestinian capital. Visiting state ministers from around the world have kept their official meetings with Israel in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, maintaining this unique and delicate status quo. Israel is still the only state in the world to insist that Jerusalem is the Israeli Capital. Embassy representatives are still based in Tel Aviv, in line with international law pending a negotiated diplomatic change in status.
That is, until Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird became the first to break the existing state of affairs with his visit to the Israeli Ministry of Justice, built (both ironically and tragically) upon occupied Palestinian lands of East Jerusalem, to meet with the Israeli Minister Zipi Livni. By holding an official meeting at the Ministry, Canada became the first nation to officially dismiss international protocol governing East Jerusalem. Later that year, Australia’s hawkish Foreign Minister Julie Bishop followed-suit, declaring she would not be using the term 'occupied' regarding East Jerusalem any longer, setting dangerous international precedent. By means of this seemingly insignificant move, which was in fact a calculated strategic action, Harper and his administration have given tacit approval of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian capital, thus using high-level official Canadian diplomacy to undermine the diplomatic course toward a viable two state resolution of the Middle East conflict. In doing so, Canada is a responsible party in changing international diplomatic status quo to benefit the extreme Israeli right wing parties.
Slowly but surely, Canada has lost its international standing as a leader as a peace builder in the Middle East.
What does the future hold for Israelis and Palestinians striving for democracy, true peace and justice? Perhaps some historically overdue campaigns regarding economic equality, freedom of movement, an end to race or religion based policies? Recognition that regardless of 1, 2, 5 or no state solution- Jerusalem is the largest metropolis and a biblical capital of three religions and many more cultures, perhaps? But for this to take place there must be freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom for political assembly; Freedoms that Palestinians are currently not afforded living under military occupation in Gaza, the West Bank or in Occupied Jerusalem.
To this end, a decade ago, a group of Palestinian activists launched The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), a campaign of international accountability that demands a boycott of companies profiteering from the occupation, the divestment from corporations invested in the occupation economy, and international sanctions on the Israeli government. The BDS movement has steadily gained momentum in universities, governments, and corporate boardrooms across the world.
Harper’s government, however, has made an effort to block this positive initiative, branding it “modern anti-Semitism.” In January 2015, the Canadian Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Israel to work against the BDS movement. This certainly appears to be “one of the available next steps” referred to by Baird in November 2012. In May, the government of Canada even threatened to charge those participating in boycotts of Israel with a hate crime. BDS is a non-violent, grassroots call for international support where all other options have failed. It is a movement that is based on respecting human rights and seeking justice, similar to the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa. This is a very different prime minister than his conservative predecessors of Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark, who crafted a key role for Canada in bringing justice to South Africa, a fact recognized by Nelson Mandela and a source of pride for Canadians.
The BDS movement is having an impact and is an area of grave concern for the Netanyahu government, so Harper obliges while ignoring some of the most offensive anti-Arab statements from members of the current Netenyahu government, including offensive statements made by Netenahyu against Arabs in order to win the election. Netanyahu has recently appointed Ayelet Shaked as his Minister of Justice, who posted a call for the genocide of Palestinians on her Facebook page last summer. This and other horrific hateful comments made by members of his previous cabinet have all gone unnoticed by the very principled government of Stephen Harper. One wonders, what it is that the government of Israel has to do or say, before Harper’s government puts some distance between the two.
This most recent initiative assumes that anyone participating in non-violent protest against Israeli policies is anti-Semitic. On an individual basis, if I, as a proud Jew active for Tikkun Olam and Justice, boycott products produced from a an Israeli settlement in Palestine, I will be in line with international law principles but under Canadian law could be guilty of a hate crime and, according to Harper and Baird, an anti-semite! The EU has collectively introduced legislation that prohibits grants being distributed to activities linked to settlements - a boycott of sorts. Is the Harper legislation implying that the EU is participating in forms of hate crimes? In a May 19 column in the Independent, Robert Fisk, noted journalist and author, wrote that Harper’s proposed law “is not only ludicrous, but stupid, pointless and racist because it assumes that anyone opposed to Israel’s vicious and iniquitous policies of land-grabbing in the West Bank is an anti-Semite, but it is also anti-democratic.”
Harper has taken action to undermine diplomatic and nonviolent tools to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine, while at the same time arguing that he and Canada support a diplomatic path to peace. He says one thing but he does another. We all end up paying the high price for his bias.
Je suis sick of it. Vote for someone else.
 Three years ago, Lieberman passed the ‘Nakba Laws’, which forbids any Israeli or Palestinian educational institution from commemorating or so much as mentioning the Palestinian catastrophe that followed Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, when some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in historic Palestine.
 Bennett’s plan to confine Palestinians into major cities connected through a series of bridges and tunnels on a separate grid of roads is essentially already in place. Once Israel and Palestine are fully separate, he argues, “the world will stop calling us an apartheid”. When asked what the United Nation’s would think of this plan, he answered, “we’ve ignored them about the (occupied Syrian) Golan Heights, we’ve dismissed disapproval regarding Israeli Judeization of East Jerusalem (at the expense of a Palestinian capital and viable state), so now we simply add West Bank annexation to our list”.