Good Sunday Morning!
If you live here in Saanich Gulf Islands (SGI), I hope you are planning to come to our SGI Greens Annual General Meeting this afternoon from 2-4 at the Central Saanich Seniors Centre, 1229 Clarke Rd, Brentwood Bay, or online via Zoom. We will be electing the executive of our electoral district association (EDA) and nominating our candidate for the next federal election. Without any other candidates I can safely predict I will be your candidate and hopefully your MP after the 2025 election! And please mark your calendar and come to the campaign launch combined with the Green Party of Canada’s 40th Birthday Party on November 4 at the Charlie White Theatre in Sidney, doors open at 6:15. Legendary folkie Bob Bossin will perform with fiddler extraordinaire Calvin Cairns, our founder and first leader Trevor Hancock will speak, and me too! John Kidder will offer a song or two to celebrate the actual 40th anniversary of our first GPC meeting – Nov 4, 1983! You can RSVP here.
But now to what kind of week it has been. We can be grateful for the release of two American hostages yesterday but keep praying for all those in the hundreds still held by the terrorist group Hamas. The loss of life continues to be unbearable. Hundreds of children in Gaza have died due to Israeli bombing which violates international law. I have quoted Antonio Guterres so often in parliament, “Even wars have rules”. Hamas broke those rules, with a violence and brutality that shocks the conscience of the world. But the ways we speak about the conflict must stay grounded in international law.
Yesterday we released a letter from 33 MPs coordinated through our Canada Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Group, of which I am vice-chair with NDP MP Alexandre Boularice, and the chair is Liberal MP Salma Zahid. MPs from the NDP, Liberals and Greens signed the following letter:
As Members of Parliament and as Canadians, we have a duty to be the voice of our constituents in Ottawa. And they, like all of us, have been watching with worry and with horror the events unfolding in Israel and in Gaza.
We condemn the killing of innocent Israeli civilians in the attacks of October 7th by the terrorist group Hamas. Violence and acts of terror are never the way to lasting peace and justice. Canada has long been a voice for peace. The longer this conflict goes on, the more innocent civilians will pay with their lives. We demand that Canada join the growing international call for an immediate ceasefire. Canada must act before more innocent children are killed.
We further call on Canada to do all in its power to facilitate the opening of a humanitarian corridor so that badly needed humanitarian aid supplies can reach the innocent Palestinian people. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is a crisis worsening by the hour. They are out of food, water and medical supplies. Assistance is needed now.
Finally, we call on Canada to strongly stand up for international law. International law is clear that innocent civilians and all those not taking part in the fighting must on no account be attacked and must be spared and protected. Canada must remind all parties to this conflict of their responsibilities in this regard.
Canada must recognize that, for generations, the Palestinian people have suffered under occupation. Canada must reaffirm its commitment to a free Palestinian state living peacefully alongside a free Israeli state and do all it can to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Prime Minister, the people of Canada are looking to you and their government to be a voice for peace and for the protection of innocent lives. They want Canada to once again answer the world’s call for courageous moral leadership in a time of war and despair, as generations of Canadians have answered that call throughout our nation’s history.”
The key elements of the letter are nearly unanimously shared in parliament across party lines. But there is a perceived conflict between the right of Israel to defend itself, which is supported by all political parties, and the call for a ceasefire. There is a place in warfare where the right to defend oneself crosses the line with violating laws to protect civilians.
It is this perceived conflict that our letter fails to address. But I hope we can push back and explain, as I have in debate in parliament, how one can be in favour of a ceasefire and support Israel in its goal to eliminate the terrorist criminal organization Hamas.
The key is in ending the bombing while not conceding ground to Hamas. That we must not do.
The key is found in our history in peacekeeping. In fact in 1956 Lester B Pearson resolved a conflict in the very region and among some of the same players in inventing United Nations peacekeeping. He managed to negotiate a ceasefire, followed by policing actions by an international force under the U.N.
The major difference between then and now is that the current war is not between nations – as it was in 1956 between Egypt and Israel. What is now described as a “war” is between a criminal terrorist organization and Israel. I have argued that we need the ceasefire in order to stop Hezbollah and Hamas rockets as well as Israel bombing. But as MPs we are not arguing that the world turn its back on Israel and walk away. The ceasefire must be accompanied with an international policing operation to root out, arrest and bring to justice Hamas operatives and fighters. Hamas must be eliminated and Israel must be able to defend itself, but that right does not eliminate Israel’s obligations to adhere to international law. We actually got into a discussion of how this could work during debate, with some Conservative MPs understanding what I was arguing and saying, “Well, I guess if other nations signed up to be an international policing operation to eliminate Hamas, that might be possible”, but they went on to say they saw no one offering. My point is that no one will offer unless some nation or leader argues it is an option.
Those who follow events in the region closely have long questioned whether Canada and US official policy of a “two state” solution is anything more than a pipe dream. But at its darkest hours, can we not call on the world to help Israel and a new state of Palestine co-exist? Terms to make that possible start with elimination of Hamas and an end to the occupation. Reading online that long-ago history of the first peace keeping operation, I wonder if we need to remind people of what is possible:
“The U.N. General Assembly called for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from occupied territories. It also established the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities. Following the dispatch of the Emergency Force to the area, the French and British forces left the Suez Canal Zone by 22 December 1956. The withdrawal of the Israeli forces was completed by 8 March 1957.” The ceasefire did not mean no weapons were allowed. The UNEF was armed. It did engage in hostilities but only between combatants, not civilians. It conducted policing on the ground and it took time.
In the hope and belief in peace, I maintain that it is possible to support Israel (if not its current political leadership), to call for an end to bombing while recognizing the need to defeat and eliminate Hamas through shared global effort, while calling for the end of the occupation and a free and sovereign Palestine. Many will say it would take a miracle, so let’s pray for that.
Pope Francis has called for October 27 to be a day of fasting, penance and prayers for peace. I will fast and pray, while on zoom in Parliament. If this strikes you as something you could do, I invite you to join what could be millions globally this Friday.
In today’s letter I also wanted to share a fantastic 5 minutes of testimony from my friend and BC author John Vaillant, author of Fireweather, speaking last Monday to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.
Hanging on to hope is key in confronting the climate crisis and the worsening picture for global political stability and peace. We are in a time of turmoil. Out of such times emerge new eras, transformed and reborn. Shedding our baggage of exploitation, greed and colonialism is part of this rebirth. It is not easy or comfortable, but we need to stay present and grounded in hope and love.
Love and prayers for peace,
PS: Here is an expanded explanation of the Supreme Court decision on environmental reviews I wrote for the Tyee.
Best wishes to us all and that next Sunday’s letter can be full of good news.