For international readers this is a letter to Stephen Harper the Prime Minister of Canada. He recently took a group of over 200 guests with him to accept an honourary degree and attend the dedication of a bird sanctuary. Much has been written about Harper’s strong support of Israel.
For Canadian readers, this is not meant to be an academic paper.
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I want to really thank you. You have managed to get the topic of Palestine and Israel in front of the Canadian public. I guess we are all pretty clear on what you believe. I suppose I appreciate that.
I’m not sure if you have been as surprized as I have to the Canadian public’s general reaction. I know they loved you in Israel. I suspect on the way back in the plane everyone told you what a great trip it was. So, I kind of hate to tell you this but your trip didn’t go over quite so well at home. I am not sure if you realize that -or if you wonder why -or if you even care. I guess you probably believe most Canadians won’t change their vote because of this one issue. You may be right about that.
I have a very different perspective on the conflict than you do. Like you, I have run into honest and sincere criticism about my position. I’ve had to learn to respect the views of others when they are rooted in fact or in a real experience since the end of the last Intifada. But you don’t seem to be interested in those kinds of propositions. Maybe it is the way they have been communicated to you! So, I’m going to try to keep it light and personal. I hope that is okay with you.
Like you, I’ve said there is plenty of blame to go around. Also like you, I’ve said that because of the Holocaust world leaders realized something had to be done to protect the Jewish population – so they created Israel. But unlike you, I’ve said most of the people who inhabited that small patch of ground for countless generations were not very keen on walking away from their homes. Surprisingly, most people seem to relate to that. (They do not know as much about the Nakba but they are interested to learn more.) I suspect you might better understand that perspective when you are asked to leave 24 Sussex Drive.
Like you, I believe there are many wonderful things about Israel and much to be admired and respected. When I think of Israel inside of the 1967 borders there are many things I am envious of. I am sure you agree their support for the arts and public art especially is outstanding! The Egged bus system is amazing! (Sorry, I forgot you didn’t use public transit while you were there! My bad.) The support for research science from the government is tremendous. ( Ooopppppps! Really sorry, I forgot you don’t seem to be a fan of science these days – at least scientific research by government agencies.)The level of public debate in Israel on many issues is quite amazing. (Sorry again! You really don’t like public debate do you? Oh well!) Inside of the Green Line, Israel is a great country and their weather is better than ours – especially this winter!
You and John Baird have frequently talked about Israel being a “light” in that part of the world. Well, I hate to burst your bubble but I can assure you that when I lived in Bethlehem that “light” you were referring to doesn’t really creep over the 26’ high wall. (By the way, did you know the wall is twice the height of the Berlin Wall!)
On the 65th anniversary of the creation of Israel you wrote,
“Israel, like Canada, is a great nation, and like Canada, Israel serves as a beacon of hope in an uncertain world. That is because it has as its foundation the universal values that our two countries share; freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Those things may be true inside of the 67 borders and I really hate to burst your bubble again but in Palestine, Israel kind of morphs from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. The Israeli military and paramilitary forces as well as the settlers are not exactly all sweetness and light.
In Palestine, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. They are denied basic freedoms even in getting from one West Bank community to another. According to OCHA (United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Human Affairs) there were 522 roadblocks and checkpoints obstructing Palestinian movement in the West Bank in 2011. That number does not include the temporary checkpoints known as “flying checkpoints,” of which there were 495 on average per month in the West Bank in 2011.
I’m not going to talk about democracy because I wasn’t there for an election. But you and I both know the Palestinians really need to pull up their socks around that one.
You mention human rights and the rule of law. I could go on and on about the well documented human rights violations by the Israeli military, paramilitary and settlers in Palestine. (I’ll do that in another letter later.) What I really want to mention today is the rule of law.
I know you are a law and order kinda guy. I bet you would be envious of the conviction rate of 99% of Palestinians before the Israeli justice system in place in Palestine. But, that isn’t really a healthy sign of a well functioning judiciary. It is kind of strange that they also have one justice system for Palestinians and a completely separate one for Israelis in the occupied territories.
You would probably be envious of their system for property law too! One agency told me they actually have a 2% success rate against demolition and vacate orders issued by the Israeli military. When I heard that I thought to myself, “At least Palestinians have a higher success rate than in criminal cases.” Then they told me their definition of success was delaying an order for two years.
Steve, Israel may be great on one side of the wall just like Jekyll but it becomes Hyde on the other side of the wall.
Steve, I have a whole list of issues to raise with you but I will stop for today. I hope you have a good weekend.
By the way, your stand on GLBTQ rights in Russia is great.