Like most Canadians, I was shocked by the stories of residential school survivors. Many asked, “How could such a thing have occurred without people knowing?”
While serving as a human rights observer in Palestine and Israel I had an interesting conversation with a restaurant owner on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As I was leaving, he asked if Palestinians ever had problems at checkpoints. My immediate thought was, “He really doesn’t know!”
At a reception at the Canadian Ambassador’s house an influential Israeli said to me that he use to have friends in Bethlehem. He paused and then filled with lament said, “It is as if somebody built a wall.” I wanted to say, “Yes. It is 26 feet tall, ugly and the International Court of Justice has ruled it illegal.” But, I realized he too, didn’t know.
I believe most Israelis do not really know what is going on in their name in Palestine. Just as most Canadians did not know what was going on in inside of residential schools. Just as many South African’s had no idea of what was going on in the townships.
The Conservatives have introduced a motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. I doubt if many Parliamentarians debating the bill have spent any time in Palestine observing the reality of daily life for Palestinians. I suspect, they really don’t know.
Meanwhile, 25 plus Canadians, including myself, who have served the World Council of Churches in Palestine and Israel, along with trusted international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as pro-peace Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem have provided direct evidence of the state of Israel’s ongoing violations of the 4th Geneva Convention and its daily breeches of international human rights and humanitarian law. Additionally, these groups have documented the intimidation and provocation faced by Palestinians on a daily basis by the Israeli forces as well as by illegal Israeli settlers.
Canadians who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement typically do so for the same reason as why they supported similar actions against South Africa – they believe in the rule of international human rights and humanitarian law.
After 49 years of occupation, perhaps it is time for Canadian Parliamentarians and citizens to bravely say to those with firsthand experience in Palestine, “Please tell me, what is really like!”