Thirty-six years of silence

Above: President George W. Bush and other leaders at the G8 Summit in Alberta, Canada, June 26. Pictured with the President from left are German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. (White House/Eric Draper)

An open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien

The occupation of Palestine has festered for thirty-six years too long. Despite Canada’s official position that Israel must withdraw from all the land it occupied in 1967, the Canadian government has done nothing as Israel illegally installed entire cities on the territory it stole by force. Now, under the guise of security, the Israeli government is building a multi-billion dollar prison wall that will effectively annex up to 40 per cent of the West Bank, yet Canada remains silent.

Despite Israel’s official policies in the occupied territories that are flagrant violations of the 4th Geneva convention — including house demolitions, collective punishment, interfering with medical services, and extra-judicial assassinations — Canada does not protest. As a result of this deafening silence, the Israeli occupying army has become emboldened in its illegal actions.

I was in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for one month this spring and witnessed first hand the Israeli military’s increasing brutality and contempt for international law. I observed soldiers kidnap and beat on-duty medical personnel and use them as human shields. I was shocked by the constant humiliation, degradation and unlawful treatment of Palestinian civilians — including pregnant women, infants, medical patients and the elderly — at checkpoints and during house “searches.” I saw water systems, refrigerators, and family portraits that had been maliciously destroyed and riddled with bullets.

Because Israeli soldiers now believe they can act with impunity, they have started killing, maiming, arresting and illegally deporting journalists, aid workers and international human rights monitors on a weekly basis. Israel forces all foreigners entering the Gaza Strip to sign away their fundamental rights to life and liberty. And still Canada says nothing.

I was in Palestine when the armoured bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie and her dream of a better world. After I returned to Canada, my friend and colleague Brian Avery was shot in the face with a heavy machine gun. I felt the outrage and pain etched in Alice’s face as she cradled Tom Hurndall, his head shattered by an Israeli sniper’s bullet. Last week, the house of a Palestinian family who took me into their home and hearts was destroyed by the Israeli army, leaving them destitute and hopeless.

Where does this road lead? It’s a dead end leading to more suffering and oppression, not to peace. Indeed, while Prime Minister Sharon was paying lip service to peace in Aqaba, his soldiers were shooting seven and eight year-old children in Nablus, scrawling anti-Arab racist epithets on school blackboards in Tulkarm, suffocating Ramallah with curfew, and tear-gassing peaceful protesters at Huwarra.

And where is Canada? Where is that supposed honest broker with a proud peace-keeping heritage, defender of the United Nations, champion of international law, shining example of a principled foreign policy?

Thirty-six years of silence is enough. Now is the time for Canada to take a stand, to live up to its international obligations, to tell the truth about this barbaric occupation.

The above text was an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien by Gordon Murray of the International Solidarity Movement (Vancouver).