September 21, 2005
I have come to this meeting simply as a citizen, not as a representative of any organization. It may be useful for you to know, however, that I taught in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University for 30 years and that I was founding Director of the Centre for Peace Studies, during which time I oversaw research and peace-building projects in Afghanistan, Croatia, Sri Lanka and Gaza.
I am here today to speak against the 2005 Ontario police security personnel mission to Israel and to propose a simple policy guideline that I believe may prevent such mistakes from occurring again.
I am not here to accuse anyone of evil intentions, least of all the Ontario police chiefs, who, I am sure, went with the best of intentions. But I believe the trip was a serious mistake.
My understanding of the mission to Israel is based on the comments of the chiefs as reported in the press, and on the account of the trip written by a member of the delegation, Chief Paul Cook from North Bay.
We have been told the trip was educational and not political, but when I read Mr. Cook’s four page account I was forced to conclude that the trip was political from beginning to end.
Mr. Cook talks a great deal, for example, about terrorism directed against Israel. Fair enough–there have been numerous deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians, and these constitute crimes against humanity. But in his four pages the word “occupation” does not occur once. Imagine that. Why, then, are there attacks on Israel? Mr. Cook can only refer us to the experts who spoke to his delegation about causes. The roots of terrorism, according to several of these experts, lie in illiteracy and lack of education.
Was the delegation told that 35% of Palestinians in the territories are unemployed, 62% live below the poverty line, and 600,000 are so poor they do not know how they are going to survive? And was it told the cause of this situation? The cause, of course, lies in the missing word: occupation. These people have essentially been imprisoned.
Mr. Cook is saddened, as he should be, by the trauma suffered by Israelis who have experienced terrorism, but he says nothing about the trauma of Palestinians. I believe if I correct the balance it may help us understand this mysterious terrorism. A study conducted by our McMaster-based team in 1996, based on a random sampling of over 600 school-age Palestinian children in Gaza, found that 69% of the children had been exposed to tear-gas, 40% had witnessed family members being arrested or humiliated, and 39.5% were suffering from moderate to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There were, at the time of our study, over 450,000 people in Gaza under the age of 16, so when you do the math this adds up to a very large number of abused and traumatized young people.
And the main cause of this suffering? The missing word again: occupation. The longest military occupation in modern history. I wonder if the delegation was told how many human rights conventions and how many articles of international law have been violated by this occupation? Mr. Cook does not say. Like “occupation,” the expressions “human rights” and “international law”do not occur in his report.
I would like to be reassured that Canadian police care about human rights and about law–not just the law of the occupier but law as formulated by the world community–international law. I would like to be assured that if Canadian police are preparing to deal with terrorism they have some grasp of why it occurs. For my part, I do not find Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens mystifying at all. I reject and denounce it, whether it is carried out by suicide bombers or anyone else, but I am not surprised by it and I do not believe you have to be an expert to understand it.
A prominent Israeli, Avraham Burg–former speaker of Israel’s Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel–put it this way two years ago:
“Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.”
I am not suggesting that Palestinians are crazed victims without consciousness, intelligence and political aims. I simply want to draw attention to the extreme situation of deprivation and injustice in which they live, which helps to explain the extreme tactics that some of them have used and will continue to use as long as they feel abandoned by the world community. If we do not make every effort to advocate for them legally and nonviolently we should not be surprised when they resort to destructive methods.
Let us now go back to my original question: Did members of the delegation get education or politics in Israel? I think they got both. They got politicized education. They got an education that left Mr. Cook full of admiration for his police colleagues in Israel and for Israeli citizens, but with, as far as I can tell, little interest in Palestinians and little understanding of why some of them resort to terrorism. The delegation got an education that led the Toronto police Chief to lead the parade in this year’s “Walk with Israel.” They got an education that led Chief Paul Hamelin to say, “I think that Israel has found an admirable balance between security and human rights.” How are we supposed to feel when we hear that judgment–that remarkable, political judgment? Are we supposed to feel reassured about the future of anti-terrorism policing in Ontario?
As it happens, Mr. Hamelin’s judgement differs from that of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the General Assembly of the United Nations. Mr. Hamelin’s conclusion differs from that of the International Court of Justice. And it differs from that of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, who reported in 2004 that Israeli violations of human rights “continue to destroy the fabric of Palestinian society.” The Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, went on to say:
“All States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention [this includes Canada] are obliged to ensure compliance by Israel with the international humanitarian law embodied in this Convention. Israel’s defiance of international law poses a threat not only to the international legal order but to the international order itself. This is no time for appeasement on the part of the international community.”
As the West rushes to congratulate Mr. Sharon for withdrawing 2% of the illegal settlers on Palestinian land, and as we send our police chiefs to Israel to learn about how to deal with terrorism, we should remember Mr. Dugard’s words about appeasing violators of international law.
And this leads me to my proposed policy guideline, with which I end my presentation:
“Canadian police will not be sent for training to any country that, according to credible human rights organizations, is engaged in ongoing, serious and systematic violations of international law or human rights.”
“2005 Mission to Israel.” Undated. Article apparently by Chief Paul Cook, North Bay Police Service. North Bay Police Service website.
Amnesty International 2005 Report: Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Avraham Burg, “The end of Zionism.” September, 15, 2003. Guardian Unlimited. Reprinted with permission of The Forward, which translated and adapted this essay from an article that originally appeared in Yediot Aharonot.
Human Rights Watch World Report 2005: Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories. Report, Human Rights Watch, 13 January 2005.
International Court of Justice, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” July 9, 2004.
“Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem: Human Rights Resolution 2005/7.” Adopted 2005. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
J. Dugard, “Question of the Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine: Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967”
D. Freeman-Maloy, “Walk on the Weird Side.” NOW, vol. 24, no. 40. June 2-8, 2005.
L. Frucht, “Canadian Police Learn How to Bolster Security at Home during Israel Visit.” Canada Israel Committee website, March 10, 2005.
PHR [Physicians for Human Rights]-Israel website.
T. Miller, et al, “Emotional and Behavioural Problems and Trauma Exposure of School-age Palestinian Children in Gaza: Some Preliminary Findings. Medicine, Conflict and Survival, vol. 15, 368-378, 1999.
Waiting for Justice: Al-Haq: 25 Years Defending Human Rights (1979-2004). June 2005. 294 pages.