In a uniquely Canadian polite and subtle way, the country’s Conservative government has made a clear statement in support of Israel’s continued siege on Gaza and entrenched Palestinian division. Slashing its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) while transferring that support to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) judicial sector – specifically towards training prosecutors, judges and police – Canada is using aid to make its political intensions clear.
On the surface it may appear as though Canada’s Conservative government, lead by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has traded aiding an international organization supporting Palestinian refugees for funding a Palestinian-run body. However, scratch the surface and you find a brutal, Machiavellian reality.
UNRWA – whose school in Gaza was targeted and bombed by Israel during last year’s war – is the main aid and relief agency for Gaza’s 1.5 million locked-in residents, most of whom are refugees stemming from Israeli displacement in 1948. It’s the agency’s advocacy for those residents’ right to return to their origins of displacement that could be playing a central role in the cuts. The government is now making clear that Canadian foreign policy will no longer be satisfied with just providing diplomatic cover for Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, but is intent on directly aiding the siege.
This decision is one of this government’s most succinct reversals on Canada’s official foreign policy in the region, effectively scrapping Canada’s historic support for UN resolution 194, which calls for the return of all refugees to their pre 1948 homes. Yet, this is not simply another volley of Ottawa’s diplomatic posturing for Israel. Canada has not only stopped its supply of meagerly rationed butter to Gaza but has turned its aid into West Bank guns that fuel internal Palestinian divisions.
Public Safety minister Vic Toews told The Winnipeg Jewish Report in an article subsequently printed in The Jerusalem Post there was no cut in funding, just a reallocation to the PA judicial system so that it is in line with Canadian values. Evidently, for the government, these values include funding a police force responsible for a two-and-a-half year campaign of political arrest and torture of West Bank Palestinians involved in anti-occupation activities, primarily from the rival Hamas movement.
The redirected aid will be worked into the West’s current project of bolstering and strengthening the West Bank-based PA headed by Mahmoud Abbas, despite the expiry of his administration’s term and his lack of popular legitimacy. The central aim of this project is security coordination with Israel and the training of PA security personnel, headed by American Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton – a veteran of the US invasion of Iraq.
And while the well-documented campaign of torture and political detention by PA security forces trying to cement their control over the West Bank continues, Canada is playing an escalating role in training PA security.
Based in Ramallah during 2007-2008 and frequently visiting there since, I’ve seen firsthand the change in a city that has become the center for elite Palestinian authoritarian rule backed by Israeli and Western governments. “All night I used to hear the screams of pain from the jail,” said a friend from Ramallah who lived adjacent to a prison where political detainees were held.
Sitting with Wisam Ahmed, advocacy officer at Al Haq, in his downtown Ramallah office talking about torture committed by the PA, he gives me a copy of the executive summery report on human rights violations by the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, “Torturing Each Other.”
He tells me about how the issues of PA torture and political arrest without trial have been raised with the international bodies, but that the practices continue. “I think there are various interests involved and some of these third-party interests are different from what we feel are in the interest of insuring Palestinian unity,” he says, referring to Israeli and American-led moves to isolate Hamas. “If the international community is not interested in talking to all the parties involved, then their main interest is going to be to keep people sidelined,” he adds.
Ahmed’s analysis of the reasons for continued torture by the forces that the Canadians are involved in training illustrates the clarity
with which the government understands aid and Canadian values. In a conflict in which Canada spends most of its time backing Israel by staying quiet and using humanitarian assistance to rebuild what Israel destroys, now Canada’s most active foreign tool is being used to sideline Palestinians and aid Israel’s practice of divide and rule.
Jesse Rosenfeld is the editor of The Daily Nuisance