Israel, Palestine, And The Extreme Activist

I wasn’t going to say anything. I was going to keep my mouth shut. I’ve heard too much dogmatic stupidity on both sides of the issue to invite those responses once again.

But then #HitlerDidNothingWrong trended on Twitter yesterday thanks to some “peace activists.”

Now, let me first get a few things out there. The way Israel treats Palestinians is abhorrent. That a people in the 21st century are treated without rights and dignity is a stain on the world’s consciousness. That Israel and the United States oppose Palestinian statehood, despite the vast global consensus, is embarrassing. The disproportionality of violence is nothing short of brutal. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are indefensible and a clear affront to peace. Netanyahu is a thug, seemingly unwilling to compromise. The embargo is another brutal way of subjugating Palestinians to a lower class. And my own government’s fervent support of Israel is troubling, if not just flat out confusing.

Now, here’s the thing. I get all of this. I am the first to defend the Palestinian cause, and I have done so in many an argument. I can’t stand extremism, and I have definitely seen it on the Israeli side. But all that being said, I have seen extremism on the other side of things. I have heard some of the most ridiculous comments regarding the Holocaust, Jews, and Israel that I have had to come to the defense of the state of Israel.

This recent trending of #HitlerDidNothingWrong shows some of the problem. Yes, I know it’s definitely not representative of most Palestinians who are just interested in peace. But this extremism is still there. Anti-Semitism still exists (a Parisian synagogue was firebombed just yesterday), as does a refusal to accept a Jewish state. And I’m not convinced that some of these notions are not present among Palestinian leadership and neighbouring Arab states. We all remember the three no’s of the Khartoum Resolution (no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it).

I have a lot of trouble with anyone on either side of a debate that is unable to see the other perspective. There is a lot of that with Palestinian supporters. For all of the people calling for a stop to Israeli aggression, there is a seeming inability to recognize the impossible situation that Israel is put in and an inability to recognize the dangerous actions of Hamas.

Israel has a right to exist. Everyone needs to start there. It follows, then, that if Israel has a right to exist and all of its neighbours have some deep-rooted animosity towards it, the country is in a pretty precarious position. Israel has been on the receiving end of many unprovoked attacks. How is it supposed to respond? Can you really blame Israel for building up its military and seeking assistance from the world’s most powerful country? What else is it supposed to do?

Then you have Hamas. Many of those calling for a stop to Israeli aggression don’t really seem to grasp what Hamas is doing. Let’s look just at today. A ceasefire was brokered by Egypt. For six hours Israel halted its attacks on Gaza. Hamas, however, sent dozens of rockets into Israel, seriously disputing the notion that if only Israel would stop attacking Palestine, there would be peace.

While there is obviously thousands of years of history and complications, this recent flare-up of violence can largely be blamed on Hamas. Three Jewish teens were recently found killed in Palestine. In response, Israel arrested some suspects. A Palestinian teen was also brutally murdered by some Israelis in “response” to the killing of those three teens. In response to the arrests of these murder suspects, Hamas has launched hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Again, what is Israel supposed to do?

What is especially frustrating about Hamas is that it benefits from Israeli attacks. Nothing draws more support for Hamas than when Israel starts bombing Palestine. They use their rocket attacks to draw Israel into a conflict. Hamas is never going to win a military battle against Israel, but they can gain popular support by putting Palestinians in danger. It doesn’t justify Israel’s disproportionate response, but what I am saying is that Hamas is not benign. They have a lot of responsibility in this, which the pro-Palestinian crowd is typically reluctant to admit. To them, Israel is bad and that’s the end of the story.

All of this leads me to be very pessimistic about the whole situation. If the end goals of the two sides are very different, how is peace even possible? Extremists on the Israeli side (which, sadly, are those in power) are not about to give Palestinians full rights in a unified and fully democratic state, just as they are not willing to compromise on a two-state solution when they are busy settling the West Bank. So in that way, the end goals are not the same. And similarly, Palestinian leadership does not seem interested in letting Israel exist peacefully as a Jewish state. If they did, they would not break today’s ceasefire, launching rockets at Israeli cities in an unwinnable and ideological war.

While I am definitely a huge critic of Israeli foreign/domestic policy, I have just become increasingly annoyed at those I am supposed to agree with. Among this group, I have noticed a reluctance to criticize Palestinian/Arab leadership and the role that they have played in this conflict. As well, there is a reluctance to accept the difficult position that Israel is in. There is either a naive utopian vision where, if only Israel would lay down its arms everything in the Middle East would be better, or a much darker vision, where Israel is not a part of the Middle East picture at all. This is troubling, as Israel is the most democratic and functional state in the region (something the anti-Israeli crowd again doesn’t want to admit).

I don’t have a solution to the conflict. All I know is that Israel is acting unjustly, and Palestinians are, once again, at the disproportionate end of violence. What I also know is that smart enough people who criticize Israel are, for whatever reason, often unable to criticize Hamas and the role that Palestinians have in this recent violence. While it’s easy to just say that everything is Israel’s fault, that ignores the reality and complexity of the situation. People getting killed is a terrible tragedy, and until all of us step back from dogmatic extremism, people will continue to die. That means that pro-Israelis have to accept the plight and rights of the Palestinian people. And it also means that pro-Palestinians have to accept Israel’s place in the world and support leadership that actually seeks peace.

Baird in the Middle East

Canada’s foreign policy has devolved under the current government, summarized well by Bob Rae in a recent blog post. John Baird’s meeting this week in east Jerusalem adds another facepalm to the already disgraced state of the country’s foreign affairs.

Baird met with the Israeli justice minister – the government’s chief negotiator with Palestinians. He met with her in east Jerusalem, which is across the Green Line and into disputed territory. Under international law, the area is occupied territory, and past ministers have known the significance of not crossing the line.

Baird held the meeting where he did for one of two reasons. Either he met there to be purposefully provocative and remind Palestinians that Canada is fully on the Israeli side, or he did not know the significance of the Green Line. The latter is worse but much less likely. Baird might be backwards in most of his actions as foreign affairs minister, but he’s smart enough to know what he’s doing. For Canada, this is a frightening prospect.

Israel and Forced Birth Control

An article this week from The Independent says that Israel has reportedly admitted to administering birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent.

Uh, what? Seriously?

I think it’s a bit early to fully confirm the validity of this story. But if it turns out to be true, this is truly sickening and is an eery reminder of the eugenics that European Jews were once subject to. For any country (let alone one dedicated to the protection of the Jewish people) to systematically reduce the birth rate of an ethnicity is shocking in today’s day and age.

The report states that approximately 100,000 Ethiopian Jews have come to Israel since 1980, but that their “Jewishness” is questioned by some rabbis. Birth rates in this community have fallen dramatically, and apparently it is because these women were forced or coerced into take the Depo-Provera drug.

I bring this all up simply because it is not getting enough media attention. I am in full support of the Israeli state, but it, like every other country, should not go without critique. And if this story turns out to be completely accurate, there is more to critique about Israel than I originally thought.

Lifesaving Drugs to Poor People? Nah.

Every once in a while, a bill comes along that is essentially impossible to oppose. Bill C-398 was one of those bills.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons defeated C-398 – a bill that would have enabled lifesaving generic drugs to be shipped to poor people in developing countries at an affordable price. These are drugs used for HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, but are typically too expensive for the world’s poorest people. Quite simply, it would have saved lives by enabling the world’s poorest people access to much-needed drugs.

All but seven Conservative MPs voted against the bill, resulting in a 148-141 defeat. The Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino (the person in charge of Canada helping poor people), did not vote.

The bill was an attempt to cut the red tape and make more efficient Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). CAMR came into effect in 2004, but has simply not worked. C-398 would reform CAMR to make it effective and, thus, ensure that lifesaving drugs are available to poor people around the world.

I do not hide my general displeasure with the current government, but this particular incident makes me especially upset. It’s upsetting because no good reason has been offered by Conservative MPs as to why they voted against it. Most wouldn’t rationalize their ‘No’ votes and those that did just spread misinformation about what it is that C-398 would accomplish. Some said that it would violate Canada’s WTO agreements. But that claim is quite simply untrue.

I can’t think of any real reason why MPs would vote against this bill, but that’s the nature of Canada these days. And for Conservative MPs who claim to be pro-life, their decision to deny poor people lifesaving drugs is particularly baffling. NDP MP Paul Dewar put it best soon after the bill’s defeat.

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What Ottawa’s Embassies Say About That Nation

Greece

Crumbling. Past its prime. Nice neighbourhood.

This building’s glory days are long behind it. Today, the Greek embassy is literally crumbling to the ground and desperate for much-needed repairs. It is situated close to the university, but far enough away to be of any real relevance.

United States

Huge. Militaristic. Not well-liked.

Built to resemble a submarine, the American embassy is an embodiment of almost every possible stereotype. It is built in the most expensive area of town, completely favours size over beauty and overshadows its neighbours.

Switzerland

Organized. Clean. Nice to look at.

Minorities can’t just walk into this embassy, but it sure is well-kept. It’s also quite old, but seemingly untouched by any disaster of Ottawa’s past.

Cuba

Recluse. Can’t see into it easily. Appears to have been built by the Soviets.

The Cuban embassy is quite separate from the rest of the embassy community. The building is also somewhat windowless, allowing few outsiders to see its inner-workings.

Kazakhstan

Irrelevant. Not worth taking a picture of. Difficult to find.

Nothing very special about Kazakhstan’s embassy. It is depressingly average in almost every possible way.

South Korea

Modern. Sleek. Close to great food.

Situated in Ottawa’s market area, the Korean embassy is surrounded by great food options. It is a modern and advanced building, but also highly securitized.

Pakistan

Surrounded by others. Hard to tell if it’s nice or not. Oddly shaped.

Depending on the day, Pakistan’s embassy seems quite friendly and hospitable. But it also has the tendency to appear haunted. Hard to say. Situated in an area full of embassies, this building is not short on neighbours, both friendly and unfriendly.

Russia

Secretive. Stuck in the 1990s. Bigger than it needs to be.

Covered in trees, this property  is unique in its style and presence. It may seem like the embassy has room to grow, but you can’t help to shake the feeling that it has a couple of decades of catching up to do. The 20-foot-wide satellite dishes don’t help.

United Arab Emirates

Decadent. Man-made. Architecturally impressive.

One can’t help but feel that this embassy does not need to be as elaborate as it is. It’s almost as if there was too much money to know what to do with. (Side note – while I was taking pictures, this was the only embassy where someone came out and told me to stop.)

Germany

Central. Functional. Better built than its neighbours. 

While the property has some history to it, that history is not exactly advertised. The building was constructed in the 1950s, renovated in the 1990s, and maintains a modern and forward-thinking feel.

China

Massive. Populous. Has a big wall.

There seems to be a great plenty of employees occupying the Chinese embassy. Its wall is also impenetrable to any 14th century army.

Iran

Mysterious. All activity is constantly monitored. Frequently protested.

The windows and blinds in the Iranian embassy have never opened. It is impossible to tell what is going on inside, but the lawns are very well manicured.

Spain

Spent more than it needed to. Historically more impressive than it is now. No current job openings.

It sure seems nice. But how was such a nice building paid for?