Israel defies international law

CUPE Ontario, the United Church and boycotting Israel

The Sunday herald

HALIFAX (16 July 2006) - Howard Gerson, in his opinion article "What is behind the boycotts of Israel?" (The Sunday Herald, Halifax, July 9, 2006), accuses CUPE Ontario and the Toronto branch of the United Church of failing "to acknowledge the real and difficult issues faced by Israel in the context of Middle East politics and the complexities of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."

This conflict is a very simple one.

In 1948, Israel drove the majority of Palestinians out of their homeland; and since 1967, has been in illegal occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza. This occupation still stands after 39 years, in defiance of international law and repeated UN Security Council resolutions.

Israeli practices during this occupation include extrajudicial assassination, detention of thousands without charge or trial, torture, daily humiliation of Palestinians at check points, denial of health care, demolition of thousands of homes and expropriation of property for the creation of illegal colonies (settlements).

These practices are in violation of virtually every article of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are, thus, defined by international law as war crimes.

Yet, Mr. Gerson claims that Israel "shares Canadian core values."

It is my hope that Canadian values are distinctly different than Israel's, and that Canada honours its obligations under international law and the UN Charter.

Mr. Gerson objects to CUPE and the United Church's criticism of what he calls "Israel's passively defensive separation barrier." This wall is illegal, built largely on illegally occupied land, and has been condemned by the International Court of Justice, which called for its dismantlement.

Mr. Gerson castigates Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario, for comparing Israeli racist policies with those of apartheid South Africa. Israeli racist policies, as enacted in its legislation and practised on the ground, are manifest to anyone who cares to look.

These policies are not only practised against the Palestinians under occupation, but are also enforced against Israel's own Muslim and Christian citizens.

These practices have been condemned by all international human rights bodies, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and Israeli human rights groups such as B'Tselem.

The catalogue of these practices is lengthy, but the late professor Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights, summed it up accurately in his statement: "It is my considered opinion that the state of Israel is a racist state in the full meaning of this term. In this state, people are discriminated against, in the most permanent and legal way and in the most important areas of life, only because of their origin. This racist discrimination began in Zionism and is carried today mainly in co-operation with the institutions of the Zionist movement." (Quote taken from The Racist Nature of Zionism and of the Zionist State of Israel, an article published in Pi-Ha'aton, the weekly newspaper of the students of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Nov. 5, 1975.)

Derek Tozer, an Israeli thinker, has stated: "The official policy of the government (of Israel) is unequivocal. Arabs, like the Jews in Nazi Germany, are officially `class B' citizens, a fact which is recorded on their identity cards."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, during a Christmas visit to Jerusalem in 1989, stated: "I am a black South African and if I were to change names, a description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa."

The predicament of Israel's roughly 1.2 million Arab citizens is evident, as the 2003 Israeli State Committee of Inquiry made clear: They suffer systemic discrimination in employment, housing and education, and lack of equal access to state resources.

Israel's new Citizenship Law, passed recently by a wide margin in the Knesset, denies any Palestinian who is married to an Israeli citizen the right to reside in Israel or acquire Israeli citizenship. Only Palestinians who are married to Arab Israeli citizens are singled out in this way.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the law as racist, and Israel-based B'Tselem claims that it contravenes the Israeli Basic Law.

It is clear that Israeli practices and laws stand in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Article 1 of the Convention calls on all high contracting parties, including Canada, to take action against any state that violates any article of the Convention.

Accordingly, the boycott, called for by CUPE Ontario and the United Church in Toronto, is not only legitimate but represents an action that all signatories to the Convention, including Canada, should endorse and effect.

Ismail Zayid, MD, lives in Halifax.

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