Delegation calling for ceasefire makes no headway with MacKay

MacKay focuses on humanitarian aid, refuses to condemn Israeli aggression


CORNWALL, ON (4 August 2006) -- A DELEGATION of community members from Ottawa, Gatineau, the Cornwall area and Montreal calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East was refused the opportunity to speak to the Conservative caucus for 15 minutes this afternoon.

The group - members of organisations and individuals outraged by the Conservatives' uncompromising support for Israel's attacks on Lebanon and Gaza - had made the emergency request to the Conservative party earlier in the week. Upon arrival in Cornwall, however, they were not permitted entrance to the grounds of the conference centre.

Under pressure of television cameras and a very determined crowd, the Conservative party eventually agreed to allow two women to enter, but refused entry to a third, the francophone Quebec delegate. Dahd Al Saady of the Cornwall area, who has family living under the bombardment in Lebanon, and Rana Abdallah, representing the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians of Ottawa and Gatineau, met with Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and International Cooperation Minister Josée Vermer to present the group's four demands: immediate ceasefire and halt to the assault on Lebanon and an end to the seige of Gaza; bring to justice those responsible for the war crimes taking place; delivery of humanitarian aid proportional to need in devastated Lebanon and Gaza; and work towards addressing the root causes of the conflict, such as the occupation of Palestine. (Full prepared statement is below.)

When pressed, however, he was unwilling to define the word "terrorist"
Although the Ministers were willing to speak about Canada's contributions to humanitarian aid under the continuing destruction of Lebanon, MacKay refused to condemn the aggression of Israel. He simply reiterated the Canadian government's position that Hamas and Hezbollah are "terrorist organisations". When pressed, however, he was unwilling to define the word "terrorist". The delegation had already pointed out that Israel is systematically targeting civilian infrastructure, has killed 900 civilians, wounded 2400 and forced the displacement of 900,000 in Lebanon in the past two weeks alone.

Minister MacKay stated that he has been strongly advocating the cessation of violence and that he decries the loss of life. However, he did not commit to calling for a ceasefire.

Forget about the past and let us live together, asking whether he should go back to Scotland to fight for his ancestral land
The delegation was also unable to enter into a serious discussion of the root causes of the conflict. MacKay responded, "Forget about the past and let us live together," asking whether he should go back to Scotland to fight for his ancestral land. The flabbergasted delegates tried to point out that Palestinians are currently stateless, and currently living under the continuing violent occupation of Israel, but got nowhere. Their pragmatic argument that until basic oppression is addressed, violence will continue fell on deaf ears.

The meeting happened hours after another major series of air strikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut, another round of targetted destruction of civilian infrastructure throughout Lebanon, and another devastating attack on Tyre (see minute-by-minute newsfeed: www.lebanonupdates.blogspot.com). Many of the delegation members have friends and relatives currently living under Israeli bombs.

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Tadamon!, tadamon@resist.ca, tél 514 690 8499, http://tadamon.resist.ca

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Open Letter to members of the Conservative caucus



4 August 2006

Dear Conservative Party Members of Parliament,

We, residents and organisations of Cornwall, Gatineau, Montreal and Ottawa, are here to express our outrage at your government's unconditional support for Israeli military aggression in Lebanon, as well as in the occupied Gaza Strip.

The Israeli attacks are not only disproportionate, they are unjustified, unjust and criminal. People the world over recognize this and, in the millions, are saying so in clear and unequivocal terms. This view is shared by officials in most of the world's governments and by representatives of key international institutions. Yet, Prime Minister Harper has so far not even recognized the disproportionality of Israeli actions. Rather, he has consistently qualified them as "measured" and as legitimate forms of self-defence. For most Canadians and Quebeckers, this position is unacceptable. Further, on Monday, July 31, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay again expressed his full support for Israel's actions. He also called Hezbollah, a political party with popular support in Lebanon, a "cancer" on Lebanon. The use of this kind of language is appalling to many Canadians. It is reminiscent of racist hate speech, including the anti-semitic rhetoric of early twentieth century europe, used to de-humanise and to justify atrocities.

This unconditional support is unconscionable and unacceptable.

Are the Conservative members unaware that Israel is bombing predominantly civilian areas, in contravention of international law? Are they unaware that Israel has killed at a ratio of 45:1 civilians to combatants (as opposed to Hezbollah's 1:2 - as horrible as it is to have to make such comparisons); leaving 800 dead, wounding at least another 2000, and forcing the displacement of about 900,000 (according to UN estimates)?

You must be aware that in Qana alone, in a single bombing, upwards of 60 died, 37 of them innocent children, all civilians sheltering from the violence. Is Mr. Harper seriously going to have us believe that all these people are combatants in disguise or that their deaths are somehow proportional to the capture of two soldiers? Is Mr. MacKay prepared to endorse the death and suffering of all these people as part of a fight against "terrorists" or against "cancer"?

Are Conservative members reading the reports that are coming out daily about the destruction of civilian infrastructure and of people's property? We do not know how many homes have been destroyed in the villages of the south and of the Bekaa. We cannot yet put a number to the apartment buildings now lying shattered into rubble. But there are many. BBC and other media reports indicate that between 66 and 100 bridges have been destroyed, 88% of the country's main roads are damaged, 3 seaports have been hit, the Beirut airport put out of action and all main civilian radar stations incapacitated. A water treatment plant, hospitals, schools, factories, and warehouses have been bombed. The Jiye power station and the Sibline electricity generator were hit. Electrical power is available for only limited periods in Beirut. A week ago it was estimated that 750,000 people were without electricity in the south. Four gas stores were reported hit, 17 fuel stores destroyed and 12 gas stations bombed as of last week. Hundreds of commercial, civilian and public transportation vehicles have been targetted and destroyed. Close to 1.5 million dollars of damage has been done to media stations, with 50% of broadcasting capacity destroyed. With foreigners and investors fleeing and growth stalling, the government is set to lose $600m in earnings and the economy will suffer a $2bn hit, according to economist Marwan Iskander last week. The entirety of Lebanon's Gross Domestic Product in 2005 was $24billion.

The reports providing this information are widely available, from credible sources. Many of us of course cannot avoid such reports, because it is our families and friends whose lives are being taken, whose livelihoods and homes are being destroyed and whose country is being devastated. But we would hope that you, as responsible, elected members of Parliament who are playing a role on the world scene, would also consider this information and reflect on its meaning.

The Israeli state is in clear violation of rules of international conduct. The destruction Israel is inflicting and its wanton violence against civilians cannot be justified under international humanitarian law, nor by standards of common morality. International humanitarian law is not conditional; it simply never permits collective punishment or attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah
This destruction and killing is not an unfortunate byproduct of military strategy, it is deliberate - and openly so. Israeli army's Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, declared near the outset of the attack that "nothing is safe in [Lebanon], as simple as that" (quoted in The Times, 13 July). Just last week, in a cabinet meeting, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon called for further action against the civilian population of southern Lebanon. In a security cabinet meeting, he argued openly that, if necessary, villages should be "flattened" in southern Lebanon (Globe and Mail, 28 July 2006, A1). In the UK Telegraph he was quoted as saying, "Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah" (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/07/28/wmid28. xml).

Israeli's actions amount to state terror based on a racist rationale for dealing with Arab and Muslim populations. Mr. Mackay has come very close now to defending the use of violence against the civilian population to achieve a political end. As you are aware, this is the definition of terrorism.

We invite all members of good conscience, who are not swayed by racist ideologies, to challenge these statements that are being made on your behalf.

We call on your government to condemn the illegal and unjustified Israeli attacks on people in Lebanon and to demand Israel's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon and a cessation of its military aggression.

The current situation in Lebanon has drawn attention away from ongoing Israeli Occupation Forces attacks on civilians in the occupied Gaza Strip (as well as the occupied West Bank). We call on your government to demand that Israel lift its seige of Gaza and end its campaign of collective punishment, including the deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure, homes, shops and government buildings.

We also call on your government to hold Israel to account for subjecting entire populations in Lebanon and Gaza to the most violent and ruthless forms of collective punishment. No less a figure than the current United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour indicated - already a week ago - that Israeli Generals and Ministers could be held criminally responsible under international law for authorizing the bombing of civilians in Lebanon. We call on your government to take the initiative in bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice by calling for an international fact-finding mission to determine what violations of international law have taken place.

We call on your government, in a spirit of solidarity and in full respect of the dignity and autonomy of the people of Lebanon and Gaza, to take urgent measures to address the widespread suffering and misery that the military attacks have created. We call on you to devote all necessary resources - human, logistical and financial - to providing the internally displaced with humanitarian aid and to open Canada's doors to those fleeing the violence, regardless of their citizenship.

We call on your government to change your position on the Palestine-Israel conflict and Middle East peace to one that is consistent with principles of justice, equality and self-determination. There are core issues that underlie the current conflict which need to be addressed and resolved to set the conditions for real peace with justice. Your party must understand that unconditional support for Israel will only prolong the conflict, as no resolution can be reached as long as the roots of the conflict are not addressed. Therefore, we also call on the Canadian government to demand that Israel end its occupation of Palestinian lands, immediately release both Palestinian and Lebanese political prisoners, and respect the Palestinian people's rights of return and self-determination.

The position taken by the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Affairs Department on the Israeli attacks and invasion is one of acquiesence, if not encouragement, of Israeli acts of terrorism against and oppression of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples. It lacks all sense of balance, all measure of critical perspective on the actions of the Israeli state and it indicates a failure to understand the deeply rooted, historical injustices that are at the foundation of the impasses and hostilities in the Middle East. It is shameful; it is an embarassment to the people of Quebec and Canada.

We call on all of you of good conscience to consider your responsibility in the current situation. We hold each one of you responsible for the position you take as Members of Parliament.

For our parts, we will continue to publicly critique your policies and positions and tirelessly engage in efforts to effect change until the aspirations of all the people in Lebanon and Palestine for security and dignity are met, and not treated with the contempt your government has shown in both word and deed with its unconditional and uncritical support of Israeli aggression and occupation.

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Association des jeunes libanais musulmans, Al Hidaya Association,

Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians, Coalition of Canadian Arab

Professional and Community Associations, Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, Parole Arabe, Rassemblement Outaouais contre la guerre, Tadamon! Montreal

Responses can be sent via Tadamon!

Tel. 514 690 8499. tadamon@resist.ca.

http://tadamon.resist.ca

c/o 1500, de Maisonneuve O., #204, Montréal QC



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