I cannot comment on the recent events in Gaza in one blog. Or even two. I will write a series. But I first have to make abundantly clear that these are not op-eds. The vast majority of the material on the Gaza clashes have been op-eds of various types. This series is intended to be an analysis of what happened, the context, the motives and the significance. The initial focus on Canada is merely an entry point. My current intention is to write six blogs, but, as with today, I may not be able to fit the topic in a single blog. In that case, I will divide the blog into (a) and (b).
The planned blogs are:
- Gaza 2018: Introduction
(a) Gaza 2018: Canadian Responses
(b) A Preliminary Evaluation
- Gaza 2018: The Media War
(b) Emotive Appeals
(c) Jewish Handwringing
- Gaza 2018: The War on the Ground – Casualties
- Gaza 2018: Political Effects
- Gaza 2018: Human Rights
- Gaza 2018: International Norms
The clashes formally began on 30 March 2018 and large demonstrations were held every Friday subsequently for six weeks with the intention of culminating in a million-strong march in mid-May to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and Nakba Day. Protesters were killed each week, mostly by live ammunition from Israeli snipers. The numbers killed and maimed more than doubled in the 14 May demonstration when 62 were killed on that day alone. On 16 May 2018, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the violence in the Gaza Strip:
“Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people. We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded – along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.
“We are doing everything we can to assist Dr. Loubani and his family, and to determine how a Canadian citizen came to be injured. We are engaging with Israeli officials to get to the bottom of these events.
“Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground – including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force.
“Canada stands ready to assist in such an endeavour. We will work closely with our international partners and through international institutions to address this serious situation.”
Canada was not the only government to call for an independent investigation. British Prime Minister Theresa May and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also called for an immediate independent investigation. In response, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, distributed the following:
“We are deeply disappointed the government’s statement ignores Hamas’ direct responsibility for recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border. This contradicts the government’s long-stated position that, as a close ally and fellow liberal democracy, Israel can count on Canada’s support when its security is threatened. It also disregards Hamas’ claim today that 50 of 62 fatalities in the latest attempts to breach the border were Hamas members.
Hamas has left Israel no choice but to use force to protect the tens of thousands of Israelis who live close to Gaza. We are outraged and saddened that Hamas is again using civilian human shields. For Israelis and the Jewish community, Palestinian casualties are painful tragedies. For Hamas, Palestinian casualties are sickening public relations achievements. Shifting the blame to Israel risks encouraging Hamas to further fuel violence, make peace harder to reach, and impose additional hardships on Gazans – who are the primary victims of Hamas’ tactics.”
Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) also expressed its disappointment in: “the strong and unbalanced statement issued by Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. The prime minister’s statement does not condemn Hamas for inciting violence and its armed struggle to invade Israel. Hamas, recognized by Canada as a terrorist group, is determined to enter Israel in order to harm civilians by breaching the security fence and through tunnels.
“While we despair about loss of life, Canada should steadfastly condemn Hamas for inciting violence and for attempting to enter a sovereign nation to carry out terrorism. It’s disappointing that our prime minister did not condemn Hamas in his statement,’ said Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of FSWC.
“US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the Security Council yesterday: ‘Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?…No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.’
“Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said at yesterday’s UN Security Council Meeting: ‘Hamas has committed war crimes not only against Israeli civilians but also against its own people – turning them into human shields for their own cynical gain. Every casualty that has resulted from the recent violence is a victim of Hamas’s war crimes.’
“Israel shares Canada’s values of freedom, democracy and human rights. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies will continue promoting a peaceful conclusion to this conflict, including a two-state solution. We look to Canada to be an honest broker in this process and to support the safety and security of Israeli citizens.”
On the other hand, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) issued the following statement:
“Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) supports Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement on Gaza. Yesterday, PM Trudeau expressed grave concern with the outbreak of violence against unarmed Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and called for an ‘immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine facts on the ground – any incitement, violence and the use of excessive force.’ ‘CJPME calls on the government to keep its promise to Canadians in investigating Israel’s actions in Gaza.’
“Over the past several weeks, thousands of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza have been injured, and many killed by Israeli sharpshooters, simply for protesting Israel’s violations of international law. Yesterday, Trudeau finally broke his silence, calling Israel’s use of excessive force and live ammunition ‘inexcusable.’ Indeed, Israel’s shootings of Palestinian civilians in Gaza are ‘inexcusable,’ as they constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the targeting of civilians. CJPME points out that the Prime Minister’s statement comes amidst the shooting of Dr.Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen that was providing medical treatment to Palestinians injured by Israeli snipers in Gaza.
“CJPME President Thomas Woodley remarked, ‘We are happy that the Trudeau government has finally condemned the shooting of Dr. Loubani and dozens of other innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Like many Canadians, we have been appalled for a long-time by Israel’s grave human rights abuses against Palestinians, and Canada’s muted reactions.’ CJPME looks forward to watching the Canadian government continue to ensure that Israel is held to account for its human rights abuses and violations of international law.
“Since March 30th, Palestinians have held a series of weekly protests at Gaza’s border with Israel, calling for the right to return to their homeland. CJPME notes that so far, Israeli sharpshooters have killed over 100 unarmed Palestinians, and injured thousands of others. CJPME calls on the government to ensure that Canadians receive an explanation as to why a Canadian doctor would be targeted by the Israeli military. Moreover, CJPME calls on PM Trudeau to keep his promise to Canadians and follow through with an immediate independent investigation into Israel’s violent actions in Gaza.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Trudeau after the latter issued his statement on Gaza and, in addition to defending Israeli actions generally, stated unequivocally the following:
- Israel would not cooperate with an international investigation;
- The IDF would investigate the wounding of Dr. Tarek Loubani by conducting an independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry into the incident.
- Earlier, the IDF had already launched two independent investigations, the first by the Southern Command on those killed on or before 5 April, and a second later by Brigadier General Moti Baruch.
Most of the international community rejected an IDF investigation of its own forces as not independent. Given past performances, Israel could not conceive of any investigation under the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as independent either.
Without taking any stand one way or the other yet on Trudeau’s statement, the following at the very least can be agreed upon:
- Most (not all) people, including most Israelis and supporters of Israel, are appalled and upset at the number killed (over 100) and the very large number of civilians wounded (from 2,500 to 3,500 if those who inhale tear gas are also considered injured).
- Justin Trudeau’s focus was on the wounded, not those killed, presumably, or at least possibly, because of the 62 killed in the enormous casualty rate on 14 May 2018, according to a Hamas spokesperson, 50 were Hamas members; 3 were members of an even more radical faction of Palestinians. These figures are consistent with the earlier analysis of the Meir Amit Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre of the 40 previously killed: 13 were members of Palestinian military and security organizations and 19 were members of Hamas. In other words, with some minor discrepancies, the vast majority of those killed as claimed by both sides were militants.
- According to Loubani, himself a descendant of Palestinian refugees and an emergency physician at Ontario’s London Health Sciences Centre and at Shifa Hospital in Gaza, he was wearing his green scrubs; members of his medical team around him were wearing high-visibility medical vests.
- 18 other medical team members wearing clearly identifiable vests were also reportedly wounded on 14 May 2018; Musa Abuhassanin, supposedly another member of the team wearing the bright medical vest and, the first to treat Loubani, was, according to Loubani, a “great guy”; Abuhassanin was shot in the chest later that day and died while allegedly treating another wounded Palestinian. Israeli sources and B’nai Brith Canada have both offered “proof” in a poster released by Hamas and data from the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Centre that Musa Abuhassanin, aka Musa Jabr Abu Hasanin, was a Hamas militant, a 36-year-old Captain of the Gazan Civil Defence and not simply an innocent paramedic as Loubani claimed.
- Justin Trudeau said that the wounded consisted of “many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.” Among the over 100 dead over the six-week course of the protests, there were evidently 24 “children” between 14-16 years of age killed; this number included a 14-year-old girl, Wissal Abu Ermana, killed while trying to cut through the security fence with wire cutters, and Mariam Marouf, the daughter of Hassan Marouf, following airborne raids and a missile attack by the IDF targeting Marouf in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza who led a group of armed militants who had allegedly been shooting machine gun fire into Israel.
- Trudeau seemed to be correct that the vast majority in the protest were unarmed.
- Two journalists, Yaser Murtaja and Ahma d Abu Hussein, were killed: the first died on the day of the first protest on 30 March; the second was wounded and died on 25 April 2018.
- Trudeau did not call for an international investigation but for an independent one and left open the possibility that an Israeli-based inquiry would be independent.
- It seems incorrect that Trudeau omitted any reference to Hamas, though the reference seemed indirect when he asked that the investigation include incitement as well as violence and excessive use of force; however, Justin Trudeau’s criticism was stronger than that of Bernie Sanders who insisted that there was plenty of “blame to go around” for the situation in Gaza and specifically targeted Hamas and other regional leaders as well as the leaders of the Gulf states while chastising Israel.
- The call for a fact-finding mission seems at least odd since it followed a statement of moral judgment based on a presumption of fact seemingly clearly aimed at Israel.
Tomorrow: 1. (b) A Preliminary Evaluation of the Canadian Response