the bodies keep piling up in the Occupied Territories in Israel, but Canada was nowhere to be seen when the United Nations Security Council debated a resolution Monday (August 20) on whether to send monitors to Israel.Canada does not occupy a seat on the 15-member Security Council, but it did not join the more than 40 countries that opted to speak to the issue (which, thanks to the U.S., never reached a vote). Neither has it done what the European Union mustered the courage to do -- criticize the Israeli policy of assassinations and extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
While the Liberals have always been edgy about upsetting Canada's mainstream Jewish organizations, foreign policy under the ministry of John Manley has become downright timid. Many believe he got burned badly last fall by the controversy that exploded when Canada's rep at the UN voted in favour of a resolution condemning Israeli gun violence against rock-throwing Palestinians.
So sensitive has the minister become that his department is considering hiring a conflict resolution specialist to confer with local Jewish and Arab groups and advise him on how to steer clear of Middle East minefields. But this reticence doesn't bode well for Canada's reputation as a broker of justice. Not when Amnesty International, Israeli human rights groups and a bevy of international law experts have been so pointed about Israel's "pre-emptive" policy of murdering Palestinians it suspects of being terrorists.
"The assassinations taking place under the current circumstances are illegal and criminal," says Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois and a longtime observer of the Middle East. While Israel, he says, does have the right to use "necessary and proportionate force" to protect itself against suicide bombers, this doesn't extend to the killing of Palestinian activists without fair trial.
The wilful killing of persons is a grave breach of international law and of a number of treaties to which Canada is a party, he points out. "It's a very serious war crime mandating universal prosecution. There is no such doctrine as pre-emptive self-defence under international law," he says.
Even those in Peace Now who have backed the Israeli government in this intifada are distancing themselves from the Israeli position on pre-emptive strikes. "We believe in legitimate self-defence but we don't support the targeting of political figures or indiscriminate attacks in which civilians are killed," says Canadian Friends of Peace Now policy director Sheldon Gordon.
Some Liberal MPs say the government is not staking out a forceful enough position. One prominent Grit MP who asked not to be named says Israel's pre-emptive strike policy is "totally counterproductive," and is exacerbating Israeli relations not only with the European Union but with the U.S. as well.
In this MP's view, Israel's "mailed fist" approach is designed solely to boost the sagging fortunes of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who's coming under increased attack for not doing enough to deal with suicide bombings. Manley, says this source, is more conscious of the U.S. reaction to Canadian foreign policy positions than was his predecessor, Lloyd Axworthy, as a consequence of Manley's time as industry minister, "where his whole focus was breaking down borders with the U.S."
This, says the MP, has left some in the Liberal caucus uneasy to the point that there is quiet pressure behind the scenes for a review of Canada-U.S. relations. "I'm not so sure I want to do things the U.S. way," the MP says.
A discussion with Sanjeev Chowdhury, Manley's press secretary, does little to address these charges.
Manley supports, Chowdhury says, a position drafted by G-8 foreign ministers calling for a third-party monitoring mechanism -- but only if both Palestinians and Israelis agree.
The minister, he says, took time out from his vacation after the most recent suicide bombing to phone Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat and Israeli foreign affairs minister Shimon Peres, urging restraint on both sides. "I don't know what other world leader has spoken to both sides," says Chowdhury. "Canada is navigating the higher moral ground. I think one can argue that the actions of both sides contravene international law."
Of course, Palestinian human rights groups themselves have criticized the Palestinian Authority's lack of due process against its own people and the ugly public executions of suspected traitors without fair trial. Then there are the horrifying Palestinian suicide bombing raids. And while no one would want one-sided condemnation, it's annoying how often Israel escapes the censure that falls disproportionately on the Palestinians.
This explains why Manley's low-key strategy keeps faith with the Canadian Jewish Congress and at the same time alienates local Arab Canadians. The Congress's director of Israeli policy, Simon Rosenblum, says the pre-emptive strike strategy is essential to protect Israeli lives. It's a "moderate response. Going in and re-occupying would be heavy-handed," he says.
But at the Canadian Arab Federation, John Asfour says Manley "needs to get off the fence and be more active and creative. If Canada continues to submit to the U.S. or the G-8 position, we run the risk of being marginalized and losing the respect we have internationally."
At the Israeli embassy in Ottawa, officials decline to comment on the matter. Spokesperson David Cooper prefers instead to e-mail an official statement. "The Israeli Defence Forces," it says, have acted with the greatest possible restraint, taking care to target only those responsible for the violence. As long as the violence exists, Israel has the indisputable responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens."
WHAT LAW SAYS
Article 32 of the Geneva Convention: "(Signatories) specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents."
Article 75: "The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents: a) Violence to the life, health or physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular: murder, torture of all kinds, corporal punishment, mutilation."
Article 85: "The following acts shall be regarded as grave breaches of this protocol when committed wilfully and causing death or serious injury to body or health: a) Making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack."