Canada, your government and the Middle East today

John W. Foster

John W. Foster
6-320 Waverley St.
Ottawa, On
K2P 0W3


July 26, 2006

The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Prime Minister,

Canada, your government and the Middle East today

I am writing you once more, this time to express my growing and sustained outrage at the continued refusal of your government to call for an immediate cease fire in the conflict in Lebanon and the simultaneous attacks on the West Bank and Gaza. Your refusal to act for an immediate cease-fire is making Canadians accomplices in continuing murder and destruction.  Please do not attempt to take cover behind the results of today’s Rome meeting, the key issue is one of Canadian responsibility and policy. We must be, and be seen to be, placing our weight on the cause of immediate cease fire.

The immediate situation in Lebanon currently results in more than 400 deaths, many more injuries (the photos carried on BBC and other international sources, particularly of maimed and burned children are particularly moving), and around 1 million displaced.  The action to assist endangered Canadians is laudatory, but to refuse to call for an end to the carnage, simply adds a cynical touch of failure to extend our concern to all those endangered.

Further, the Canadian government appears peculiarly passive in the face of the death of Canadian citizens, including a number of children, from Israeli attacks.  The lack of direct and clear protest leads to wonder as to where your government considers Canadian interests lie.  The further news of what can only be regarded as a sustained and thus conscious (despite appeals from the UN observers) attack on a UN observation post with a further Canadian death must provoke a clear protest now to the Israeli authorities.  To fail to do so signals inadequate support to Canadian service-people overseas wherever they are located.  Further, the Canadian government must support the UN Secretary-General and the institution which he represents, on behalf of all of us.

It is particularly strange that the much–required attention to humanitarian relief, almost always neglects to mention that Lebanon is under Israeli air and sea blockade! As part of a call to end hostilities and to facilitate humanitarian and ordinary commercial life, pressure for an immediate ending of the blockade is urgently required.

Remarks from politicians and journalists that directly or by implication call for the elimination of Hezbollah, and euphemisms like a permanent and sustainable “solution” must be rejected.  It is clear, from knowledgeable commentators as well as from the Lebanese Prime Minister himself, that Hezbollah is a) by origin a response to the original Israeli occupation b) a political force participating in parliamentary and cabinet roles and c) has significant and likely growing support in widespread areas of Lebanon.  It’s militia have provoked this stage of conflict, and must be harnessed to any durable solution, but it must be recognized that in the face of continued Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, the West Bank and Gaza as well as their defeat of Israeli presence in southern Lebanon in the late 1990s, that they are regarded by many in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East as heroes. A Canadian policy which fails to deal with these realities and to engage, rather than retreating behind the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism” will fail.

With regard to the possibility of a strongly-mandated force on the Israeli-Lebanon border (I would personally advise that its mandate include presence on both sides of the border), government statements encouraging the participation of personnel from the region are to be lauded, as is the initiative of the Italian Prime Minister to pledge participation, and the apparent agreement of the Rome meeting that this be a UN and not a NATO force.

One might inquire what the long-term policy of your government is toward Lebanon as a democratic state, which it is, which nature it is struggling to develop and deepen.  Do you really favor strategies aimed at greater division and a possible renewal of civil war?  Do you favor Israeli territorial occupation and/or an occupation force made up of bodies so implicated in support of Israel that they simply provoke further resistance and violence? Do you really support a military strategy which in addition to its horrendous effects on the people of Lebanon, destroys the means of life (ambulances, public means of transport, bakeries and food supplies), huge areas of residential and agricultural infrastructure, communications infrastructure, airport and other transport facilities.

In terms of the broader picture, if Israel is to be guaranteed security, the roots of the conflict must be addressed and they lie not in Lebanon but in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (despite the ”withdrawal”, Gaza is not without continued attacks and incursions), the continued expansion and defense of settlements on occupied land, the illegal wall, the refusal to deal with the right to return and the continued aggression against people and infrastructure in the occupied territories.  This fundamental factor was eloquently documented by former Amb. Paul Heimbecker in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

As Amb. Heimbecker importantly noted, the issue is not whether Canadian policy is aligned with or against the current US policy, but whether it is substantive and correct and addresses the long-term and fundamental issues.  Your current policy appears to lack any initiative whatsoever in this regard.

The Lebanese Prime Minister has stated the urgency of historic actions undertaken by “historic” men.   The current situation is dominated by the cynical posture of US policy – in this case articulated by a woman – refusing to press for immediate cease fire and smiling at an Israeli leadership dedicated to potentially weeks of further destruction of life and property.

Your government has done nothing, as yet, to challenge that cynical policy. You have the potential of taking historic initiatives on behalf of Canada, but seem unwilling to do so.  Once again, as in my letter of July 17, I appeal to you to act for an immediate cease fire in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict and an end to aggressive acts on both sides in Palestine (West Bank and Gaza).

Yours sincerely

John W. Foster (Dr.)

The Hon. Bill Graham, Leader of the Opposition
Gilles Duceppe, M.P., Leader of the Bloc Quebecois
Jack Layton, M.P., Leader of the New Democratic Party
The Hon. Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Keith Martin, M.P. Opposition critic for Foreign Affairs
Francine Lalonde, M.P., Bloc critic for Foreign Affairs
Alexa MacDonough, M.P., NDP critic for Foreign Affairs
Paul Dewar, M.P., Ottawa Centre