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From Tel Aviv to Ottawa: Blockading boats and ballots

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Canadians are collectively waking up to the fact that we faced an illegal blockade at the ballot box in dozens of ridings last May, which may have led to a stolen election. Meanwhile, Palestinians face illegal blockades and checkpoints every day, which steal their freedom of movement, preventing them from entering or leaving Gaza and impeding travel through the West Bank. As Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches down in Ottawa, the world is waking up to the complicity of the Canadian government in Israel’s violations of international law.

Stephen Harper and Netanyahu will try to convince the public that deepening military integration between Canada and Israel is about “security.” But we all know that their common agenda is really about the mutual support of the two governments for war, occupation and entrenching the vested interests of the one per cent at the expense of the 99 per cent.

The legitimacy of the Harper government is increasingly coming into question as more and more doubts emerge about automated “robocalls” that had the effect (and possibly the intent) of suppressing votes by misrepresenting Elections Canada and misdirecting electors to incorrect polling stations. Meanwhile, this same Canadian government has expressed no concern to the government of Israel over a serious international incident involving Canadians: the forcible seizure of the Canadian boat Tahrir while it was peacefully sailing in international waters toward the blockaded Gaza Strip. Despite multiple requests, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs under Minister John Baird has refused to ask Israel to release the Tahrir and its cargo of desperately-needed medical aid, saying that this is a purely private matter.

Canadians have a right to expect more from their government: more respect for our election process at home and more respect for international law abroad.

The Tahrir was bought with Canadian funds collected from people and organizations from coast to coast to coast. Israel has had more than enough time for a thorough inspection and search of the vessel, the ostensible reason used to justify the capture of the Tahrir, and has never found, nor even claimed to find, anything dangerous or prohibited on board. And yet the Harper Conservatives have once again granted Israel impunity for its reckless actions.

Last September, four special rapporteurs with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated their 2010 finding that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law -- a violation of Israel’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Prime Minister Netanyahu is responsible for the attacks on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla and also for the illegal assaults, capture and kidnapping of the 2011 Freedom Waves to Gaza. And Prime Minister Harper, in his unconditional support of Israel, is complicit with these Israeli crimes

A growing list of people have signed our declaration calling on the Canadian government to provide all necessary assistance in the prompt recovery of the Tahrir and its contents and to insist “that Israel meet its obligations under international law by facilitating the unimpeded movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, including by sea, in compliance with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1860.”

No country, group or government is above questioning, above accountability or above the law. The government of Canada, whatever its political agenda, has a solemn duty to uphold the law and ensure Canadians’ right to peaceful maritime travel and to engage in non-violent action.

You cannot blockade the truth. And as Martin Luther King would say --be it stolen land or a stolen election -- while the arc or truth is long, it bends toward justice.

This piece originally appeared in the Georgia Straight

David Heap is a faculty member at the University of Western Ontario (French and linguistics), and a peace and social justice activist in London, Ontario. Ehab Lotayef is an engineer and poet in Montreal, Quebec. Both were on board the Canadian Boat to Gaza when it was seized by the Israeli navy in international waters in November 2011.

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