Israel, Canada and struggles for decolonization

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"Nonstop. No breaks. A pregnant woman, the child in her belly and her two year old were killed in one of Israeli bombings on a house in Gaza… Also how an elderly woman was killed while she was having her iftar at Maghreb prayer by bombing her house. She died holding the spoon in her hand, an image that will need a lot of time to leave my head." -- Omar Ghraieb, writing from Gaza

This week, Israel launched over 750 air strikes on Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on the planet. As a result of these indiscriminate assaults, 100 Palestinians, including 20 children, have been killed and over 500 people have been injured in just three days. In the West Bank, 830 Palestinians have been arrested and seven killed as a result of the Israeli's army's three-week-long incursion there. Over 110 Palestinian citizens of Israel are being detained in prisons following protests sparked by the lethal burning of teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

Israel has not suffered a single casualty since the recent air raids, though Israel's national medical emergency service sensationally reported on treating people who were "lightly injured" while running to bomb shelters. Still, racist media and Western governments, including Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, are unabashedly parroting the narrative of Israeli victimhood and self-defence (note: Hamas has not violated the ceasefire agreement). Such framings ignore the disproportionate violence against Palestinians and obscure the nature of the ongoing Israeli occupation. As lawyer Noura Erakat explains, "Israel continues to deal with Mandate Palestine's non-Jewish indigenous population as a demographic, national and cultural impediment to its settler-colonial project." In the face of relentless impunity, an articulation of Israel as a settler-colonial state with deep ties to other settler-colonial states like Canada can further compel and embolden meaningful allyship.


"The Gaza Strip is a space where Israel tests and refines various techniques of management, continuously experimenting in search of an optimal balance between maximum control over the territory and minimum responsibility for its non-Jewish population." -- Darryl Li

Israel's ongoing siege on Gaza means control of airspace, waters and land crossings; disallowing residents to leave without permits; and prohibition on imports and exports including fuel and building materials. The result has been catastrophic: 34 per cent of Gazans are unemployed and 44 per cent are food insecure. This constitutes collective punishment and condemns Gazans to an open-air prison, leading the UN to call the siege "medieval" and the World Bank to characterize it as "the most comprehensive sanctions regime in modern history." During this time, nearly 2,300 Palestinians have been killed and 7,700 injured by Israeli forces.

In talking to Palestinian activist Khaled Barakat about the current escalation in Gaza, he tells me, "Israel has several motivations: weakening the Palestinian resistance, creating and deepening Palestinian disunity, and gaining internal support and votes for the racist right-wing government. Israel is taking this opportunity to attempt once more to push Palestinians from their land."


While terminology like "occupation" and "apartheid" have most commonly been used to describe Israel, there is a broader resurgence in characterizing Israel as a settler-colonial state and society based on theft of Palestinian lands and attempted annihilation of Palestinian people.

Australian scholar Patrick Wolfe explains the social formation of settler-colonialism as a "winner-take-all project whose dominant feature is not exploitation but replacement. The logic of this project, a sustained institutional tendency to eliminate the Indigenous population, informs a range of historical practices that might otherwise appear distinct -- invasion is a structure not an event." The SOAS Palestine Society similarly argues, "Israel continues its daily state practices in its quest to fulfill Zionism's logic to maximize the amount of land under its control with the minimum number of Palestinians on it."

This precision is important. While statistics on death and poverty rates in Israel and Palestine are clearly asymmetrical, these numbers are symptomatic of the ongoing illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine since 1948. The contours of structural violence, dispossession from land in order to control resources, sustained occupation and settlement expansion, targeting of women and children, and genocidal policies to displace and impoverish Palestinian people bear a resemblance with other settler-colonial societies, including Canada.

It is no coincidence then that the Canadian government, reflecting its own roots in settler-colonialism, fervently declares support for Israel. Prime Minister Harper pronounced Canada "Israel's best friend" and has vowed to support Israel "whatever the cost." Canada was the first country -- even before Israel -- to boycott and vilify the government of Hamas in 2006.

Canada has also strengthened economic ties with Israel; under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, bilateral trade has more than tripled. This has further entwined Canada in the economic normalization of the Israeli occupation. In addition, the two states have signed the Canada-Israel Public Security Partnership, to supposedly ward off "common threats" to "border security, illegal immigration, and terrorist financing." In the climate of the War on Terror, this is a pretext to intensify torture, racial and religious profiling, incarcerations, deportations and surveillance.

As Canada deepens its relationship with Israel, Indigenous communities from Turtle Island and Palestine have strengthened their alliances.

Former political prisoner from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Robert Lovelace, has powerfully written: "We recognize that the people of Palestine have been subjected to colonization in the same way that Indigenous people here have lost their relationship with the land. Gaza has become an open-air prison for 1.4 million people. It is the largest 'Reserve' in the world." A statement by Palestinians in Solidarity with Idle No More and Indigenous Rights reads: "As Palestinians, who struggle against settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid in our homeland and for the right of Palestinian refugees -- the majority of our people -- to return to our homeland, we stand in solidarity with the Idle No More movement of Indigenous peoples and its call for justice, dignity, decolonization and protection of the land, waters and resources."

Solidarity movements

The occupation of Palestine continues to be perpetuated daily through torture, imprisonment, assassinations, humiliations at 300 checkpoints, curfews, annexation of Palestinian land through settlement expansion, home demolitions, and a systematic policy of economic deprivation. The Apartheid Wall, separating almost 300,000 Palestinians, was found to be illegal in an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice 10 years ago. Over 6 million Palestinian refugees' right of return to the homes and lands from which they were expelled is consistently denied.

Many in the Left in the Global North have taken it upon themselves to dictate to Palestinians the tactics they should engage in or the political solution they should emphasize to end this occupation. However, Max Ajl, editor at Jadaliyya, emphasizes political struggle as the key strategy for solidarity movements. "Points of reference need not be discussion about states or solutions," he argues, "as any such solution or state will be the outcome of political processes internal to the Palestinian national body, regional mobilization, and our grassroots movements in the global North. In other words, the reference should be the struggle itself, not solutionism."

One such pivotal struggle is the growing Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign that is taking root in campuses and community centres. One of the most effective tactics for the international solidarity movement to challenge our own government's economic, military and cultural support for Israel, the BDS movement is now calling on people to "intensify pressure on governments to impose a military embargo on Israel and to suspend free trade and bilateral agreements with it." 

For those in settler-colonial contexts such as Canada, Barakat has an additional message. "We will not see a different Canada on the international scene unless the Canadian state is radically changed internally, on a fundamental level, until there is meaningful decolonization," he says. "Foreign policy is a reflection of the internal status quo of a country and a society. So for people in Canada to be engaged in the struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid, they must also be engaged in the struggle to confront the Canadian colonial settler state."

One of our most common rally slogans is "From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime." Let's act to end these war crimes at home and abroad.

Harsha Walia is a South Asian activist and writer based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories. Her column, "Exception to the Rule," is about challenging norms, carving space and centring the dispossessed. You can find her online here.

Photo: Kashfi Halford/flickr

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