Photo: flickr/Global Panorama

The following letter was written by a group of gravely concerned students of the Faculty of Law at McGill University while the violence being committed against Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli military continued unabated.

We write this letter on behalf of ourselves, and others in the legal community in Canada who wish to express concern and disgust regarding the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Palestinian people.

We write this letter in recognition that while the legal community in Canada is diverse, it can unite over common cause and exert influence.

We write this letter in recognition that this is a time to ground abstract legal principles in reality.

We write this letter in recognition that there can be no meaningful peace without justice. It follows that a commitment to achieving justice is a commitment to achieving justice everywhere.

We emphasize that a sense of justice is informed by a sense of shared humanity.

Israel’s reiteration of violence in Gaza has been cruel, indiscriminate and disproportionate. The number of Palestinians wounded by Israeli forces has surpassed 10,000 according to The Ministry of Health in Gaza. The death toll has been rising every day, with a ghastly number of the dead being children. The UNHCR estimates that 80 per cent of the casualties are civilian casualties.

Gaza encompasses a strip of land that is no longer than 41 km and 12 km wide — an area considerably smaller than the island of Montreal. Meanwhile, Gaza is home to approximately 1.8 million Palestinians, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continues to remind Israel of its obligations under International Humanitarian Law towards the Palestinians living under occupation. That Israel is an occupying power is a matter not subject to debate, but rather is one of law and fact.

And yet, Gaza has been under an Israeli siege for the past seven years; a siege which blocks access to the territory by air, land and sea. This means Israel maintains effective control over Gaza and its people according to the laws of occupation. Gaza remains virtually sealed off from the world, and is economically strangled.

Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza strip began after the Israeli government falsely blamed the disappearance of three missing Israeli youth living in the occupied West Bank on the Gaza-based Hamas movement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made these assertions without ever providing evidence. Since then, Israel has continued to rely on anti-Hamas rhetoric and false information to justify the unlawful use of force and the destruction of Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have destroyed civilian infrastructure without military necessity. More than 17,000 homes have been demolished and the water supply has come to a stop. More than 260,000 people have taken shelter in the UN run camps while thousands of others have fled to neighbouring homes.

Although the IDF was repeatedly warned of the locations of UN schools sheltering displaced Palestinians, three UN schools were bombed. These attacks have been strongly denounced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “reprehensible” and “a moral outrage and criminal act.”

We believe that the legal community in Canada must take a united stance, and echo these statements loud and clear.

Lawyers and legal experts across the world have noted that Israel has failed to demonstrate that the overwhelming use of force is connected to reducing risks of Israel being attacked by Hamas.

Richard Falk, an international law professor emeritus at Princeton University and former United Nations special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories has stated that: “[…] you can’t pursue these military objectives by these means in a way that is compatible with international humanitarian law” and “The whole mission is one that is legally flawed. The civilian character of Gaza is so overwhelmingly a part of this reality.”

While both Hamas and Israel have been accused of war crimes, false equivalences must be avoided. “Israel’s crimes are so powerfully overwhelming, and the disparity in the casualties seems to be a pretty good indicator of the disparity of accountability” said Falk […] “and not only the numbers of killed, wounded and traumatized but also the nature of who’s dying. Fifty-five of the 58 Israelis killed have been military personnel. You have not only a quantitative disparity but also a qualitative disparity.”

John Dugard, former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and an international law professor emeritus at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said in an interview:”Given the fact that Gaza is an occupied territory, it means that Israel’s present assault is simply a way of enforcing the continuation of the occupation,” […]”and the response of the Palestinian militants should be seen as the response of an occupied people that wishes to resist the occupation.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leaders of the other major Canadian political parties and certain Canadian politicians continue to express their unyielding support for Israel. The Prime Minister has done what is in his power to deny the Palestinians their right to self-determination, demonstrating a complete disrespect of international law.

Moreover, many of our institutions hold partnerships with Israeli institutions that are directly complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian people. The fact that many law schools in Canada pride themselves on a commitment to human rights initiatives means that they must be held accountable when their actions do not accord with their stated objectives. We strongly oppose this institutional complicity, and demand that our institutions take responsibility for their actions.

The rejection of a logic that justifies mass civilian deaths and destruction does not require a legal background. Gaza is largely comprised of displaced Palestinians from surrounding areas that have been subsumed under what is now Israel. In fact, 80 per cent of Gaza’s population are refugees. A belief in rights for refugees should translate into a belief in the rights of Palestinians to basic necessities, such as food, clean water, health care and education.

The realization of these rights cannot happen as long as Gaza is under siege and as long as Israel continues to oppress and control the Palestinian people*. Attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by Israel are routine, amounting to the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. Gaza’s civilians are trapped in the Gaza strip, which is often analogized to an open-air prison. Even if they tried to flee they have nowhere to seek refuge. According to a World Health Organization report published in 2012, the Gaza strip will be unlivable by 2020 — the recent violence has only accelerated this process.

We, the undersigned, condemn the senseless killing of innocent civilians, including children.

We condemn the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, health care centres, mosques, schools and Gaza’s only power plant.

We condemn Israel’s prolonged illegal occupation of Palestine.

We wish to reiterate the International Court of Justice finding that the West Bank is being illegally occupied, meaning that Israel is acting contrary to international law when it enters the West Bank and builds illegal settlements.

If justice is truly blind, we contend that a sincere belief in equal rights for all must translate to a desire for Palestinians to live a life of peace and dignity. To stand in solidarity with Palestinians does not amount to an attack on Israel, or its citizens. It amounts to a recognition that Palestinians are no less deserving of basic necessities, dignity and peace than their neighbours. It is a recognition of their humanity.

We stand for meaningful peace and justice for Palestinians.

Dr. Mohsen al Attar, Senior Lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast and Visiting Professor, McGill University

Daud Ali, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School

Anakbayan, Montreal

F.S.E. Arps, New College, Oxford

Association des Juristes Progressistes (AJP), Montréal

Me Ataogul, Association des Juristes Progressistes

Me Mylène Barrière, lawyer

Lillian Boctor, law student, McGill University

Canadian Association of Muslim Women Lawyers

Kuzi Charamba, McGill University

Louis Chartrand, ASSÉ Legal Committee

Anjali Choksi, lawyer and teacher in the Humanities Department, Dawson College

Alyssa Clutterbuck, law student, McGill University

Marvin Coleby, law student, McGill University

Amanda Ghahremani, law student, McGill University

Rick Goldman, lawyer and McGill University graduate

Miatta Gorvie, McGill University Faculty of Law Graduate

Delaney Greig, law student, McGill University4

Renz Grospe, law student, McGill University

Me Alexandra Hobson, lawyer

Mika Imai, student-at-law

Humera Jabir, law student, McGill University

Isabelle Jacovella Rémillard, law student, McGill University

Olivier Jarda, law student, McGill University

Talia Joundi, law student, McGill University

Sharifa Khan, JD, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University; MA, University of Toronto

Helena Lamed

Jessica Leblanc, law student, UQAM

Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, law student, McGill University

Sarah Munsch, law student, McGill University

David Nisker, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School

Danny Nguyen, student, École du Barreau du Québec

Aishah Nofal, law student, McGill University

Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste, McGill University, Law clerk at Quebec Court of Appeal

Michelle Owusu, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School

Kevin Paul, law student, McGill University

Léa Pelletier-Marcotte

Mark Phillips, law student, McGill University

Amna Qureshi, lawyer

Nour Rashid, law student, McGill University

Pierrick Rouat, law student, McGill University

Susan J. Sokol, Esq.

Cee Strauss, law student, McGill University

Shaheynoor Talukder, lawyer, Talukder Chen LLP

Garrett Zehr, law student, McGill University

For the full list of signatories please see the website here.

*As one example, Israel’s Hebrew University has just published a notice announcing a collection of goods to be sent to IDF soldiers in support of their efforts in the bombardment of Gaza. This notice was signed by the university, its academic staff committee, and its official student union. Yet, the Faculty of Law at McGill has had a partnership with the Hebrew University for a yearly summer program, one among several ongoing collaborations between McGill and an institution directly implicated in Israeli violence.

Photo: flickr/Global Panorama