Canada' S Responsibility for Palestine: ... the Middle East Has Not Occupied Centre Stage in Canadian Foreign Policy since the Suez Crisis

By Lyon, Peyton | Behind the Headlines, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Canada' S Responsibility for Palestine: ... the Middle East Has Not Occupied Centre Stage in Canadian Foreign Policy since the Suez Crisis


Lyon, Peyton, Behind the Headlines


Louis Delvoie in `The Arab-Israeli Conflict: is it History?' (Behind the Headlines, Autumn 1997) made a modest case in realpolitik for reducing the international concern over the Middle East, but he neglected to note Canada's leading part in the establishment of Israel, its consequent responsibility for the occupied and displaced Palestinians, and the means available to it to help remedy their painful situation. True, commerce with the Levant is not a major Canadian interest, and Suez has become a less critical trade route to Arabia and beyond. True also, the Middle East conflict no longer seems so likely to spark a global war. Mr Delvoie, however, must be less sanguine about peace in the area now that there is an Islamic bomb and no shortage of Muslims burning with resentment at what they see as the double standard applied by the United States which always seems to favour Israel. Israel, although still silent about its own nuclear armory, is actively collaborating with India in this field, much as it once did with South Africa. In what other regions are there comparable dangers?

Mr Delvoie advances the curious notion the Arab-Israel conflict is just `a civil war [essentially] indistinguishable...from any number of other civil wars' - except, he contends, that it is `reasonably benign.' Civil wars, however, by definition are between `fellow citizens' or at least elements of a single state or people, and the participants generally share in the responsibility for the conflict. Few civil wars, moreover, drag on for half a century. The Palestinians, who had abused nobody, are suffering because a people who had left the area, largely of their own free will, almost 2,000 years earlier, have now returned. No serious person questions the enormity of the suffering of the Jews during the holocaust, but it was a crime committed by `Christian' Europeans, not Muslim Arabs (who had treated them reasonably well.) Palestinian casualties in the Middle East conflict, moreover, now exceed more than tenfold those of the Israelis. The bombing in Lebanon in 1982 alone cost about 20,000 Arab lives, mostly civilian. If the peace process ever concludes, the Palestinians seem destined to be left with less than ten per cent of the land they owned before the Jewish return in this century. Even that fragment is likely to be carved up by highways to give secure communication between Israeli settlements in a way that will leave the Palestinians living in something like `Bantustans.' And they will be denied independent statehood.

What might Canada have done to avoid or to curtail the conflict? There have in the past been insignificant minorities who have wanted to bring a large number of Jews to Canada. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, for example, raised the possibility of an autonomous community in Manitoba, and James Woodsworth, the saintly first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), agreed that persecuted Jews should be encouraged to share spacious Canada rather than impose themselves upon the Palestinians. (His party soon became the strongest supporter of the Zionist solution.) In the frightful 1930s - the hour of greatest Jewish need - a majority of Canadians opposed Jewish immigration. They appeared to agree with Prime Minister Mackenzie King's deputy minister of immigration that `none is too many,' and also with the false claim that Palestine was a `land without people for a people without land.' Most Canadians soon came to believe that the Jews should have a secure homeland, but not in Canada. Many thought, and still do, that the Bible had designated Palestine to be the home of the Jews, even after it was generally recognized that the Zionist leadership, and most other Jews, were secular. And a substantial majority of Jews clearly preferred to live in countries other than Israel. Canadians should not have been surprised when the Palestinians fought to defend their tiny land, with the help of other Arabs.

Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who wrote that he had learned in Sunday School that the Jews belonged in Palestine, was in his superb diplomatic prime during the first years of the United Nations when the partition of Palestine (essentially the creation of Israel) topped the agenda. …

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