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Letter from Svend Robinson, June 2 2002 PDF Print E-mail
Jun 02, 2002 at 12:00 AM
OTTAWA June 2nd, 2002

From Svend J. Robinson, MP Burnaby-Douglas

Dear Friend,

I am writing in response to your words of support following my visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories last month. Messages I have received from across the country, and the many messages from my constituents in Burnaby-Douglas, have given me strength and renewed determination to continue speaking out for peace and justice, and in solidarity with both the Palestinian people and the many courageous Israelis who have condemned the brutal and dehumanising policies of the Sharon government.

I am angered at the failure of the federal Liberal government to take a strong, principled stand at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on the Middle East. Indeed, it was Canada's shameful vote to oppose the human rights mission of Mary Robinson, [one of only two countries on the 53 member Commission to do so, the other being Guatemala], and subsequent vote to oppose condemnation of Israel's military aggression that led me to travel to the region myself.

I have long spoken out for justice for the Palestinian people, as well as for a secure Israel in the pre-1967 borders. During the first intifada in the late 1980's I travelled to the West Bank and Gaza and stayed in a refugee camp in support of the Palestinians. In 1990, prior to the outbreak of the war in the Gulf, I travelled to Iraq and while there met with Palestinian leader Arafat. I have long been appalled at the squalid conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps, and the humiliation and despair and hopelessness they must endure. Collective punishment, land expropriations, home demolitions, extra-judicial killings and the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people were brutally exacerbated by the recent Israeli military offensive. Far from making Israel a safer place, Sharon's policies have had the opposite effect. Israeli writer Gideon Levy spelled it out eloquently in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

"What is the infrastructure of terrorism if not the occupation, the despair and the hatred?...The nation wanted war, and it got what it wanted. Within a few days we succeeded in sowing hate in the heart of every Palestinian and it will not soon fade. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who are imprisoned in their homes after an unbearable year and a half, who are frightened by the sounds of gunfire and the rumbling of the tanks; the bodies that continue to be brought to the hospitals without letup; the mass arrests and the general destruction - these are now generating fierce resentment against us. The world, with the exception of the United States in the meantime, is again treating us like lepers, and public opinion in the Arab states is threatening to push their leaders into an all-out war. This is the balance of blood and terror of this operation, which has not a thing to be said to its credit, other than it satisfies the feelings of a public that is terrified by the terrorist attacks."

Canada must take a much stronger stand, including in the following areas:

  • Supporting the call by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and others for immediate deployment of an International Protection Force in the Occupied Territories, with Canadian participation
  • Substantial Canadian development aid to assist the Palestinian people to rebuild their shattered infrastructure
  • Demanding that Israel end its obstruction of the missions of Mary Robinson and the UN Inquiry into the violence and possible war crimes in Jenin; particularly look into the blocking of ambulances and medical supplies to civilians, including mothers in labour and those needing kidney dialysis
  • Calling upon Israel to immediately fully respect the 4th Geneva Convention on the status of civilians in the territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967; Canada has a legal obligation as a signatory to the Convention to ensure that it is honoured
  • Speak out strongly against any extension of the "war against terrorism" to Iraq, whose people have already suffered terribly from the impact of economic sanctions
At the root of this conflict is the occupation. It must end. Israel must fully withdraw from all land seized in 1967, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The Palestinian people must have their viable state, and it must peacefully co-exist with the state of Israel. The Israeli Barak proposal of 2000, described by Assaf Oron, one of the organisers of the Israeli military refusenik movement as "...pitiful, completely controlled Bantustans in between our settlements and bypass roads..." was totally unacceptable. The illegal settlements must be disbanded and there must be an equitable response to the refugee issue. It is shameful that the number of settlers has doubled since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Imagine the anguish of Palestinians who watch their homes being demolished as new settlements are built on their lands. This is why I confronted the Israeli soldiers at the military checkpoint outside Ramallah, why I asserted that they had no legal authority to block me as they were on Palestinian land.

I was deeply moved by the courage, the anguish and the pain of the Palestinians I met, as well as the brave and eloquent Israeli peace activists. In addition to meeting with Palestinian activists such as Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, I met in Tel Aviv with Peace Now activists including Members of the Israeli Knesset, and leaders in the peace movement Gush Shalom, with whom I attended a large peace rally at Rabin Square.

The leadership of those military reservists who are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, in the movement Courage to Refuse "Ometz Lesarev" [www.seruv.org.il] is truly inspiring. As one of these "refuseniks" recently wrote before serving a 28 day prison term: "...I will not serve in your army. ..this army does not exist to bring security to the citizens of Israel; it exists to guarantee the continuation of the theft of Palestinian land. As a Jew, I am repelled by the crimes this militia commits against the Palestinian people."

Again, I want to thank you for contacting me to voice your support. It means so much to me. And let me assure you that I will continue to speak out on these fundamental issues of principle, despite the vilification to which I have been subjected by many in the media and attacks from some of my own caucus colleagues. To those who accuse me of taking sides, I have said that I plead guilty. I do take the side of life over death, of peace over war, of justice over tyranny and dehumanisation, and of the oppressed over the oppressor.

Sincerely yours,

Svend J. Robinson, MP Burnaby-Douglas
CEP 232

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