Letter to the New Democratic Party on Israel's Attack on Gaza

This letter, sent on 17 July 2014, was widely circulated at the time, but has not previously been published.

The Hon. Thomas Mulcair, 
Leader of the Opposition,
Leader of the New Democratic Party,

Paul Dewar, MP, 
Foreign Affairs Critic,
New Democratic Party,


Dear Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Dewar,

I am writing to express my dismay over the utter inadequacy of the New Democratic Party's July 14 statement on the subject of Israel's ongoing attack on Gaza.

This statement gives a grotesquely false impression of the responsibility for the present violence. You cannot be unaware that in recent months the Israeli government rejected even the feeble and disingenuous peace proposals advanced by the US Secretary of State; that Mr. Netanyahu responded with aggressive provocations to the ensuing announcement of Palestinian unity; and that he withheld the fact that the three kidnapped Israeli youths had been almost immediately killed both from the public and from their families—and did so in order to be able to carry out, under false pretences, a savage program of repression under the guise of a supposed search for the youths. You must also be aware that the appalling murder of these three young Israelis was both preceded and followed by no less appalling murders of Palestinian youths and children, carried out both by settlers and by the Israeli military.

The launching of home-made Hamas rockets from Gaza into Israel should indeed be condemned, as should any attack on civilians. But the launching of those rockets was preceded—as you know or ought to know—by Israeli attacks on Gaza carried out under the pretext (for which no evidence has been provided by the Israeli government) that the Hamas authorities in Gaza were responsible for the murders of the three settler youths in the West Bank.

Your statement provides no whisper of historical context, and no indication that the present massacre—in which the death toll currently stands at more than 200 Palestinians to one Israeli—stems from Israel's illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank; its ongoing illegal programs of settlement, colonization, theft of land and resources; and its brutal treatment of the population held under occupation—in conditions that Professor Eva Illouz of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who is one of Israel's most distinguished sociologists, has forcefully argued amount to conditions of slavery. Would it not have been relevant to mention, at the very least, that since 2006 Israel, with the Harper government's full-throated support, has subjected the population of Gaza to a barbarous and illegal blockade?

Your statement does not so much as hint at the illegality under international law of Israel's airstrikes against the population of Gaza. (On this subject, please read the report of Human Rights Watch, Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians [July 15, 2014], which makes it clear that war crimes are being committed.) Nor do you seem aware that, as on other occasions (most notably the 'Cast Lead' assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009), the Israeli military has deliberately targeted Gaza's already desperately inadequate water supply and sewage treatment facilities.

Since one foreseeable consequence of this targeting is going to be an increased mortality among pregnant women, infants and young children in Gaza, it is arguably genocidal in its implications. I refer you to Article 2 of the UN Convention on Genocide, in which the imposition of measures “calculated to bring about [a group's] physical destruction in whole or in part,” or “intended to prevent births within the group,” constitutes a part of the definition of the crime of genocide.

I am forcibly struck by the contrast between the reactions of Canadian and of British parliamentarians to this crisis. It is noteworthy that in Westminster, members not just of the opposition Labour Party, but also of the governing Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, have risen in the House of Commons to denounce the illegality and barbarism of Israel's policies, and in some cases to demand sanctions against the state of Israel. (See “Israel accused of war crimes [UK Parliament],” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v-AJWNE83j__k.)

Is the New Democratic Party no longer willing to take a stand on issues of fundamental human rights, justice, and international law? Has the Opposition in our parliament been so intimidated by the sleaze machine operated by Mr. Harper's government and its media allies that it is afraid to speak out on matters that have touched the conscience of decent people worldwide?

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Michael Keefer
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph