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September 15, 2012

Canadian United Church boycotts products from the Israeli settlements in Palestine

Scott Stockdale

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In sharp contrast to the United Church's recent decision to boycott products from the Israeli settlements, the Harper government and Jewish organizations such as of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs continue to support Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and international law in the occupied territories.

The United Church is Canada's largest Protestant denomination. Statistics Canada reported that three million Canadians identified themselves as members of the United Church.

A number of industries have sprung up in the Israeli settlements, with products such as cosmetics, wine and plastics exported. United Church member Karin Brothers said the decision to boycott products from the Israeli settlements  is intended to signal to the Israeli government that the United Church considers Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal, and to contribute to a long-term Middle East peace. Presbyterian and Methodist churches in the United States have made similar calls.

Ms. Brothers said Canada has a contractual legal obligation to protect Palestinian human rights.

“Under the fourth article of the Geneva Convention, which Israel and Canada are both signatories to, countries who signed are supposed to ensure that human rights are upheld anywhere in the world and they're supposed to prosecute anywhere there are gross violations of human rights ... If Israel can attack (Palestinians) with banned weaponry, then nobody has any protection. It negates all international laws.”

The United Church hoped it's boycott would send a signal to the Canadian government, a staunch ally of Israel that has come out strongly against such boycotts in the past, while refusing to condemn the settlements.

"It wasn't part of our design, but one of the possibilities is that this gives at least an alter-native message to the government to say 'Maybe you need to think carefully about where Canadian society is on this,'" said Bruce Gregersen, a United Church general council officer.

Meanwhile although the Israeli settlements are considered illegal by the UN and most countries – including Canada - because those territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are thus seen as being subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied land, the Harper government continues to support Israeli occupation of these lands, and pretty much any other Israel government policy, legality not being a consideration.

Moreover, Ms. Brothers said Israel violates virtually every article of the Geneva

Convention, despite having signed it.

“They allow settlers to take over and move into Palestinian homes. They have destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian homes wantonly. They routinely move their populations onto occupied territory; they even subsidize such moves to encourage them. They routinely subject Palestinians to collective punishment, by closing schools, and by running round-the-clock supersonic flights over Gaza to harass the population. They wantonly arrest, routinely torture and kill with virtually total impunity - as documented by B'Tselem reports. The convention even prohibits humiliating treatment, which Palestinians are subject to whenever they travel through the hundreds of checkpoints. They target medical personnel and prevent Palestinians from getting medical treatment. The list of criminal treatment is endless, and far exceeds the crimes of other countries that Israel's supporters typically give out to excuse Israel.”

She added that the publicity generated by the United Church's boycott should increase public awareness of Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the deplorable conditions Palestinians are forced to live in – conditions which Richard Falk, UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967, said were the worst in the world.

Meanwhile, in keeping with it's policy of “Israel, right or wrong and no matter how ridiculous,” an official in the Harper government recently indicated that it will make no distinction between products from the illegal settlements and products from Israel proper – both of which currently enjoy preferential treatment under the Canada-Israel free-trade agreement. This is part of what Prime Minister Harper calls his government's “principled” foreign policy.

Canadian government officials – led by Prime Minister Harper - have frequently smeared and attacked those criticizing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, even going so far as to cut off the funding of aid organizations calling for a boycott. These are puzzling government actions, given that official Canadian policy recognizes that Israel’s settlements violate international law and are an impediment to peace.

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