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September 22, 2010

Palestinians lose in Quebec

Reuel S. Amdur

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Bil'in continues to be victimized by the Israeli occupation, and it recently lost a case in the Quebec courts.

First the background.

The town lies close to Ramallah in the West Bank.  The separation wall cut it off from 60% of its farm land.  Since then, the Israeli Supreme Court has made the Israeli Defense Forces to give part of that land back.  However, there is still farm land no longer accessible to Palestinian owners.  The court also “legalized” a Jewish settlement on Bil’in land.

Residents and international supporters of Bil’in demonstrate against the wall on a weekly basis, on Fridays.  While the demonstrations are termed non-violent, in fact a number of the demonstrators throw stones.  Israeli soldiers respond with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.  Among international participants who have been injured are Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan and Luisa Morgantini, vice-president of the European Parliament.  There have been also deaths among the demonstrators. 

In an effort by Israel to weaken the protests, non-Palestinians are now barred from Bil’in on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  As a result, those who do show up become subject to arrest. 

While the closing of the town will likely cut down on the number of demonstrators, it could also make the confrontation with the Israelis more violent.  Israeli soldiers will not have foreign eyes watching. 

On the other side, some of the internationals had encouraged the local residents involved in the demonstrations to adhere to more classical non-violence, forgoing stone-throwing.  On one occasion, mirroring news about an Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at Bush, demonstrators threw shoes at the soldiers. 

Bil’in residents opened up a second front, this time in the Canadian courts.  Since the allegedly “legal” Jewish settlement on Bil’in farmland was being built by Quebec Corporations, Green Park International Inc., and Green Mountain International, the residents sued in Quebec, charging that the two corporations were violating international law and committing war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Canadian Law on Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes.  The Fourth Geneva Convention bans settlement expansion in occupied territories.

On September 18, 2009, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that the case involved a property dispute rather than a matter of international law.  This case was then appealed, and the appeal decision came down on August 24.

At that time, the Queen’s Court of Appeal upheld the earlier ruling.  In that decision, the Appeals court held that the plaintiffs had failed to show that Israeli courts were unable or unwilling to address the issue.  In any event, the Court of Appeal expressed doubt about the possibility of connecting this issue to Quebec.

This decision is a blow not only to the residents of Bil’n but to all Palestinians.

More importantly yet, it constitutes a serious limitation on access to Canadian courts on matters of human rights. 

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