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November 4, 2010

Montreal: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, part 2/2

Reuel S. Amdur

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Health care in Gaza was under attack during Operation Cast Lead. It still is. Ewa Jasiewicz, an English-Polish journalist and organizer, was there. She rode in the ambulances with the medical rescuers. She could not tell anything about conditions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as she has been barred from those places for the last seven years. Her entrance to Gaza was via blockade-crashing ships.

Jasiewicz contends that Israel deliberately targets medical rescuers and ambulances. 

She rode on ambulances with medical rescuers during Cast Lead.  While Israel charges that ambulances are used to transport fighters and weaponry, she saw no evidence of that. 

She did, however, show a clip of two rescuers being driven off by gunfire while trying to pick up an injured person lying on the ground.  She witnessed other such instances, some of which involved missile attacks.

According to her, 17 medical rescuers were killed during Cast Lead and 57 or 58 wounded.  Thirteen ambulances were destroyed. 

Since 2000, the Israelis killed 57 rescuers.  Al Quds Hospital was attacked by tank shells and white phosphorous during Cast Lead.

Currently, she reports that there are around 370 people in Gaza unable to get to needed medical treatment, dying because of problems such as cancer and heart failure. 

A Gaza community health project survey found 90% of people suffering from clinical depression.  Half the children witnessed violence committed against family members or neighbors.

Gaza’s social fabric is marked by strong kinship networks.  These were broken by the massive devastation caused by Cast Lead.  4,000 homes were destroyed.  Another social bonding was formed by Muslim prayer, where men encountered one another on a daily basis over the years.  Cast Lead targeted mosques, destroying some 30. 

While many residents of Gaza had previously suffered trauma, this trauma was worse.  Victims of traumatic events can be helped by knowing that justice will be done in response to what happened to them. They can also be reassured that the trauma is not likely to recur.  Neither of these alleviating factors exists in this case, and while there was a mental health project in Gaza, its work was undone by Cast Lead.  The danger of death from drones is an aggravating factor.

Jasiewicz noted that Cast Lead destroyed 60% of agriculture.  As well, Israel enforces a one to two kilometer buffer area along the border with Israel.  A farmer trying to work within the buffer zone faces the danger of being shot.

Stephan Christoff was moderator of a panel at the same Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference held recently in Montreal.  He has been the target of a CSIS investigation.  A number of people who know him have been contacted by CSIS and questioned about a variety of topics: his views on anarchism, his involvement with global solidarity missions in the global South, his involvement with Montreal demonstrations on behalf of B.C. Aboriginal opposition to the Vancouver Olympics, and his activities on behalf of the Palestinians. 

What business is it of CSIS to investigate him for such matters?  Does CSIS have an official position on BDS?

Palestinian leader Omar Barghouti made a moral case for BDS, with a full boycott against all Israeli products.  But Canada and Israel are negotiating to expand their free trade agreement. According to Peter Van Loan, Minister of International Trade, “The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement has been tremendously beneficial for our two countries.  Two-way merchandise trade has more than doubled since its implementation.”

In the face of such a push to increase Canada-Israel trade, a more nuanced approach appears warranted.  One approach would be to focus on Israeli products from the West Bank.  That is the tack taken by the Palestinian Authority.  Israel has complained to the P.A. about this tactic, which shows that it hurts.  Some governments have excluded Israeli products from the West Bank from special trade arrangements.  Since Canada’s official position favors a two-state solution, we can make a strong case with the government to implement such an exclusion.

Some Israeli products might be targeted if there are some that are especially vulnerable to boycott, though none come to mind.  Picking out a few Canadian firms whose behavior merits special attention and boycott, and who appear vulnerable, might be simpler.  Those more knowledgeable might indicate potential targets. 

With regard to the academic boycott, a number of university presidents have opposed the idea on grounds of lofty principles of academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge.  A fall-back position might be more effective: “Okay, so you are not willing to cut academic ties with Israel.  Will you then institute equally inclusive ties with educational institutions in the West Bank and Gaza?”

Union activists should pursue an elimination of Israel bonds from union portfolios and pension funds.  And there is a need to target the Jewish National Fund.  A detailed account of its activities should be developed to push the Canadian government to remove its charitable status. 

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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