Tom Mulcair: Canadians want balanced and principled approach to Mideast conflict

Dear friends, 

I thought you’d be interested to read this Op-ed piece on the Middle East and the situation in Gaza, by the Leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, in the Toronto Star.

I know we must continue to do all we can to hold the Canadian government and Stephen Harper to account and to ensure that Canada is a voice for human rights, justice and peace. 


Tom Mulcair: Canadians want balanced and principled approach to Mideast conflict
By: Tom Mulcair Published on Sun Aug 10 2014

Nearly a month of sustained violence in Gaza and Israel has galvanized the world’s attention. As we watch images of Palestinian civilians suffering and dying, and Israeli civilians living in fear of rockets, no one can remain unmoved by a conflict that has killed thousands and left millions more living in fear for their safety.

When four children playing soccer on a Gaza beach were killed by Israeli shells, like so many other Canadians I was touched personally and thought of my own grandchildren. No child — Israeli or Palestinian — should have to live in fear of such violence.

As Canadians, we don’t want our country sitting on the international sidelines — unwilling to help and marginalized by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives’ one-sided approach.

As NDP leader, Jack Layton argued that Canada must engage partners for peace in the region and take a balanced and principled approach. This is a vision I share. New Democrats — committed to social justice — understand that we must actively work for peace, not simply talk about it.

New Democrats have long been committed to a policy of supporting peaceful coexistence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.

I am proud to lead a party that constructively engages Palestinian and Israeli officials, defends human rights and promotes respect for international law. We are the only federal party to support the Palestinian Authority’s application for updated status at the United Nations.

During the current conflict in Gaza, we have criticized the indiscriminate rocket fire and breaking of ceasefires by Hamas — and have been clear that Israel, like all countries, has the right to defend itself from attacks.

Israel’s right to defend itself comes with the responsibility to protect civilian lives — and we have criticized the unacceptable number of Palestinian civilian casualties from Israeli Defense Force attacks during this conflict. The horrifying shelling of a United Nations facility sheltering refugees in Gaza was completely unacceptable and a clear violation of that responsibility.

While Conservatives and Liberals have both taken a one-sided approach, New Democrats have been speaking out in a principled and balanced way. We recognized the humanitarian crisis Gaza residents are facing and demanded Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird agree to contribute to the UNRWA emergency humanitarian appeal for Gaza. Sadly, Conservatives refused.

We pushed for the unimpeded distribution of humanitarian assistance within Gaza and the sustained reopening of border crossing points — in keeping with UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). This means an end to the blockade of Gaza, while recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns around weapons smuggling and the need for effective international action to address these concerns.

I have spoken to Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish to offer our support of his initiative to bring injured Gazan children to Canada for treatment, an inspiring initiative that could make a real difference for the most vulnerable victims of the conflict. I have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging him to endorse the proposal. Unfortunately, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears as Conservatives refuse to support this truly compassionate and humanitarian initiative.

I believe Canada can be a positive force for peace, justice and respect for human rights around the world. This must start with the Canadian government pursuing a more responsible position — one focused on civilian protection and supporting international efforts for an immediate and lasting ceasefire.

As a first step, Canada can show its commitment to peace and reconciliation by pledging our country’s support and assistance with the arduous task of reconstruction in Gaza, working alongside allies like Germany, France and Britain.

Canada should be telling the people of Gaza that we mourn the deaths of innocent civilians, we recognize their aspirations for a peaceful future, we will work to end this war — and we will be there to help.

This conflict endures and continues to exact a bloody toll — but it is not inevitable. As Barack Obama said last year in Jerusalem, peace is necessary, just and possible. But to achieve this, political leaders in the region and around the world must build bridges and take risks to help heal this divide.

Tom Mulcair is the leader of the federal NDP, the official Opposition.

This article appeared in the Toronto Star, Sunday, August 10, 2014