Civilians forgotten in Canada's stand on Gaza

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As the world watched the civilian death toll in Gaza climb over the weekend, the international response was largely built on three pillars.

Most capitals emphasized Israel's right to defend itself, the need to protect innocent civilians and the need for a mutual ceasefire.

But in Canada, the tone and the message were different.

Israel had not just the right to defend itself, but the obligation, according to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

The end to the conflict was the responsibility of Hamas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

And neither man expressed much in the way of optimism for a cessation of hostilities or concern for the number of civilians who have perished under the Israeli bombardment, a number which could be three out of every four of the more than 160 killed so far in the Gaza conflict.

Harper, in fact, issued a statement Sunday that made only scant reference to civilian deaths.

"It is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region,'' he said.

Baird mentioned nothing of this in a media briefing Friday, but did so in a statement Saturday, scolding the United Nations for calling for Israeli restraint. He, too, placed the blame on Hamas.

"Canada mourns the death and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. Responsibility rests solely with Hamas and its allies, who launched and continue to feed this crisis,'' he said.

The Harper government clearly believes Hamas is now so badly wounded that the Israeli offensive should continue until the terrorist organization is massively degraded, if not eliminated.

Harper's "unequivocal" support for Israel will surprise no one here or abroad and Baird's aggressive pushback against the United Nations has also lost its ability to surprise.

Baird is correct when he says there is no moral equivalency between a democratic state and a terrorist organization, and that Hamas militants are hiding within its civilian population is abominable.

Except that the population of Gaza is so tightly constricted, the innocents really have nowhere to run.

Israel says Hamas leaders are sending civilians back into homes, even after warnings of impending strikes, warnings delivered with either a rocket, a so-called "knock on the roof," or a phone call.

But in some instances, death came without a calling card.

An Israeli air strike that destroyed the home of a cousin of the Gaza police chief and a neighbouring mosque came without warning, residents said.

It killed 18, including children, and wounded 50.

There had been a knock on the roof at the home for those with mental and physical challenges, but staff ignored it, so certain were they that they could not possibly be on the Israeli hit list.

The attack killed two residents and wounded three.

Canada's two opposition parties have been more circumspect, but neither was eager to take on Ottawa's official position and that may mark a sea change in the country's Middle East position which is less and less a Conservative position and increasingly an all-party consensus.

Both Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau and his NDP counterpart Paul Dewar preached restraint, de-escalation and protection of civilians.

One Liberal MP who is in Tel Aviv, Newfoundland's Gerry Byrne, watched Israel's Iron Dome repel an attack, then took to social media to praise the courage of individual Israelis in the face of terrorism.

Internationally, the tone was more measured than the end-game message from Ottawa.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, while Israel has the right to defend itself, the world has "deep concern" over civilian casualties and the entire world wanted to see a de-escalation.

Germany's foreign minister is expected in Israel Monday for talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians. France has also signalled it will help broker a ceasefire.

But any sign of anything but unwavering Israeli support invites criticism from the right.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama is facing withering criticism from Republicans for what they believe is a tepid response that also spoke of the protection of civilians and a call for de-escalation.

In Ottawa, mutual ceasefires and peace talks are only for the weak-kneed and faint of heart.

Of course, we have long since forfeited any role in forging a peace in the region.

"Failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions,'' Harper said.

"Canada calls on its allies and partners to recognize that these terrorist acts are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.''

 

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer.

tharper@thestar.ca Twitter:@nutgraf1

Organizations: Hamas, United Nations

Geographic location: Israel, Canada, Gaza Ottawa Middle East Tel Aviv Newfoundland Germany France U.S.

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Recent comments

  • AGREE FOR ONCE
    July 15, 2014 - 17:56

    I agree with our Government for once. When you have cowards who hide behind innocent people while firing rockets at others then cry foul when they shoot back must be sought out and punished and if the Palistian government chooses to sit back and let these terrorists do this then there is not other alternative then to protect yourself.

    • SomeSense
      July 16, 2014 - 13:58

      Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has issued an information sheet stating that the interpretation presented by the Israeli forces spokesperson — that it is enough for a person to be involved in a military activity to render his home and his neighbors’ homes legitimate military targets without having to prove any connection between his activity and the house in which he and his family live — is unfounded and illegal.

  • Robert Fontaine
    July 15, 2014 - 14:50

    Is Stephen Harper naïve enough to believe that the only Palestinians being killed by Israeli bombs are the ones being used as human shields? The Gaza strip is densely populated and people have nowhere to run. Isn`t the concept of "measured response" a basic building block of civilization? The Harper government should be supporting the U.N.'s calls for restraint. These are innocent civilians, including children, being blown to bits. The Canadian government has lost its moral compass. The statement of sympathy for the dead Palestinians - which was made by a junior assistant of Minister Baird - seems like a cynical afterthought.