Letter to Minister Baird

1 Dec

If you feel strongly about Canada’s performance in the past week at the UN, maybe you too will feel compelled to write to the government … Bruce

December 1, 2012

The Honorable John Baird
Minister of Foreign Affairs

House of Commons

Ottawa Ontario

K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Baird:


We are writing to express our deeply felt disappointment at the position you and the Government of Canada have taken with respect to the recent Palestinian motion at the United Nations.


We are supporters of the State of Israel as a democratic state in which all its citizens have equal rights and we denounce any sort of aggression towards Israel or its citizens. We are also supporters of justice for Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the Palestinian refugees there and in other surrounding countries. It has been 65 years since the decision to establish the state of Israel and it is long past time that the promise for the statehood for the Palestinians be addressed.


Of course negotiations between the parties is the only way to address this issue. Rockets from Gaza do not contribute to the solution. Neither does the ongoing support for new settlements and the expansion of existing ones contribute to peace. The Israelis would be right to insist on a pre-condition of no rockets being fired at Israel. In the same vein, Palestinians, in our view, have a perfectly legitimate pre-condition that the ongoing incremental growth of settlements be stopped. Why has Canada not spoken out on the insidious growth of settlements in the West Bank? Even Israel’s staunch supporter, the United States, has recently called for a stop to the most recently announced settlement expansion.


While recognition of Palestine as a non-member state will not directly lead to better conditions on the ground, it is a signal to the Palestinian people that moderates do have international support. Our country should be on the side of supporting moderates and to taking a more balanced approach to encouraging both sides to negotiate a solution. Why are we threatening to “take appropriate actions” like bringing our diplomats home and implying that aid may be affected? Threats such as Canada’s to one side in this dispute don’t help to create peace!!!


On a side note, as an ally of the GLBT community we are part of an organization that has written to you to thank you for the position you took on protecting the rights of homosexuals at the meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society in London earlier this year. You “carried the ball” for justice in that situation and for that we are grateful. However on the Israeli/Palestinian issue you and your government continue to “drop the ball” and for that, as a Canadian and for our country, we are saddened and greatly disappointed.


Yours sincerely

Bruce Hutchinson

Linda Hutchinson


CC Stephen Harper, Prime Minister

Bob Rae, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition

Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament

Stories to go with Pictures

28 Nov

If you have been following the blog, you will know that I posted some pictures in blogs with no story so that I could remove the pictures from my cell phone before going through security on the way out of Israel.  Tonight, I have finally got around to writing the stories for

More Wall Pix

Road Blocks

Tent of Nations

Comments welcome


Human rights in the “occupied” territories

14 Nov

Human Rights in the “occupied” or disputed territory.
The occupied territory is how many refer to the area of land agreed upon by the international community as being Palestinian, but which was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. We now refer to this area as East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On the basis of the Oslo Accord, signed in 1994 and intended to last for five years, the occupied territory was divided into three areas-area A under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA); Area B under joint control of the PA and the Israeli army and Area C under the control solely of the Israel army. Area A is composed of the major cities in the occupied territory like Bethlehem, Nablus, and Ramallah. Area B consists of small Palestinian towns. Area A and B make up the bulk of the population. Area C has small villages and sparsely populated areas. The PA has its own police force and they provide security services for area A up until midnight each day. After that time, I was told, the Israeli army has authority to drive on the roads in area A and exercise control. In area B, the PA provides municipal services except for security which is handled by the Israeli army. In area C it is only the army which is in control. It is in area C that the many illegal Israeli settlements have been developed and are expanding resulting in conflict between settlers and Palestinians when settlements expand or new outposts are set up. In any of these areas the army has the right to arrest people and try them in military court.
From what I have heard, it is in area C where the most egregious transgressions occur, especially around settlers attacking Arabs living close to them .. See the upcoming blog “Tent of Nations” for more on this.
One example of an ever-present violation of human rights is in the restriction of the right to free movement and self determination. There are many Israeli army checkpoints throughout the occupied territory. Settlers in the occupied territories have yellow licence plates on their cars which means they are easily recognized and are often waived through checkpoints as we were much of the time. The Israeli government has taken over existing roads or built new roads to help settlers get from settlement to settlement easier and into israel faster. In many cases only cars with yellow plates are allowed on the “settlers” roads. This is easily enforced because Palestinians have white licence plates. Restriction of movement in the area where you live is a form of denial of human rights.
Palestinians living in the occupied territory need a permit to enter Israel which can be denied one day and approved the next day. I met several people who are banned from entering Israel for being a nonviolent activist for example. If you do get a permit, you cannot drive your car through a checkpoint into Israel where many people go to work. The car must be parked and the person must walk through the checkpoint and find another means of getting to their workplace on the other side. Even a Palestinian person riding in a car with yellow plates mustwalk through the checkpoint. A further restriction on human rights is the requirement for the person to return back through the checkpoint by a specific time that day. If one does not return in time, one can lose the right to get a permit.
Commercial goods from Palestinian companies need to be unloaded for security checks and reloaded for delivery.
Any Palestinian arrested in the occupied territory is tried by a military court and does not have access to a civil court process.
Denial of human rights to a population leads to high levels of frustration. There is very little violence at this time presumably because the Palestinian leadership believes that peace and negotiations will not be aided by the use of violence. Of coarse, their position is informed by the physical destruction and loss of human life unleashed during the first and second intifada uprisings by the Israel army and the increased security measures.
So a delicate peace exists but human rights violations continue.


Tent of Nations

9 Nov

This is a story of family persistence in the face of challenges from the occupying army around ownership of land and the threat of settlements in the West Bank.  A fuller story can be found on the web site -http://www.tentofnations.org

The woman in the picture below is the granddaughter of Daher Nassar, the person who purchased the land in 1916.  It is on one of the highest hills in the area and has a commanding view of the land around.  However, it is between two Israeli settlements in an area the Israeli government has chosen to develop settlements.  It is very desirable property because is it high (for better settlement security) and of course, the two adjoining settlements want to eventually build more housing and be part of one large settlement.

We had been told that in many cases of farmland under the Ottomans and other rulers that farmers who had farms of 100 acres like the Nassar family would only register 10 acres so that they could avoid paying tax on all the land.  Apparently the administration of the Ottomans and others did not look very closely and farmers farmed their 100 acres while only paying tax on 10 to 20 acres.  This practice turned out to be a disaster for many farmers because under the occupation, with the Israelis enforced acceptance by the farmers of only the land they had actually registered.

When the Israeli government declared in 1991 that the land the Nassars lived on was “Israeli Land” the family had a deed that had registered the full 100 acres.  Even though they had a deed, the Civil Administration (the army) declared that the land was Israeli land.  The Nassar family had to take the case to the Supreme Court in Israel and a total cost so far of $145,000 US.

At the time we visited, the two buildings on the property were under a demolition order, the family are harassed from time to time by settlers from the surrounding settlements and their cistern is under a third demolition order because the water that falls on their land is not theirs.  They are also not allowed to drill a well because the water under the ground is not theirs.  The site has no electricity supply.

To bring publicity to their cause; to raise funds;  to have help to do their harvests and to build relations between people and the land and between people from different backgrounds, they have established the Tent of Nations Project.  They host 25 international guests about four times a year and hold children’s camps.  We met some folks from the US while we were there.

This is the kind of pressure that Israeli settlements have on Palestinian farmers in an attempt to wrest desirable land for more settlements.

I wonder if Canadians knew more stories like this … would they pressure our government to put pressure on the Israeli government to stop the building of more housing in West Bank settlements?

Our host Daher Nassar’s granddaughter speaking to us in one of the many caves on the site where they live and work.






Road blocks

9 Nov

This is one of the road blocks that appear from time to time on roads driven by Palestinians.  (pardon the finger over the i-phone lens!)..  We did not stop to find out why this local road was closed but were told by our guide that roads can be closed by the Civil Administration (the army organization that controls much of the occupied territory) without notice or reason given.  Note that this short stretch of road is blocked at both ends.



Meeting with Arab member of the Knesset

9 Nov

More on this meeting later. Need to post the picture so that I can remove it from my camera for airport security




More wall pix

9 Nov

Not sure why I felt that more pictures should be posted!!!

We were driving home to our hostel in Bethlehem area one evening and there was The Wall …. again.  These sections of the wall have a lot of graffiti art on them with all kinds of messages including LOVE.  Wouldn’t it be nice if love were shown face to face instead of being painted on a wall?





Human Rights in Israel

8 Nov

Human Rights in Israel
As one of our UCC partners said the other day, it is difficult to make a complex story simple and a long story short. And typing with two thumbs on a “smart” phone means that by definition these blogs are short on detail.
As North Americans, I expect most of us would think of the areas occupied after the 1967 seven day war, where a lot of the territory is under military control to this day, as the major human rights issue. But in this blog, I want to focus on human rights within Israel proper which is under the normal Israeli democratic processes.
We attended a lecture by a human rights lawyer who works for an NGO for human rights.
A little background. After Israel was established by the international community, the Israeli army in 1948 conducted a military campaign which expanded the land mass of the country as established by the international community, drove out about 700,000 palestinians and took over what is now known as West Jerusalem. This expanded land mass is what makes up the current state of Israel. About 20% of the current population of Israel consists ofArab Moslems and Christians, the indigenous people who were in the area (along with some Jewish people) when Israel was established. Arabs that live in the state of Israel have Israeli citizenship. In a modern democracy, one would be justified in thinking that Arab citizens would have the same rights as any other citizen and we have been told by an Israeli settler that they do. But the human rights speaker detailed four ways in which human rights for Arabs and non-Jews are different from those of Jewish Israelis.
The first difference is about the right of return for Israelis and Arabs and how one gets to be a citizen. Israeli citizenship is open to any person from anywhere in the world who is Jewish or whose mother or grandmother is or was Jewish. Palestinian Arabs who were driven out of the country during the 1948 war or who left later are not allowed to return. And anyone else from another country who is not Jewish must go through a long and uncertain process to become a citizen. We met an English journalist who had married an Israeli Arab and it took him six years and legal assistance to gain citizenship. If an Arab Israeli marries another Arab person from the occupied territory, it is virtually impossible for the spouse to obtain citizenship So in this democracy there are different rules on who can become a citizen based on religion. The statement that this is a Jewish state has real meaning.
The second difference is more subtle. Israel has compulsory conscription at the age of 18 for all men and women. However, the minister of defence has the authourity to decide who will serve and who will not serve. The minister of defence has never approved a Palestinian Arab to serve in the Israeli army. So why is this important? In Israel, in return for defending your country, you receive many benefits … Like reduced rates on loans, reduced housing costs if you move to settlement locations in the occupied territories, better support for higher education etc. These practices represent a hidden, less obvious form of discrimination.
The third area is policy discrimination. We were told that education budgets for the 20% minority who attend Arab schools are significantly lower than for Jewish schools. On average, spending on services provided by the state for the 20% minority is 10% of the state’s budget – half the rate of funding they should be getting.
The final area is in discriminatory attitudes towards the Arab minority by the Jewish majority. A recent poll of Jewish citizens in Israel showed that 47% believe in population transfer ie forced removal of people from Israel; 42% that no Jewish child should have to study with an Arab child in their school, and that
58% believe that some type of apartheid would be acceptable in the occupied territories. This kind of information is very scary for Arabs living in Israel.
Well so much for a short blog!! So many stories to tell!!!

Dinner with a Palestinian Family

4 Nov

Dinner with a Palestinian Family
The Centre that organized our trip arranged for our tour to have a dinner with a Christian family in Nazareth. Serving dinner to tours in homes is a new initiative by a Palestinian woman who is working to improve the economic situation for women.
We had a great meal and learned about the lives of her adult children and her grandchildren who showed up to meet with Canadians and to help our host. Outside the house looked very plain on a narrow inner city street (one car width wide) with a continuous wall composed of many houses .. something like a continuous four story apartment building. Inside the house we found a nicely appointed living room and very modern kitchen with two modern fridges and two gas stove burner tops and ovens. She caters to groups outside her home and is trying out hosting in her home. We were her first guests
Her daughter and son in law are both teachers in Druze schools in the Arab school system. Their kids attended a private Christian school because the quality of the Arab school system is poor (low investment in the system compared to Jewish Schools) and because they prefer a Christian school for their kids. They are a middle class family living in Haifa, an hour away. When we asked the son in law if he had ever experienced discrimination he answered no, much to the surprise of the group which had heard of systemic discrimination against Arabs in a talk that same morning. More on that topic in another blog.
What I can say is that people in the middle class who are doing ok or even well can overlook inconsistencies in the policies and actions of their states
It is good to know that there are some middle and high income Arabs who are leading happy and productive lives. But that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.
Sorry …forgot to take a picture on my phone!!

More pix of The Wall

4 Nov

More pix of The Wall
This is a place where The Wall has separated two adjacent villages. (I am taking the picture standing in one village and you can see the other village right across the wall as well the rubble from house destruction on this side) What this means is that one must travel up to an hour to a check point to get to and get permission to get through to visit friends or do business with people in the adjacent village. It interesting how the wall changes to an electric and barbed wire fence at the edge of the town (see picture). One has to wonder why a twenty foot high wall is needed in the town when a few metres away, a fence is all that is needed. Is intimidation part of the strategy? Is The Wall in the best long term interest of Israel?