Siege on Gaza and Canadian Foreign Policy in the Middle East
(March 24, 2007)
On Thursday April 5th (Head hall auditorium, at 7pm), there will be chance for people in Fredericton to hear and see the work of Jon Elmer, a Canadian freelance writer and photojournalist who covers, up close, the stories of people who live in some of the most difficult conditions in the world: the people of Gaza. These are a people whose daily struggles under Israeli occupation largely escape the radar of the mainstream media channels, through which the majority of Canadians receive their news.
The title of Elmer’s presentation is “Siege on Gaza and Canadian Foreign Policy in the Middle East”.
The siege refers to the escalation of the violent, crippling economic and social conditions that the imprisoned communities of Palestinian people in Gaza have been faced with under occupation.
In a particularly painful episode of this siege, during the summer and fall of 2006, more than 450 Palestinians were killed under Israeli aerial bombardment, artillery barrages and two major ground invasions. Overall, the casualty count for 2006 released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports that Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians, while 17 Israeli civilians were killed, 13 of them in the West Bank.
But looking at the scene before the more recent wreckage is important.
“The situation in Gaza before the siege was already characterized by an economic collapse that the World Bank has described as ‘among the worst in modern history.’ More than three-quarters of Gaza’s population is living on two dollars or less a day. Israel controls the borders, the airspace, the sea and has carried out several large-scale invasions of Gaza since the so-called ‘disengagement’ of Jewish settlers from the strip in 2005,” Elmer explained.
These are conditions that have only been exacerbated by Canadian-supported economic sanctions placed on Palestinians by Israel upon the 2006 democratic election (80% voter turn-out) of Hamas, a resistance movement recognized more for their armed struggle against Israeli occupation than for their diplomacy. In an April 2006 interview with Elmer, Palestinian Legislative Council Member Hanan Ashrawi explained the elections as follows:
“There was quite a bit of a protest vote, and there was also a vote that sent a message to Israel and the U.S. People said to Israel, if you are going to be violent and hardline, we are going to elect your counterparts in Palestine—hardline and violent…They felt that the failure of the peace camp and the moderates meant there is only one option: Hamas and the agenda of resistance and reform.”
In reference to Canadian support of the Israeli State-imposed sanctions against funds and other resources being sent to the Hamas government, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay made the bold statement, “not a red cent to Hamas”. Elmer views these sanctions as further injury upon the already injured. “The sanctions have exacerbated an already significant humanitarian crisis, as all forms of international organizations and human rights groups that have operated in Gaza have been saying for years.”, he said.
But such a bold statement by Peter MacKay is not an isolated incident in terms of trends in Canadian foreign policy in general; neither is the Canadian government’s support for the State of Israel despite the implosive and explosive actions that State is taking with the Palestinian people.
Canadian foreign policy has taken on a markedly more aggressive character in the last few years, showing (and providing) support for violent economic and social control in the Middle East that fits neatly within a neo-colonial paradigm of economic and social expansionism. Canada’s cooperation in the U.S. led War on Terror’s front in Afghanistan displays this character.
Part of Elmer’s presentation will be to convey the much under-reported dynamics of the changing face of Canadian foreign policy, which details what is really meant when high level Canadian military officials such as Canada’s top soldier Rick Hillier say that Canadian forces will transition from peace-keeping to war fighting.
Elmer has recently been writing about a new “counter-insurgency” manual produced by the Canadian Forces. The manual states that counter-insurgency (Canada’s war on Afghanistan) is a “…multi-agency approach – military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions – that seeks to not only defeat the insurgents themselves, but the root causes of, and support for, the insurgency”. This is essentially a definition of colonization: complete subjugation of occupied people by force and pacification.
The more aggressive and subjugating foreign policy of the Canadian government should not be taken lightly according to Elmer. “There are consequences to aggressive interventions: it is reasonable to expect that if Canada is going to commit violent acts at home and abroad, it is leaving itself open to violence in return. This country’s policies around the world are not simply matters of debate, they have real consequences,” he said.
Jon Elmer will have a lot more to say and show on April 5th, bringing his rich experience of the last several years as a writer (as of recently working for the EU-based Inter Press Service) and photojournalist who has photographed and reported from over a dozen countries, with the most significant work being over the last few years in the West Bank and Gaza. He has resided in these difficult environments during his assignments, “reporting on the receiving side of the overwhelming military force, not accompanying it,” he explained. His presentation will take on Thursday April 5th, at 7pm. The location will be the UNB’s Head Hall Auditorium (HC 13). There is no cost to the event and there will be some refreshments. To see more of Jon Elmer’s work, check his website: http://jonelmer.ca/.