Once again, the Middle-East is in turmoil. Many lives are being lost, as communities in Israel, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip experience devastation. Canadians are grieving for the eight Canadians killed in southern Lebanon, and the many others who have gone from us. I send my sympathy to everyone affected.
The effects of the long-term violence are almost unimaginable. I remember my visit to Metullah in northern Israel, close to the Lebanese border. The people of Metullah explained to me what they had come to expect – the katushka rockets sent over the border night after night. Dr Danny Brom of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem conducted a study which found that 15% of school-age Israeli children suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a result of years of rocket attacks and suicide bombings affecting their loved ones. According to Prof. Abdel Aziz Mousa Thabet from Al Quds University in the Gaza Strip, the rates of similar symptoms amongst Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank may be as high as 23%.
Israel is responding not only to the abduction of Israeli soldiers, but to the continued rocket attacks terrorizing the civilian population. Israelis have the right to live in peace and security with their neighbours, and to defend themselves when this is threatened. Hezbollah and Hamas must bear responsibility for the cycle of violence. It is extremely difficult for Israel to defend itself without inflicting civilian casualties because the rocket launchers have been embedded in civilian areas. However, Israeli strikes on civilian power stations in Lebanon and Gaza are troubling. We all hope for a rapid end to the current violence because, as always, many innocent people suffer when diplomacy fails. The issues are complex. No-one, least of all Israelis, wants Israel to re-occupy southern Lebanon to control Hezbollah. Yet the current government of Lebanon, welcomed by the free world as a beacon of hope in this troubled region when it emerged following last year’s Syrian withdrawal, does not have the capacity to do the job itself.
The proposal for an international force to stop the attacks from southern Lebanon seems a wise one. Such a force would need to be sufficiently robust to be more effective than previous UN ‘observers’. We must see urgent action to stop the escalating violence. We must help the Lebanese army to be better able to implement Resolution 1559 and eliminate Hezbollah’s independent base of operation. In the meantime, the Canadian government must make urgent preparations for the evacuation of its citizens from danger – concern has been expressed in many quarters about the lack of action so for.
Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan to an equally difficult mission may preclude our direct participation in an international force in the region, but Canada has a key role to play in diplomatic efforts to bring about an immediate end to the current violence and to promote opportunities for permanent peace and security. Jill Sinclair, our representative to the peace process, has excellent relations with all countries in the region.
However, for Canada to remain effective in this work, we must maintain an independent voice. Stephen Harper’s approach has been to simply parrot the public statements of President Bush, a reaction which is now the hallmark of his entire foreign policy. Our support for Israel, and for her right to self-defence, is a constant. There can be no indulgence of terrorist groups bent on the infliction of civilian casualties and the destruction of Israel, or of the states which support them. Yet every one in the region, including Palestinians and the Lebanese, must be confident that Canada will continue work to understand their concerns and facilitate the search for peace. That can only be achieved if it is clear that Canada intends to play a strong, principled and independent role.