Counsel to Average Canadians
What a hard week. By one of the comments you’ve seen that I’ve lost some votes, picked up some others. It was never about that anyway. I recall two years ago when a senior politician told me to never get involved in great detail when it came to Middle East issues. “You can’t win; you’ll lose on both sides,” he told me. He also reminded me that the best thing to do was to make no comment. ”That way you won’t lose the votes on either side.” But if we sincerely desire to help the innocent in the region, how can we justify such an escapist path.
And that’s not why I got elected. This week I’ve tried to parse through all the paranoia, facts, suspicions and propaganda, to determine some way to break out of this impasse. I have attempted to reason with both sides and more often than not angered both. But that’s okay; they were already angry anyway.
Somewhere along the line we have to stop this. People who sympathize with one side or the other hold rallies, write op-eds, attempt to grab media attention – all in a desire to pull the critical mass of the Canadian public to their persuasion. Except it doesn’t work; it never does. We care about our equal citizens of Arab or Israeli descent. We believe they add great dignity to this country. But we are not from that region. Try as we might, we will never fully comprehend what it’s like to live in a Palestinian camp, with all the destitution therein. We’ve never lived in towns where a missile might suddenly rain down on our heads and forever alter our lives.
We are Canadian – somewhat naïve and devoid of the violent and divisive past others have faced. It is that very peacefulness in our nature that got us to believe in peacekeeping in the first place. It is that very artlessness that has kept us believing and praying that peace in the mid-East was yet possible.
Now we are not so sure. The descending cycle of violence has made us resistant to the push and pull of either side. We believe firmly in Israel’s right to exist as much as we believe the people of Palestine deserve their own lives in their own free state. Yet we cannot bring ourselves to accept the violence that comes with it. We are troubled in our collective soul at the thought and sight of it.
On the other hand, we have understood how to build a society made up of diverse factions. We have established courts, jurisprudence, cultural bodies where we might come together, peaceable elections, respect for the dignity between church and state, and we have achieved a remarkable balance of federalism. That’s not so bad. Our desire to apply those lessons to problems in a far-away region that we have come to care for are sincere and rooted in our experience – we have lost peacekeepers there as proof of it.
I cannot let the Palestinian people out of my thoughts, nor can I fail to believe in Israel’s right to exist and flourish in its culture. And so in typical Canadian fashion, I choose a more peaceable route that will never satisfy either side but which will permit me nevertheless to touch a region in deep pain.
Presently, in Ottawa, I’m working on a plan with the United Nations Development Program for Canada to take the lead in establishing an educational system in Gaza, with teachers trained by Canadians and with a curriculum designed by the best in the world. With my staff in Ottawa and London we will be raising funds for the Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam village – an oasis of peace between Israeli and Palestinian children, earning a number of Nobel Prize nominations in the process (www.oasisofpeace.org). And my staff and I will continue to fight to build the Canadian Centre for Democracy in the West Bank, endorsed by the government of Israel, where Canada will empower the people of West Bank and Gaza through the training of lawyers and the education and empowerment of women for politics.
These three things allow us, Canadians all, to not so much find a balance (is there one?) as to find a way ahead to care for two historic peoples who have enriched us as a country and for whom we extend the better angels of our historic nature.
Tomorrow: Counsel to People of Faith