I have a Jewish intern in my Ottawa office and a Muslim executive assistant back in the constituency. These people are there intentionally because they are bright and keen believers in finding a peaceful solution in the Middle East.
The flotilla altercation that is sweeping the news also effects their emotions. MPs are perplexed as to how to respond when there isn’t yet enough information available and there is clearly enough wrong on both sides. There will be a ramping up of such flotillas and Israel has a clear problem on its hands.
Regardless of the blame allocated, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa as the story exploded. We now know he was aware for a number of days that a confrontation with the flotilla was inevitable. He was leaving to see President Obama a few hours later. In retrospect, he might have considered asking that the U.S. assist with dealing with the six ships. The Americans could have ascertained if the supplies were indeed humanitarian, done a proper assessment of any dangers, and, if none, passed them along into Israeli waters. Obama is keen on finding ways to create channels for peace in the region and this is one area where America could play a role. Bush could never have done it because of his outright pro-Israeli stand; Obama, alternatively, has a higher degree respect in the region and is seen as capable of compromise.
What occurred is now in the past; the fallout will take months. Yet a lesson could be learned here. Permit the international community, in whatever capacity required, to undertake the proper search and assessment of intent before relief supplies could move on to their destination. Israel has kept its own blockade because it believes it’s at war with Hamas. But it doesn’t have to enforce it. A coalition of countries could monitor the waters on behalf of international peace. If Israel maintains its present course without requesting assistance, worse will yet ensue.
The Israeli government has been stating that humanitarian supplies are going freely into Gaza – 15,000 tons a week. The problem is that this can’t be verified. Reputable international NGOs have reported that this isn’t so and the situation is desperate. Yet Israel controls and monitors every shipment of such goods for fear some of the crates might have resources destined for Hamas itself – a legitimate concern. Once again, why not request the assistance of an internationally respected group or country to monitor shipments and, if suitable, provide safe passage of those supplies to the people that ultimately require it? Is this a role Canada could effectively play? Only by offloading some of these tasks to someone like the International Red Cross/Red Crescent societies can a watching world find surety in the process.
While in Canada protests emerge from supporters of both sides, other serious work is being undertaken to look for new solutions. The McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism is taking on a key role by hosting a Global Conference on Human Rights and Diverse Societies from October 7-9, 2010 in Montreal. Conference organizers are seeking “alternative frameworks that can facilitate and help find solutions to global human rights issues.”
Average Canadians, frustrated by the intransigence on both sides, are seeking better solutions, as are many Muslims and Jews. Numerous other conferences and meetings will follow suit. Let’s seize these opportunities. Are they the ultimate answer? Unlikely. But they are channels to direct our passion for peace. If the two sides can’t end it, we can at least begin something new to assist.
From The Parallel Parliament