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NDP and the human facts of Gaza : can I vote for Mulcair if he dares not say...

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A delegation from Quebec at the Bil'in village
A delegation from Quebec at the Bil'in village

Canadian Foreign Policy

[French version here]

NDP and the human facts of Gaza : can I vote for Mulcair if he dares not say...

Quite sincerely, as a member of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair is amongst the people for whom I might vote during the leadership convention. Yet I have an important moral dilemma, which concerns our humanity or our moral courage. If Mr Mulcair recognizes that the situations I describe further are not legitimate and must be denounced, then the chances are high that he will have my vote. He can do this in a diplomatic and thoughtful way, but there are tragic truths where remaining silent or too discreet becomes the equivalent of tolerating or accepting. When your friends commit grave errors, crimes or cruel acts, do you remain silent to appease them and only limit yourself to understanding the emotions underlying their cruel actions ?

The NDP has an important and fair position recognizing the national rights of Israel and Palestine, their human rights and demanding that Israel cease the spread of colonies on palestinian territories, but these words ring empty when you do not dare criticize the crimes of one or the other. After all, even the Conservative government can claim to recognize the rights of both these nations, yet...

I will explain further why I target Mr Mulcair amongst the other candidates but, beforehand, I consider it a duty to recall the facts, in the name of the human beings that were massacred, that some would prefer we ignore and forget. I must also do this because I feel too many members of the NDP do not measure the gravity of the situation in Gaza from 2009 to 2012.


The objective facts of Gaza and Israel – January 2009 :

November 2008, Israel led a military operation against a tunnel used to import/export beyond the blockade of Gaza imposed in 2007. Amongst the Israeli soldiers, two are said to have died, four are said to have been wounded and one was captured. Amongst the Palestinians, it is said that three “militants” have died and two were captured. “In reprisal”, in December 2008, Israel destroyed the only electric plant in Gaza and bombarded for about two weeks, killing 1,387 people, amongst which 774 civilians (252 were children under the age of 16), 330 militants (19 were underaged) and 248 police officers (according to the israeli human rights organization B'Tselem in 2009). We must not forget the 5,300 people wounded. Israel also accidentally killed 10 Israeli soldiers. On the Israeli side, 3 civilians were killed near Gaza (i.e. It is often written 13 were killed in total, as this number includes the 10 soldiers killed by Israel). The Israeli soldier captured was detained for many years and was freed recently.

At the same moment, Israel arrested and placed in prison 64 Hamas political officers, including 8 ministers and 26 elected officials, therefore imprisoning 34 people who had been elected in Gaza.

Objective reality of these bombardments :

  • the Israeli army killed 1,387 human beings in Gaza (330 were combatants) and killed 10 human beings from Israel (soldiers) ;

  • 3 Israeli civilians were killed by rockets launched from Gaza ;

  • 5,300 were wounded in Gaza, 113 Israeli soldiers were wounded and 84 were wounded in Israeli colonies ;

  • 34 elected Palestinians were imprisoned ;

  • hundreds of other Palestinians were imprisoned ;

  • 1 Israeli soldier was imprisoned ;

  • approximately 750,000 people lacked clean water as the only electric plant in Gaza was destroyed ;

  • etc.

These numbers are evocative and you can judge by yourself. According to the official reason invoked by the Israeli government, the objective was to block the rockets and mortar fire coming from Gaza ; these same attacks that killed 3 people during the two weeks of bombardments.

These are simply the facts. Each side has its own untruthful propaganda and their own extremely biased views of reality.

( Sources : many English and French Wikipedia pages, crossed with various references including the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [Goldstone].)


The objective facts concerning the attacks incoming from Gaza – 2001 to 2012 :

Thousands of rockets and mortar attacks were fired from Gaza towards Israeli colonies. These are certainly crimes of war and they terrorize people in these colonies, yet one must face all the facts and respect human life from the other nation. From 2001 to 2012, these attacks from Gaza have killed a total of 31 people, that is 2.5 per year on average, of which 1 in 2010 and 2 in 2011. Of course, we must also think about the hundreds of people wounded and traumatized.

Morally and legally, we cannot speak of legitimate defence when, in only two weeks, a government murders about 1,400 people and wounds 5,300 because 20 of its own citizens were killed between 2001 and 2008. All this while occulting the number of Palestinians killed, imprisoned and sometimes tortured during those same years. Must I remind us that the civilian population of Gaza is submitted to a blockade since 2007 ?


Do we realize what is a blockade ?

That the rockets fired from Gaza killed 10 or 1000 people (31 deaths in 12 years in fact), does not change the immorality and criminality of imposing a blockade upon a civilian population. Such a collective punishment, which stops people from importing, exporting, even blocking cargo from the UNICEF, and provokes a dangerous level of despair, is necessarily a grave violation of the International Humanitarian Law. Humanitarian aid can never replace the right to have an economy. Since 2011, the Egyptian popular uprising has allowed people to enter and leave Gaza, yet merchandise must be transferred discreetly by tunnels. This blockade has been ongoing for five years now.


The NDP and Human Rights

I joined the NDP in 2003 because of members of parliament like Alexa McDonough, Svend Robinson and Libby Davies, amongst others, who had the courage to name truths related to human rights even at times when it was difficult or unpopular. Much like the first leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas, who publicly denounced the war measures imposed upon Quebec in 1970, though he knew very well it would make him very unpopular and affect voting intentions. In 2002, the NDP had the moral courage to denounce the blockade imposed then upon the entire population of Iraq (1990-2003) and so I therefore became a member.

In 2009, when Gaza was being bombed, the NDP published on its web site a statement demanding a cease-fire and that border passages be opened to civilian goods, but many wondered why the NDP was not more vocal or visible on this subject considering the gravity of the facts exposed earlier. Some arrived at the conclusion that it was Mr Mulcair that had convinced the NDP caucus to not too overtly criticize Israel. It is not possible for us to verify if this was really the case. On the other hand, the NDP was very clear and vocal when people were killed on the first Freedom Flotilla towards Gaza when it was intercepted by the army in 2010.

Yet, more recently in July 2011, while Gaza was making media headlines worldwide for about one month, the NDP preferred to remain quiet. The only exception allowed was a call from Jack Layton to the Israeli government asking for the blockade to be lifted and that be securely treated the new Freedom Flotilla which was attempting to reach the maritime port of Gaza. What we do know from credible sources, is that Mr Mulcair wanted to “demote” the MP who dared propose the support of the Freedom Flotilla during the 2011 convention.

All in all, the NDP has become very discreet and polite when it comes to this conflict since Mulcair has arrived. Can one be diplomatic and respectful while still naming difficult truths and not tolerating intolerable situations ? For example, it is easy for members of the NDP to discuss, between each other, about how the blockade of Gaza is a sad situation, but without really making it much of a case during the year. We can give each other a good conscience and debate nuances, while the population is still submitted to a blockade five years later. The same can be said of many situations, but normally in the NDP an MP takes his or her courage in hand and speaks up in the House of Commons.

We must admit that this is not limited to one person. During the leadership debates, only Niki Ashton dared even come close to the subject by justly questioning Mr Mulcair about the “Middle East”. Nonetheless, I trust that the other candidates denounced the 2009 bombing and are capable of denouncing the blockade of Gaza, but I do not have that same trust towards Mr Mulcair.


What I asked of Mr Mulcair in February 2012

February 18, 2012, I sent an e-mail to Mr Mulcair asking the following :

“My question : I need Mr Mulcair to tell me he will denounce the blockade of Gaza. Even people who are pro-Israel and people who are Jewish can unite on this simple message : imposing a blockade against an entire civilian population is utterly prohibited and too violent towards the innocent people in Gaza.” (translated from French)

Mulcair's response was interesting and laudable, but it did not answer the question. Here are two excerpts from his response :

“During my recent statement concerning foreign affairs, I have clearly committed myself to a policy linking trade, humanitarian aid, the army, human rights and climate change policy. [...]

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a human tragedy which has lasted for too long. I am in disagreement with the unilateral approach adopted by this government. Supporting Israel and the Palestinians must not amount to a 'winner-loser' situation. Recognizing the existence of Israel must not be done to the detriment of Palestinian national aspirations, and vice versa. Both peoples have the same right to self-determination.” (my literal translation)

The rest of the letter summarized the NDP's positions which Mulcair vows to respect. Yet the blockade is not mentioned and my question was if he would denounce the blockade of Gaza. I therefore wrote him again :

“We need to hear that you will publicly denounce the blockade of Gaza (at a time you deem appropriate of course). In our opinion, this is rather easy to do considering that it is denounced by the UN and its humanitarian and judicial agencies, and by a consensus within the NDP. We are not asking to support the Freedom Flotilla, but only to publicly denounce considering the urgency and gravity of the very notion of imposing a blockade upon a civilian population. […] In conclusion, many political parties and governments have positions that are similar to those of the NDP, but they say little or nothing and let the Israeli government act systematically year after year [...]” (my literal translation)

I have not received an answer to this second attempt.


What I ask of Mr Mulcair and of all the other leadership candidates

This open letter is sent of all the candidates and their responses, if any, will be published and made accessible.

My request is minimal :

Tell us, through a response that we commit to post alongside this letter [published on Internet alternative media], that the massive bombardments of Gaza (2009), as those of Lebanon (2006), were disproportionate actions that must not be considered legitimate defence. Above all, your response must include a commitment to publicly denounce the blockade of Gaza, which can be done in a very polite and thoughtful way, but it must be done.

I am not asking that this be done now in the media, but for a written pledge that would show you have the moral courage to face the crimes sometimes committed by governments. Such a political courage is, in my view, necessary to represent our common human values. The official positions of the NDP concerning this conflict are respectable and supported by Mulcair, but we can clearly sense a level of censorship, for doubtful reasons, that does not serve the cause of the people or of humanity.

Thomas Mulcair has great qualities and he is amongst my main choices. During the debates, he gave examples that were concrete, clear, striking, including examples of actions that respect Quebec. When he speaks, I understand very well and he touches down to earth and progressives issues. I judge based on actions and Mr Mulcair has led many evocative actions supporting Quebec's rights and the environment. He has the confidence of many people in Quebec, he is concrete, clear and thoughtful ; qualities I respect. But if Mr Mulcair cannot respond to this simple demand, on such grave issues, it will be impossible for me to vote for him as leader of the NDP or as possible prime minister of Canada.


Why am I still a member of the NDP ?

Currently, as long a majority of Quebec citizens has not asked for sovereignty, it is the federation that represents us on international issues, but which also manages employment insurance, many pensions, etc. I am a member of the NDP as a form of cooperation between the many nations of this federation. We can even say that the NDP represents an “inter-national” cooperation between progressive movements from Quebec and other nations within Canada, on issues that go beyond our borders, such as the environment for example.

When one writes such an open letter, it is common that one is judged as a troublemaker or considered a member that lacks discretion. Such partisans would be partially right, to the extent that I am indeed not at the service of a party, a person, a government nor even a country. I prefer to serve only the quest for truth and the effective respect of the rights and dignity of all persons.


- Michaël Lessard, Quebec City, March 9, 2012.


Picture : A delegation from Quebec in May 2009, representing 16 organizations, attempted to enter Gaza with an invitation from a UN agency.  Israel blocked us nonetheless.  We visited many groups in Israel and Palestine. In the picture, Ehab (Montréal) et Michael (Québec) hold flags to make the presence of foreigners visible and therefore show Israeli soldiers that we are alongside the Palestinian population of the Bil'in village.  Of course, the desired effect is to moderate actions from the army which hesitates when it sees foreigners on the spot.  The year before, a young man (thirties) was killed almost instantly when he was hit on the thorax by a gaz canister; yet he was rather well known for his positive and non violent spirit.

- Picture from Guy Laflamme

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Notice - I understand that this letter is not simple to moderate


Though, in my view, the spirit or objective of this letter is not partisan —I expose facts concerning the 2009 bombings and I denounce the blockade of Gaza, I understand why it is not simple to accept it on an alternative media.

Of course, I clearly discuss the NDP, a party, which is something that does not always pass on alternative media (hence the generic note about "minimum standards"). Myself, I moderated the for many years and I understand that this open letter is borderline partisan, though the spirit is not. In fact, on the, we only disallowed what promotes a candidacy and accept the rest (it is published there too actually). Here, it may seem like I am promoting or "de-promoting" a candidate, but that it not the objective or subject: it is about our common humanity and how, in politics, there must be a limit to being too discreet or "diplomatic" towards other governments when violence becomes too extreme.

I would like to thank the Media Co-op network for tolerating this type of letter which would never be published on any usual media, for various reasons.

- Michaël Lessard


In conclusion for this time around...

Bravo to Mulcair who did not get it easy. He had to fight within the NDP family and has deserved his election as leader.

Bravo à Mulcair qui ne l'aura pas eu facile. Il a dû se battre au sein du NPD et a mérité son élection comme chef.


In conclusion for this time around ...

(...) I have decided to vote for Niki Ashton on the first turn: she is the youngest, most independent and has shown the most political courage.

EDIT : I deleted my comment here to avoid diverting attention from the main issue: we must convince Israel to lift the blockade and demand the respect of the human rights of Palestinians (arbitrary powers, torture, etc.).

- Michaël Lessard, Quebec City

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