Who are the victims here?
By Wahida Valiante, Globe and Mail, 6 November 2000
The death toll in the Middle East is overwhelmingly Palestinian, yet Israelis play the injured party. Islamic activist WAHIDA VALIANTE wants a reality check

When I hear a Canadian ask why the Palestinian children are out in the streets in these times of violence, my heart sinks. Overwhelmed by the absurdity of the question, I find myself sad and fearful. As is so often the case where Israel is involved, the victim is labelled as the villain. The real question is, "Where are the Palestinian children supposed to exist?"

They cannot go to school. According to The Jerusalem Post, more than 30 Palestinian schools have closed in the past month, and three have been transformed into Israeli military installations. Approximately 13,000 Palestinian students and 500 teachers are unable to get to school because Israeli authorities have imposed closure on Palestinian areas.

Palestinian homes are targets of Israeli shelling and have become places of physical, psychological and emotional trauma. Bethlehem, Beit Sahur, Beit Jala and Jericho have all been struck with missiles from Israeli helicopters aiming at houses. Samir Tabanja, aged 12, was killed by an Israeli helicopter gunship while playing in the "safety" of his backyard on Oct. 1.

While Palestinian children are virtually imprisoned in their own homes, the children of their Jewish settler neighbours play under the protective gaze of Israeli soldiers stationed on Palestinian land.

I recently observed the effects of the "peace process" when I visited the children of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Gaza, and east Jerusalem. These children know first-hand the effects of military and economic oppression. There is hardly a family that has not experienced torture, imprisonment or economic hardship.

Most of these children live in refugee camps in houses with corrugated roofs and cramped living spaces. Often, they do not have running water.The children lack adequate schools, health-care facilities, hospitals, social services, public parks, swimming pools, or recreation facilities. In the camps, the streets are their playgrounds, often with open sewers and waste flowing freely. They have seen no other reality.

What seems so obvious to rest of the world escapes the Zionist and pro-Israeli mind. The relegation of Palestinian and Arab to nothing more than "animals" (as at least one Canadian columnist has described them), makes the atrocities that are occurring more acceptable.

For the past two generations, the people of Palestine have been stripped of their history, their livelihood, and their future. Now it seems as if Israel wants their lives, so it can ultimately take their land.

What strikes me as even more absurd is the blind approval so many Jews give Israel's current actions. This was demonstrated recently by the convergence of more than 1,200 delegates who have travelled there to show their support.

What, as a Canadian, am I to conclude from the overwhelming demonstrations solidarity from my country? Most of our Jewish organizations have not bothered to refute the death toll exacted on the Palestinians -- more than 135 dead as of this past weekend, about 90 per cent of them Palestinian.

Nor have they condemned the Israeli military's use of force. Quite the opposite: The Canadian Jewish community "feels angry and betrayed," according to Moshe Ronen, CJC president, over Canada's support of a UN resolution condemning "excessive use of force against the Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life." (That resolution also suggests that the inciting factor in the current wave of violence was a visit by the Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, to a Muslim-controlled holy site in Jerusalem, accompanied by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers).

Yet, in effect, what Prime Minister Jean Chrtien was being told in a recent visit with 30 representatives of the Jewish community was: "Look away. It is better for us and it will be better for you. And if you don't, Mr. Prime Minister, we are going to hurt you at the polls."

Surely, the Jewish community cannot dictate what is right and wrong. Or can it?

Being Canadian is a privilege and an honour. It carries with it certain responsibilities. One of the most crucial and important is to uphold the rule of law, justice and fairness both at home and in the world. Canadians with the help of visionaries such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau have worked very hard to establish this country as a just, inclusive and peaceful country.

If Canadians try to rationalize the organized oppression and killing of a civilian population because these are the actions of a country that is considered to be the only "democratic" country in the Middle East, then I am very afraid. I am afraid that it is only a matter of time before I will be considered the "other" here in Canada, simply because of my ethnic and religious affiliations.

The Canadian Islamic Congress has been careful throughout this period of unrest in the Middle East to stay as neutral as possible. We have been asked if we condemn actions on both sides of the equation. Our answer: We feel all human life is sacred and nobody should be killed. This is an obvious moral stand, and should not need to be restated. We are on the side of peace. We are pro-justice and pro-peace, not anti-Palestinian or anti-Zionist.

Nobody should try to justify the deaths of the children of Palestine, let alone condemn their grieving parents. Palestinian parents care just as much for their children as Jewish parents care for their 18-year-old sons and daughters in the Israeli Defence Forces.

Some Jewish analysts fear that the Jewish delegates from abroad who showed their support for Israel last week ended up sending an unsettling message to their countries of origin. Indeed, they did.

Here in Canada, some Canadians are feeling distanced by the "official" Jewish stand regarding what is right and just for the Palestinians and their children. 

Wahida Valiante is national vice-chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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