Middle Eastern peace seems distant - Keith Roulston editorial
Once again the Middle East is consumed by war and many of us in the West wonder if there will ever be peace in the region and what it would look like.
The most recent explosion of violence began when Hamas used the Jewish Sabbath holiday, Oct. 7, to cover its invasion in which 1,400 Israelis were killed, while more than 200 soldiers and civilians, including women and children, were taken to Gaza as hostages.
Since then, Israel has been striking back. As this is written, Palestinian authorities – it should be pointed out they are part of the government controlled by Hamas – claim more than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs and missiles.
Conscientious Canadians wonder who is right and who is wrong. Pro-Israeli Canadians have staged protests. Even more anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine protests have been held in cities across Canada. Each side claims justice and human rights are on its side.
Both sides say tension against their community has increased. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said the last few days “have been the worst” in decades in terms of Islamophobia reported to the organization – from verbal abuse and racist language hurled at children and hijab-wearing women to intimidation from employers and fellow employees in the workplace. “We’ve seen an increase of 1,000 per cent of actual incidents of Islamophobia that have come in from across the country,” said Uthman Quick, director of communications at the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy and rights organization, said they have observed a “great threat assessment increase” against the community in recent days, with incitement at university campuses, on the streets and genocidal slogans targeting Jews at rallies.
In its annual report published in April, B’nai Brith Canada said there were 2,769 antisemitic incidents in 2022, a slight decrease from the all-time peak in 2021. It’s become worse since October’s invasion.
We can see the harm that is done in Canada. Can anyone see a benefit?
Overseas, things get more murky. Russian police took over an airport in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region and arrested 60 people after hundreds of anti-Israel protesters stormed the facility on Sunday when a plane from Israel arrived.
On the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel was an occupier in its war in Gaza, and repeated his stance that Hamas is not a terrorist organization.
And yet, only a fraction of the territory's population today cast a ballot for Hamas 17 years ago. Many current Palestinians weren’t old enough to vote in that election and there has never been an election since.
Israel is blasted for bombing and shelling near hospitals in Gaza but Hamas has set up headquarters under hospitals to protect them. Ordinary Palestinians are used as cover by Hamas.
While any reader of the Bible recognizes Israel as ancient, the modern state of Israel dates only from May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel.
Western countries were happy to support a homeland for the Jewish people who had been murdered in the millions by Adolf Hitler when he controlled much of Europe during World War II. Western guilt in standing aside while this happened and only discovering it after the war, made us happy to support the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people back where they started.
The only problem is that the land was already occupied by the Arab people who weren’t prepared to just abandon their land for the incoming Jewish people.
Subsequently there were wars from 1947-49 as Israel established itself, the Sinai war in 1956 (for which Canada’s Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for proposing a United Nations peace force), the six-day war in 1967, the War of Attrition (1967–1970), the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), Second Intifada (2000–2005) and the Gaza War (December 2008 – January 2009), plus many other moments of tension.
Western nations are not helping win friends in the region by supporting Israel, especially when Israel sets up Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. At the same time, countries like Canada and the U.S. continue to be more diversified with many Muslim residents.
So there is no easy answer about who is right and who is wrong in this troubled story. We wish there would be peace but as the long story of wrongs on both sides gets longer, it’s hard to see a peaceful ending.