My stomach lurched because the news about Palestine that week had already been gruesome: an entire family of eight in Gaza had been wiped out in a surprise bombing by Israel in the middle of the night. US President Donald Trump had announced the U.S. reversal on the illegal status of Israeli expulsions of Palestinians and the building of settlements in the West Bank — a move that flew in the face of international law and human rights.
I glanced down at my phone hesitantly and saw the headline: in response to the American move, Canada had in turn reversed its stance by voting in favor of Palestinian self-determination. My heart soared.
Canada is finally doing the right thing.
You see, Canada has declined to support the resolution for Palestinian self-determination in 14 consecutive votes since 2006. Under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, Palestinian human rights began to fall by the wayside — something that accelerated dramatically during the Harper years. Until now, there has been little indication that the Trudeau government would challenge what had become the status quo of responses about Palestine for Canada at the UN.
It’s important for Canadians to realize, though, that Canada has not always taken a stance resistant to Palestine and Palestinian human rights.
As recently as 2003, Canada was highly supportive of international law, human rights, the protection of sacred sites, the sovereignty of East Jerusalem and a myriad of other Palestine-related concerns that align with basic worldwide values.
Under Harper, that all shifted and Canada found themselves voting against their own principles.
Do Canadians not believe no one should have less than half a day of electricity indefinitely, like people suffering since 2007 under blockade in Gaza? Do Canadians not believe people have the right to stay in their homes, forced out under state-imposed evictions, settlement and land seizures — at the rate of at least 750 this year alone?
Where Canadians are proudly welcoming, inclusive, and diverse, the contradiction of voting against Palestinian self-determination for over 20 years never seemed to add up. Not only that, but the voting bloc with which Canada finds itself is lonely, indeed — with only the US, Israel and a few tiny nations dependent on the United States for aid in the “no” camp.
Make no mistake, by voting “yes” to Palestinian self-determination, Canada may have taken a definitive step in affirming its values on an international stage.
A vote for Palestinian self-determination at the United Nations sends the message to the world that Canada believes in autonomy and rights for all. The most cynical of witnesses to this monumental shift might say that this was a cheap grab to get Canada a Security Council seat.
However, if standing up for human rights and self-determination of all peoples allows us further influence to bring necessary change on a global scale, then let’s support our leadership in taking this important stand for all of us. If this is a genuine policy shift for the better, Trudeau can expect that Canadians are behind him all across the country.
Indeed, letters have been pouring in imploring Trudeau to take this stand and celebrating him when he did. It represents a lot more for Canadians than a symbolic gesture. On the global stage, it has sent joyous shock waves around the world.
This vote and future ones are a chance to show that the Canadian voice is sincere; it has influence and it permits us to make good on the promise of how Canada should be. It’s a reclamation of our past commitments to justice and human rights, and a promise for a better future than the present and the past, here and elsewhere.
Now, more than ever, in the face of so much global turmoil and uncertainty, is the time to stand for a more just world: a world where people live as equals, where communities are built on respect and healthy relations.
The United Nations, its emphasis on building alliances for the common good, and its symbol, the Security Council, can indeed be better with a seat for Canada — a Canada that genuinely respects self-determination and human rights for all.
By Nadia Abu-Zahra
(Associate Professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa, and a member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre.)
Source: The Star