Jason Kenney, a senior minister in Canada’s Conservative government, delivered a ringing defence of Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza during the July 19th edition of the CBC Radio program, The House, while guest host Rosemary Barton listened politely.
I suppose it would have been rude to remind Kenney of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its devastating siege of Gaza that has made life a misery for the 1.8 million Palestinians crammed into 365 square kilometres.
“More than three-quarters of them are refugees whose families fled or were driven from their land in what is now Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war,” the Reuters news agency reported in 2009 during a previous Israeli assault. The report added that most Gazans live on less than $2 a day, thanks to Israel’s blockade.
To be fair, Barton did ask about the deaths of Palestinian civilians, “many of them children,” but she said nothing more while Kenney claimed that Israel gives people ample warnings before its attacks. He went on to blame Hamas, not Israel, for the deaths (see transcript below).
Canadian politicians know that when CBC journalists ask for an interview, they’re apt to face tough questions. But in this case, Barton pulled her punches. The interview was billed as a chance to get the government’s perspective on events in Ukraine and the Middle East. It ran 10 minutes and 18 seconds, but only four minutes were devoted to Israel and Gaza. In the transcript below, I’ll show how, instead of listening politely, Barton might have raised issues that would have required Jason Kenney to give a fuller, more nuanced defence of the Canadian government’s perspective on Israel and Gaza. Since The House has a total of 48 minutes and 27 seconds of network air-time each week, there was plenty of time to get into these issues if the producers had really wanted to.
CBC Radio, The House, July 19, 2014. Rosemary Barton (RB) interviews Employment and Social Development Minister, Jason Kenney (JK) about the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza. Sections in bold type raise issues that Barton could (and should) have asked about.
RB: Let me move to Middle East…obviously major developments there as well, the Israeli military now carrying out a ground incursion into Gaza that started on Thursday. Do you believe that this was the only option?
JK: Well, we’ll leave it to the Israeli government to determine what are the right options to respond to this kind of belligerent aggression, but the facts are clear: a terrorist organization whose charter repeatedly calls for the elimination of the Jewish state has launched some 1,300 missiles indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets. No sovereign country in the world would tolerate this kind of indiscriminate violence targeting civilians without a robust military response and I find the criticism of Israel for having done so a terrible double standard and of course Israel demonstrated yet again this week its willingness to engage in a ceasefire negotiated by the Egyptian government. Hamas’s response to the proposed ceasefire was another hundred missiles being lobbed at civilian targets. So, it seems to me that the Israeli government has not just the right, but clearly the responsibility to act against those who are responsible for this violence.
(1) Kenney blames “a terrorist organization” for “belligerent aggression” against a “sovereign country.” He fails to mention why Hamas, which governs Gaza, might resist Israeli actions such as the continued occupation of Palestinian lands and the ongoing, punitive siege of Gaza. (Neither is mentioned during the interview.)
(2) Kenney blames Hamas for rejecting a ceasefire “negotiated by the Egyptian government.” But according to this July 17 report from the BBC, it seems that neither side had agreed to a ceasefire: “Israel’s foreign minister and Hamas have denied earlier reports of a truce deal to end fighting in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militants.”
RB: You talked about the civilian casualties, certainly there seems to be a higher number on the Palestinian side, 265, many of them children. Overall, do you think enough is being done to protect civilians in this struggle?
JK: Every civilian death in any conflict of course is tragic and everything should be done to avoid civilian casualties and I believe when you actually look at the operations of the Israeli Defence Forces in advising people in particular areas that there may be military action, advising them to leave certain buildings or areas, autodialing them, dropping leaflets, sending in dummy missiles that are not armed, all as signs of warning, but the problem of course tactically is that Hamas uses human shields. They store their missiles and launchers including in UNRWA UN refugee schools, in mosques, close to hospitals and in apartment blocks and this further underscores that Hamas is responsible for the violence. Every death that’s occurring there is ultimately caused by the outrageous, indiscriminate violence and belligerence of Hamas. Obviously, Israel should act with as much restraint as possible to avoid civilian casualties, but it’s not Israel that is indiscriminately launching missiles at civilian targets.
(1) Kenney claims Israeli warnings prevent deaths in crowded neighbourhoods, but even if that were true, hundreds of Gazans are still being killed. On July 16, Human Rights Watch issued a news release that condemned both Israel and Hamas for targeting civilians, but levelled its harshest criticism at Israel:
Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
The news release added this about Israel’s warnings to civilians:
For warnings to be effective, civilians need adequate time to leave and go to a place of safety before an attack. In several cases Human Rights Watch investigated, Israel gave warnings, but carried out the attack within five minutes or less. Given that Gaza has no bomb shelters, civilians realistically often have no place to flee.
(2) On July 18, Amnesty International issued an equally hard-hitting news release in which it condemned both Hamas and Israel for “war crimes.” The Amnesty release says Israel provided no evidence that would justify its attacks on civilians contrary to Kenney’s claim that the attacks were justified militarily. The release added:
Israeli air strikes and shelling have also caused devastating damage to water and sanitation infrastructure across the Gaza Strip. Three workers have been killed trying to make critical repairs and continuing hostilities have made such work too dangerous in many areas. On 16 July, the UN reported that at least half of Gaza’s population – some 900,000 people – were not receiving water. Damage to sewage and pumping facilities and the resulting potential for contamination of water supplies has created a public health emergency.
RB: Finally, let me ask you how do you think this ends…In previous conflicts there has been some success at weakening Hamas. Is the end goal the end of Hamas or do you think it’s a ceasefire? What do you think is possible at this point?
JK: Well, we would hope that Hamas, that the leadership of Hamas would reconsider the offer by Egypt which has historically played a brokerage role between it and Israel at least to allow for a ceasefire to [ensure the] stablization of the situation. And we would also call on the Palestinian Authority which is in a coalition government with Hamas to use everything at its disposal to end Hamas’s belligerence. But I don’t think we should be naive about the nature or the objectives of Hamas. Their stated objectives since their foundation have been the destruction of the Jewish state in the Middle East and regrettably this is an organization that’s a cancer in the Middle East that has chosen violence as a path. We hope that their leadership will realize that they’re only punishing their own people by continuing this indiscriminate violence targeting civilians and will pursue instead the path of peace perhaps negotiated by Egypt and other countries in the region.
(1) Kenney repeats the often-heard line that Hamas is bent on the “destruction of the Jewish state” without mentioning that Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinians’ claims for a state of their own. A July 13th report from the Times of Israel reveals that the Israeli prime minister is steadfastly opposed to Palestinian sovereignty. “Netanyahu finally speaks his mind,” the headline reads, “He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible.”
(2) As a spokesman for the Canadian government, Kenney contradicts longstanding Canadian policy on Israel and the Palestinians. The policy is still there for all to see on the Foreign Affairs Canada website. Here is just one excerpt:
Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip). The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.
RB: Minister Kenney, thank you for your time this morning.
JK: Thank you very much.
P.S. today, July 21, Costas Halavrezos sent this message (and web link) to mediaspin:
There are many disturbing elements in the way the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been framed, both by the combatants and by those looking on from a safe distance. But the cynicism of our federal government’s one-dimensional stance is best exemplified in the video it promptly sent out to the target audience for both its policy & its fundraising.