Canada silent on Israel genocide court case, Liberal MPs split over what to do

Canada silent on Israel genocide court case, Liberal MPs split over what to do © Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Liberal members of Parliament are divided about the position Canada should take on South Africa’s push to have Israel prosecuted for genocide for its war in Gaza, as the Trudeau government stays mum.

The International Court of Justice will start hearing a case Thursday in which South Africa argues that Israel’s widespread bombardment of Gaza and siege on the Palestinians living there “are genocidal in character.”

South Africa argued in its filing that Israel has expressed a “clear intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a group” and says statements by Israeli officials are evidence of a genocidal intent. The application asks the top United Nations court to order Israel to halt its attacks.

Israel has responded “with disgust” to the allegations, saying they are groundless.

The Canadian government has not expressed a position on the case and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s office did not have an immediate response Wednesday when asked whether Canada will take a stance.

Canada has generally avoided bringing Israel to international tribunals, arguing those would undermine attempts to get Israelis and Palestinians to directly negotiate a lasting peace.

Ottawa raised that argument last July when it asked the ICJ to not proceed with providing an advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, despite the UN General Assembly passing a motion calling for the legal opinion.

The U.S. has dismissed South Africa’s case as a “meritless” distraction, but France has said it will back whatever decision the court takes.

Liberal MP Salma Zahid wants her government to  support South Africa’s application, arguing that Canada must “give meaning” to its calls for all parties to respect international law.

She noted there are humanitarian agencies which say Israel’s conduct is limiting access in Gaza to the necessities of life, and has caused mass displacement of Palestinians living there.

“These accusations deserve to be heard in the proper legal forum,” Zahid wrote.

Liberal MPs Marco Mendicino and Anthony Housefather both argued the court application is “baseless and unconscionable” because Israel is trying to prevent Hamas militants from repeating their gruesome attack last October.

The latest conflict in Gaza began Oct. 7, when Hamas fighters breached border fences in southern Israel and raided multiple communities, killing 1,200 people and taking dozens of people hostage, including children.

Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack with immediate force, including relentless rocket attacks, and cutting off the Gaza Strip from supplies including food, medicine and electricity. Israel’s assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,200 Palestinians, roughly 1 per cent of the territory’s population, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. About two-thirds of the dead are women and children. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Hamas freed more than 100 hostages during a temporary ceasefire at the end of November, which ended when Israel accused Hamas of firing a rocket and violating its agreement to release all the female hostages. Israel says it believes more than 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Mendicino and Housefather point to the viewpoint by retired Supreme Court justice Rosalie Abella, who wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed this week that “this case represents an outrageous and cynical abuse of the principles underlying the international legal order that was set up after the Second World War.”

Abella denounced “the perverse situation” where Hamas wants to commit genocide against Israel who is now defending itself against militant attacks as well as genocide allegations.

NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson wrote to Joly on Tuesday asking her “not to intervene in opposition to this case, and to support the decision of the court.” She noted that was the position France has taken.

South Africa’s high commissioner in Ottawa, Rieaz Shaik, is encouraging Canada to back the case, but said he had not met with Liberal MPs since his country filed its application on Dec. 29.

“South Africa has heard the unbearable cries of anguish of the innocent, from the killing fields of Gaza and broader Palestine,” he told a virtual news conference midday Wednesday.

“We must act to bring this brutal, systematic and organized killing of Palestinian civilians (to) an immediate and urgent end. To do not to do so is to engage our shared humanity and to violate our deeply held values.”

The Palestinian ambassador to Canada, Mona Abuamara, said the case could “break this victim syndrome that Israel is enforcing on everyone” in which she argues Israel evades international law by justifying its actions on security threats it faces. She believes Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories leads to an endless cycle of violence.

“What is happening in Gaza and West Bank including Jerusalem are not random, impromptu actions but systematic, incremental steps that fulfil an overall goal of creating a land without people,” she said.

“Palestinian people are being dehumanized every single day, and that dehumanization has started long before Oct. 7,” Abuamara said.

Guests at the panel noted that South Africa’s submission “unequivocally condemns all violations of international law by all parties, including the direct targeting of Israeli civilians and other nationals and hostage-taking by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.”

With files from The Associated Press

Source: Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press