Liberal, NDP MPs head to Jordan, West Bank to ask Palestinians how to advance peace

Liberal, NDP MPs head to Jordan, West Bank to ask Palestinians how to advance peace © Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Five members of Parliament are in the Middle East to hear from Palestinians about how Canada can best push for peace and human rights in the region, with plans to visit the West Bank which has seen rising violence.

“It was really important for us to come and see the situation on the ground … and see what they are looking for Canada to do,” Liberal MP Salma Zahid said Monday in a call from Amman, Jordan.

The group Canadian-Muslim Vote is paying for the MPs to visit the region for six days, alongside humanitarian groups. There are two Liberals and three NDP MPs on the trip.

Zahid, who leads the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, said more MPs from other parties were invited but some had scheduling conflicts. She wouldn’t identify them.

The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois did not immediately respond when asked why none of their MPs are on the visit, and Canadian-Muslim Vote did not answer an email asking whom the group invited.

In November, Canadian Jewish organizations sponsored a visit to Israel by Liberal and Conservative MPs to hear about impact of the brutal Hamas attack in October.

The current delegation started its full day of activities Monday, and heard from UN agencies that serve Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, some of whose families have been there since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Zahid said some of the UN staff told her that their colleagues in the Gaza Strip used to teach children whose schools are now closed. Their parents are now using books as fuel, because of the tight restrictions Israel has put on fuel and food entering that region, she was told.

“That is going to stick to me for life, that books are being burned to provide fuel for some families to cook the food,” Zahid said.

“It’s incumbent on us to make sure that every child in the world gets the education and the tools necessary for them to be successful in life.”

NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson said the delegation got a reality check from Canada’s ambassador in Jordan, who she said outlined how people across the Middle East are comparing Canada’s approach to the region with its strong support for Ukrainians.

“He’s very blunt about the implications that Canada’s actions will and are having on our reputation internationally (and) the fact that the rest of the world is looking at very different responses,” she said.

“They are disappointed in Canada, and they are disappointed in the inequality that is so blatant in Canada’s response,” McPherson said.

The Trudeau government has argued that it is upholding Canadian values by pushing for accountability for Hamas in addition to wanting an end to both the conflict and the humanitarian plight in Gaza.

McPherson said the group plans to head Tuesday to the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel that has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks. The group will also visit East Jerusalem, a disputed area of the city.

“We are going to be cautious, and we have experts that are with us,” she said Monday evening.

Since Israel started its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the United Nations says there has been an unprecedented rise in violence in the West Bank including by occupying Israeli forces, local Palestinians and Israeli settlers.

Muslim groups in Canada are urging Ottawa to do more about violence in the West Bank, where extremist settlers living in Israeli settlements that Canada deems illegal have taken up arms.

The Trudeau government has joined calls to revive a process to create an independent Palestinian state that would exist alongside Israel. However Palestinians leaders say Ottawa isn’t exercising enough leverage, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has been cool to the idea.

Britain and the United States have imposed travel bans on extremist Israeli settlers, while Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Canada tends to view these decisions through the lens of criminal acts in general, rather than listing a group of people as inadmissible.

He said in early December that Canada is “working with the U.S.” on making sure criminals from these settlements don’t enter Canada, though his office did not elaborate on what that entails.

McPherson said she’s hopeful her delegation will come away with ideas on how Ottawa can best respond to the crisis, including the humanitarian needs of a new wave of displaced Palestinians as a result of the war in Gaza. She argues that misinformation around the conflict requires a delegation to get a sense of what Palestinians are going through.

“We spoke to young people at a (UN) school who spoke about how they’re taught human rights, and they don’t know why they are, because human rights don’t apply to them. Because people don’t seem to think Palestinians deserve human rights,” she said.

“Things like that are just so shocking to hear.”

Source: Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press