Christian leaders urge Canada to end cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine

In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip. The government of Israel is not following this order.

Since the ICJ’s ruling, about 9,000 Gazans have been killed, humanitarian aid blocked, and several aid workers killed. Now, Israel has started a military offensive on Rafah, where 1.5 million civilians shelter because there is no safe place to relocate in their homeland.

As Christian faith leaders, we are compelled to speak against hatred and injustice, and to pursue peace. We urgently ask the Canadian government to unequivocally uphold international law and human rights, and hold states accountable for their legal obligations.

KAIROS Canada and its member churches represent more than four million Canadians. Our Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage: Canadian Churches for Just Peace, where pilgrims walk or roll – in full or part – the 41-kilometre length of Gaza, offers solidarity for the people of Palestine and Israel, and culminates in a pilgrimage to Parliament Hill on May 22.

Many of us have longstanding partnerships with civil society and church-led partners in Israel and Palestine, some of whom receive international assistance from the Canadian government. For years, we have joined hands with them to urge an end to the cycles of violence and the decades-long occupation.

Our partners witness and survive the harsh impacts of Israeli occupation and the current armed conflict, which has overwhelmingly affected women and children. Under occupation, our partners see the lack of access to agricultural land, places of work, and medical support; child arrests; interrogation, and, often, detention without charges under Israeli military law. During the bombing and ground assault, they watch helplessly as family members are killed, their bodies buried under the rubble.

Despite this, our partners are committed to peacebuilding and providing essential support to their communities.

One of us, the Rev. Dr. Dorcas Gordon, just returned from Palestine. After seven days of intense conversations with NGOs, Christian church leaders and UN agencies in the occupied West Bank, on the latest of many such trips, she shares their message to the Canadian government: Work honestly for peace with justice committed to ending the devastation of war, occupation, and ethnic cleansing.

Since Hamas’s surprise attack against Israeli civilians and soldiers on October 7, Israel’s response has resulted in the deaths of more than 34,600 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Those who remain are at great risk of dying from persistent armed conflict, disease, dehydration, famine, and lack of adequate medical care.

Every state has a right to defend itself according to international law. It must do so within the bounds of these laws, including the laws governing occupation. Collective punishment and attacks against civilians violate this law, whether by immediate violent force or long-term structural oppression.

We know from the response to Ukrainian refugees that we are capable of much more support to Palestinian refugees and family reunification. The Canadian government’s lack of response to this crisis is cause for deep concern.

Canada was slow to call for a ceasefire.

Canada paused UNRWA funding.

Canada ships military equipment to Israel; clearly, doing so is in violation of international law.

Canada agreed to stop approving arms sales to Israel, but it has not stopped shipments of arms already approved. It must do so immediately or it is complicit in war crimes and violations of human rights. Ending all arms transfers to Israel is one of five calls by national and local church leaders, congregations, and communities of faith across Canada.

The other calls are: an enduring and sustained ceasefire; immediate flow of life-saving humanitarian assistance to Gaza; the release of all captives – including hostages and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and an end to the Israeli occupation.

Canada is vocal in its support for a rules-based international order and international humanitarian law. We urge it to apply this approach to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and to immediately and decisively adopt our calls to action.

Canada can play a critical role in international efforts to end this cycle of violence. It can help Israelis and Palestinians lay the foundations for lasting, just and equitable peace in their homelands.

A peace that is so urgently needed for the security, rights and dignity of all.

By Leah Reesor-Keller, MA, Transitional Executive Director, KAIROS Canada; the Right Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, Moderator of The United Church of Canada, and the Rev. Dr. J. Dorcas Gordon, Principal Emerita, Knox College, The Presbyterian Church in Canada

This Op-Ed was published in the May 22, 2024 issue of The Hill Times.

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