What Arab Canadians say about Gaza pullout

By Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star

August 25, 2005

What Arab Canadians say about eviction of Gaza settlers I asked three Arab Canadians for their reactions to the evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Khaled Mouammar, Richmond Hill. A Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, his family became refugees in 1948. He is a former president of the Canadian Arab Federation.

"Where were these 900 international journalists in the last five years while the entire physical infrastructure of Gaza was being destroyed?

"We see weeping settler girls and women being interviewed. But there were rarely any interviews with the thousands of Palestinian women and girls who've had their houses bulldozed, their family members killed or imprisoned.

"The settlers are being compensated between $200,000 and $300,000 (U.S.) per family. It's not that they don't have a place to go to. They are going back to their country.

"But millions of Palestinian refugees have been in exile for decades. Many are destitute. They have no status. Many are in the Israeli-occupied areas where no one cares about their suffering, humiliation and continued dispossession.

"In Albert Camus's The Plague, the French settlers in Algeria have feelings, emotions and experiences. But the Algerians are always in the background, as shadows. Today, human life and suffering does not matter if you are Arab, Muslim or from a Third World country.

"When will the dispossession and dehumanization of Palestinians get a headline?

"Still, decent human beings in Canada and elsewhere know of this injustice and feel strongly about it. That's why the Palestinians will ultimately overcome."

Sarah Karmi, Toronto. A Palestinian Muslim who came to Canada from Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War, she is chair of the Canadian board of directors for Project Hope, an NGO working with children and youth in war-stricken regions.

"The coverage of the Gaza evacuations may lead some to believe that considerable concessions have been made by Israel in the name of peace and stability. But the reality is that the disengagement doesn't even come close to being sufficient.

"The departure of 8,500 settlers is undermined by a net increase of about 10,000 settlers in the West Bank every year.

"Israel remains in occupation of internationally recognized Palestinian land, in open violation of countless United Nations resolutions.

"Since 1967, about 7,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished, leaving about 50,000 homeless. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been confiscated for illegal settlements.

"The killing of Palestinians continues. So does the construction of the separation barrier, annexing more Palestinian land and further fragmenting the West Bank. There are severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians through curfews, checkpoints and roadblocks that obstruct education, economic viability and the provision of basic medical and humanitarian assistance.

"These injustices should not slip the global consciousness on account of the recent evacuation."

Raja G. Khouri, Toronto. A Christian born in Lebanon to parents who lost their homes in Palestine in 1948, he is a former president of the Canadian Arab Federation and the author of Arabs in Canada: Post 9/11.

"An Israeli settler screamed at reporters: 'You don't know what it's like to be driven out of your home and not be allowed to return to your land.' I do. Millions of Palestinians do.

"Leaving Gaza rids Israel of 35 per cent of Palestinians living on 6 per cent of Israeli-occupied land. Keeping the land and getting rid of the people has always been the Israeli way.

"By maximizing control over as much Palestinian land with as few Palestinians as possible, Israel minimizes the 'demographic threat' - the growing number of Muslims and Christians living in Israel and the territories it controls.

"While the 8,500 Gaza settlers will be handsomely compensated, about 55,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem are being separated from their schools, hospital, jobs and places of worship by the wall, with no consideration for their rights and livelihood, let alone the right to compensation.

"As it encroaches into the West Bank and Jerusalem, the wall increases land on the Israeli side while leaving Palestinian populations in fragmented cantons.

"Even if some version of a Palestinian state does emerge, it will lack water resources, arable land, contiguity, economic viability and the means to control its destiny. I can't help but feel that Palestinian national aspirations are doomed."

Haroon Siddiqui, The Star's editorial page editor emeritus, writes Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiq@thestar.ca