Addressing Canadian Complicity in the ongoing Nakba in Palestine

Submission from CJPME to MP Matthew Green’s Nakba Bill Initiative, authored by Lena El-Malak, PhD, LLM; Nadia Abu-Zahra, PhD; Michael Bueckert, PhD; and Alex Paterson, MA. The submission includes recommendations for how the Canadian government can acknowledge this historical injustice, as well as its own role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and take steps to combat Canadian complicity in ongoing Israeli policies of erasure, displacement and dispossession.

Issued April 2024

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Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic), when at least 700,000 Palestinians were intentionally and forcibly expelled from their homes by Zionist militias during the violent creation of Israel.[1] Following their mass displacement, Israel demolished more than 400 Palestinian villages and enacted laws to expropriate refugees’ property and ban them from returning to their homes. This resulted in the world’s longest-standing refugee crisis, with 5.9 million Palestinian refugees currently registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).[2] In the lead up to Israel’s unilateral declaration of Independence and the implementation of Plan Dalet, Canadian officials played a leading role in developing the UN plan to forcibly partition the British Mandate of Palestine and participated in creating the political conditions that allowed success and legitimacy for the Zionist movement’s land theft.[3]

CJPME welcomes the Nakba Bill initiative from MP Matthew Green, as we believe that it provides an opportunity for Canada to finally acknowledge this historical injustice, as well as its own role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and take steps to combat Canadian complicity in ongoing Israeli policies of erasure, displacement and dispossession. Key to this initiative must be acknowledging and promoting the unrealized and inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and their rights to restitution, and compensation as enshrined under international law.

It has never been more important to return to the core issues that lie at the heart of the current crisis. We write this submission more than six months into Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, as Israeli ministers are enacting a ‘Second Nakba’ against Palestinians in Gaza.[4] Israel is driving the mass displacement of nearly two million people in Gaza (two-thirds of them who were already refugees),[5] with evidence that Israel wants to drive the population into Egypt;[6] and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has affirmed that Israel’s actions in Gaza could plausibly amount to genocide.[7] In the West Bank, Israeli settlers and soldiers have forced the depopulation of 16 Palestinian communities during this same period, while announcing the largest expropriation of Palestinian land since the 1993 Oslo Accord .[8] There is no hope for resolution without understanding and addressing Canada’s support for Israel’s settler colonial ideology of dispossession, displacement and ethnic cleansing on which the existence of Israel is predicated.

CJPME submits the following recommendations, which it hopes to see included in the Nakba Bill. They are organized into two sections, based on considerations at national and international levels.


Recommendations for domestic policy

1. Canada must officially recognize the Nakba and our role in the partition of the Mandate of Palestine.

A) Canada must recognize that the Nakba is ongoing and is rooted in the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. Canada must also acknowledge that Zionism has similarities to Canadian settler-colonial history and political ideologies.

B) Canada must recognize that the Nakba is the ethnic cleansing and the erasure of the Palestinian people. It therefore also manifests itself in the denial of Palestinian identity, cultural heritage, and history.

The Canadian government has never officially recognized the Nakba. When the United Nations hosted the first-ever official events to commemorate the Nakba in 2023, Canada ‘boycotted’ them without explanation.[9] Nor has Canada sought to make amends for its role in the partition of Mandate Palestine, which endorsed the unjust carving up of the territory with no concern for the Palestinian Indigenous population who lived there. Instead, every year Canada issues statements that reproduce Israeli narratives, endorsing a mythologized history of Israeli “Independence” that erases or justifies Palestinian dispossession. If Canada were to affirm the historical experience of the Palestinian people and the similarities with the Indigenous experience of colonialism in Canada, it would better inform a justice-oriented approach to Canadian policy.

2. Canada must recognize Nakba denial as a form of anti-Palestinian racism and as having a direct impact on Canadians' right to free speech and academic freedom.

The Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA) identifies Nakba denial as a form of anti-Palestinian racism.[10] Unfortunately, this is a practice of racism that is widespread in Canada. In recent months, Ministers of provincial government have disseminated racist and colonial tropes to justify the displacement of Palestinians,[11] and have sought to exclude Nakba from being marked in school social calendars.[12] Moreover, discussion of the historical role of political Zionism in Palestine is often silenced or deemed to be controversial or even antisemitic, even though the actions and ideologies of the Zionist movement are reminiscent of Canada’s own settler-colonial project. Statements that equate the legitimate right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes to the annihilation of Israelis, are also used to demonize refugees and cast doubt on the legitimacy of their claims to their ancestral land. Endorsing Palestinian refugee rights, as well as recognizing that Nakba denial – and the denial of the Palestinian identity and indigeneity to the land of Palestine – constitute racism, would aid Canadians in resisting censorship and attacks on their identity and political expression.


Recommendations for international policy

3. The Nakba is ongoing and Canada must play a role in halting it and reversing its consequences. To halt it, it must pressure Israel to change course by implementing boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.

Israeli policies of dispossession targeting Palestinians include, but are not limited to: settlement expansion and annexation; house demolitions; the displacement of Bedouin and other communities; discriminatory, apartheid planning policies; and the revocation of citizenship.[13] Together these policies reflect an ongoing Nakba, as Israel uses all available means to uproot Palestinians from their land and illegally increase its colonial control over Palestinian territory. The failure of Canadian policy over decades to halt this annexation process shows that meaningful pressure, rather than unconditional support, is needed to change Israel’s behaviour. Palestinian civil society has called on the international community to adopt economic pressure tactics of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel as a non-violent route to fight for Palestinian self-determination and human rights, following the example of the South African anti-apartheid movement.[14]

4. Canada must vote in favour of UNGA Resolutions reiterating the right of return of Palestinian refugees. It must also take concrete steps to facilitate Palestinian refugees’ exercise of the right of return, for example by advocating for it as part of any future negotiated settlement. This right is inalienable and is held by both first-generation refugees and their descendants.

Palestinian refugees have a fundamental and legal right to return to their homes, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[15] and UN Resolution 194 (1948).[16] This right is inalienable. However, Canada remains silent on this right, while voting against multiple UNGA resolutions that would affirm the rights of refugees.[17]

5. Canada must insist upon the right to return, restitution, and compensation for Palestine refugees, consistent with UNGA Resolution 194 and general principles of international human rights law and refugee law, and acknowledge that these rights are distinct, they are not mutually exclusive and must not be pitted against one another.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of refugees are voluntarily repatriated to their homes across the globe.[18] While voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution for all refugee groups, it is only in the case of Palestinian refugees that it is denied by Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies, which have led to a protracted refugee situation that has lasted decades. While Israel facilitates the “return” of Jews from anywhere in the world to a land they had never been to nor have any direct ancestral ties to, Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees (including descendants of Nakba survivors) the right to return to a land they or their ancestors had lived in for generations prior to the Nakba.

6. Canada must increase its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and refrain from joining any Israeli or US-led campaign to discredit the Agency or interfere in its activities and mandate.

In 2016, Canada restored its annual funding to UNRWA, reversing previous cuts. However, for the last several years UNRWA has faced a severe financial crisis which routinely threatens its ability to pay its employees or provide basic services, including health and education. Instead of adequately responding to this crisis, Canada’s most recent annual commitments to UNRWA represented a reduction of $5 million per year.[19] Adding insult to injury was Canada’s reckless political decision to suspend UNRWA’s funding in January 2024 based on Israeli allegations which have never been substantiated.[20] UNRWA deserves Canada’s financial and political support.

7. Canada must play a role in demanding accountability and reparations for the Nakba (past and ongoing) by calling on the international community to set up an International Criminal Tribunal for Palestine to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and a mass claims commission for the resolution of property claims, as was done in previous conflicts such as in Bosnia and Rwanda. Canada must also provide financial and political support to the International Criminal Court’s open investigation into war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) since 2014.[21]

8. Canada must also encourage the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of any future negotiated settlement to ensure that the crimes of the past are openly addressed, and that the trauma and violence of the Nakba is acknowledged.


[1] CJPME Factsheet No. 235, “The Nakba,” May 2023, ; Ardi Imseis, (2023), The United Nations and the Question of Palestine: Rule by Law and the Structure of International Subalternity, Cambridge University Press; Rashid Khalidi, (2020), The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, Metropolitan Books; Ilan Pappe, (2006), The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications;

[2] UNRWA, “Palestine Refugees,”; United Nations, “UN marks 75 years since displacement of 700,000 Palestinians,” May 15, 2023,

[3] Ardi Imseis, (2023), The United Nations and the Question of Palestine: Rule by Law and the Structure of International Subalternity, Cambridge University Press; Bercusion, D., (1985), Canada and the Birth of Israel: A Study in Canadian Foreign Policy, University of Toronto Press; Tauber, E., (2002), Personal Policy Making: Canada’s Role in the Adoption of Palestine Partition Resolution, Praeger Press; Engler, Y., (2010), Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, Fernwood Publishing.

[4] Meron Rapoport, “The ‘second Nakba’ government seizes its moment,” 972+ Magazine, January 2, 2024,

[5] UNOCHA, “Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel - reported impact | Day 199,” April 22, 2024,

[6] CBC, “Leaked document fuels concern Israel plans to push Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt,” November 10, 2023,

[7] CJPME, “Canada must support ICJ order to protect Palestinians in Gaza,” January 26, 2024, 

[8] Physicians for Human Rights Israel, “The Consequences of Settler Violence and Forced Displacement on the Health and Wellbeing of Palestinian Communities in Area C,” March 28, 2024, ; Israel announces largest West Bank land seizure since 1993 - The Washington Post.

[9] CJPME, “Letter to Bob Rae: Explain Canada’s boycott of UN Nakba event,” May 15, 2023,

[10] ACLA, “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations,” April 24, 2022,

[11] Richie Assaly, “A closer look at the racist myth at the heart of Selina Robinson’s comments,” Ricochet, February 7, 2024,

[12] Toronto Star, “Peel school board urged to remove Nakba Day from calendar of significant dates,” April 17, 2024, 

[13] Over an overview of these processes and how they contribute to a process of consolidating a system of apartheid, see Amnesty International, “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity,” February 1, 2022,

[14] “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS,” July 9, 2005, 

[15] The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his own country.” United Nations,

[16] UN Resolution 194, adopted on December 11, 1948, resolved that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

[17] CJPME, “Change in Canada’s UN vote not enough to help Palestinian refugees under attack,” November 9, 2023,

[18] Returnees | UNHCR.

[19] CJPME, “Canada cuts funding for Palestinian refugees amid crisis,” June 27, 2023,

[20] CJPME, “UNRWA funding resumption is necessary, but not enough,” March 8, 2024,

[21] ICC opens 'war crimes' investigation in West Bank and Gaza (