On Hamas and its recent violence
Key Talking Point:
The violent attacks of Hamas and the ferocious retaliation of Israel, both targeting civilians, unequivocally constitute breaches of international law and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as war crimes. The rules are for everyone. We are calling on Canada to push for a ceasefire, suspend arms exports to Israel, and push for ICC and ICJ investigations into war crimes committed by all parties in this war.
- Terrorism is commonly understood as “violence against civilians for political purposes.” As such, deliberate acts of violence against civilians by Hamas on October 7, as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, do indeed constitute acts of terror.
- Under international law, Hamas’ violence against Israeli soldiers and military is considered legal resistance to colonial domination and oppression.
- Under international law, captured Israeli civilians are considered hostages, and international law requires their immediate release. Captive Israeli soldiers are considered prisoners of war.
- Hamas is an Islamic Palestinian liberation organization, which governs certain aspects of the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, provides social services, runs media outlets, and has a military wing.
- Hamas’s stated object in its October 7, 2023 attack was to throw off years of belligerent Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land.
- Since 2004, Hamas leaders have repeatedly and consistently stated that they would accept a peace agreement based on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (i.e. the Green Line).
- Hamas’ original 1988 Charter rejected peace negotiations with Israel, and this is falsely but frequently cited as Hamas’ definitive opposition to the existence of Israel.
- There is no widespread popular opposition to Hamas in Gaza because – as a resistance organization – it is an expression of the Palestinians’ collective hurt, frustration and anger at Israel for its cruel occupation, blockade and apartheid against Palestinians.
- Citing only Canada’s designation of Hamas as a “terrorist organization” is a highly reductive and unproductive way of describing the organization and its presence in the imagination of Palestinians.
On recent Israeli violence
Key Talking Point:
Israeli’s violent retaliation has already had a devastating lethal impact on civilians in Gaza. Canada must hold Israel accountable to international law. Ordering a total siege of Gaza and cutting off water, electricity, and fuel is already disproportionally harming civilians. It will continue to be Palestinian civilians who will suffer under Israel’s collective punishment.
Supportive Talking Points:
- Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack must respect the laws of war, and therefore must 1) discriminate between civilian and military targets, and 2) respond proportionately to the threat and/or offence.
- As of November 10, Israel’s attacks on Gaza have killed more than 10,800 people, including more than 4,400 children. More than 26,000 people have been injured, and 1,350 children are missing under the rubble. For comparison, the total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces between August 2000 and September 2023 was just over 10,500. Reports of wanton destruction and the “levelling of neighbourhoods” suggest that Israel is not discriminating between civilian and military targets, and is not responding proportionately.
- Israel’s decision to impose a “total siege” on Gaza violates several precepts of international law. The blocking of fleeing civilians, the cutting of electricity, the denial of access to food, water, and fuel, and the denial of a humanitarian corridor are all examples of collective punishment and are strictly forbidden under international law.
- Israeli government officials’ use of genocidal language, including calling Palestinians “human animals” is known as “dehumanization,” and is known to be a precursor of genocidal acts. Such statements are considered extremely alarming and should be universally condemned.
- Israel’s expansion into a ground invasion is highly alarming and suggests that Israel is planning far more violence against not just Hamas, but the entire population of Gaza, along with civilian infrastructure. Such violence, again, would violate international law in a significant way.
- Israel has ordered more than 1.1 million Palestinians in Northern Gaza to flee their homes and move south. This would amount to the forced transfer of half the population of Gaza. This is not possible nor safe, especially for hospitals, and it amounts to ethnic cleansing. Even more troublingly, Israel has warned those civilians who have stayed in their homes that it sees them as legitimate targets.
- In past flare-ups between Israel and Hamas, the casualty figures have been roughly between 10 Palestinians dead for every Israel, to 100 Palestinians dead for every Israeli. If this trend continues in the coming weeks, Israel's offensive will result in potentially tens of thousands of deaths. Such reckless violence must be roundly condemned, as it strictly violates international law.
- United Nations experts, legal scholars, and Palestinian human rights groups have warned that Israel's actions could amount to the crime of genocide.
On Canada’s response
Key Talking Point:
Canadians from all backgrounds are justified in expressing outrage over the horrific brutality of Hamas’s attacks on civilians. But Canada cannot give a blank cheque to Israel as it responds. Canada must insist on a ceasefire as it is the only way to minimize further civilian casualties. Canada’s current approach gives tacit approval to Israel’s brutal collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. Israel is committing war crimes. The rules are for everyone.
Supportive Talking Points:
- It is entirely appropriate for Canada and Canadians to express outrage for Hamas’ attack on civilians, and desecration of dead Israelis, and to express sympathy for Israel and Israeli victims.
- It is entirely appropriate for Canada to condemn Hamas’ acts of violence against civilians.
- It is not appropriate for Canadian politicians to make statements to suggest that they will support Israel regardless of how it responds. Canadian statements on Israel’s response must make reference to international law, and the need for Israel to respect the concepts of “discrimination” and “proportionality,” as well as protecting civilians’ needs for access to the necessities of life (food, water, medicine). For this to be meaningful, however, Canada must forcefully condemn any Israeli actions which violate these principles. To date, UN experts and the EU have warned that Israeli actions have already amounted to war crimes. The only way to prevent further bloodshed is to demand the cessation of hostilities.
- Canada must work with its international partners and call for a ceasefire and, more generally, a de-escalation of the current situation. Israel’s current response is very similar to previous wars on Gaza, and will do nothing to address the long-term roots of the conflict, whereby Israel imposes apartheid and an indefinite belligerent military occupation on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinians used armed violence to push for their freedom and human rights.
- In the current day-to-day evolution of the conflict, Canada must condemn all violations of international law, whether by Palestinians or Israelis.
- In the long-term, Canada must leverage the institutions of international law, including the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court. This would include reviewing and respecting past legal opinions – e.g. the ICJ decision of 2004. It must also support the use of these institutions for an up-to-date assessment of the situation, proposals for legal remedies, and the imposition of sanctions for criminal acts.
On the on-going conflict
Key Talking Point:
This conflict is ongoing because Canada, like all western powers, has failed to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing belligerent occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands, and the violent apartheid systems it imposes. Instead, Canada has hidden behind the failed Oslo peace process and protected Israel from the application of international law. Canada needs to start acting like the rules apply to everyone.
Supportive Talking Point:
- The current conflict has its roots in incidents even prior to 1948, when the state of Israel was created in a land with a large Palestinian indigenous population. While the Israelis celebrated their “independence” day, it inflicted on the Palestinians the “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”), the loss of much of their territory, the dispossession of 700,000 Palestinians of their lands and homes, and their relegation to second-class citizens in Israel.
- Palestinians, both the PA and Hamas, have said that they are willing to have peace with Israel based on the 1967 borders, the armistice line which defines the West Bank and Gaza. A settlement along these lines would only leave Palestinians with 22% of historic Palestine.
- Since 1967, Palestinians consistently cite Israel’s brutal and oppressive military occupation as the core motivation for their armed resistance.
- Under international law, Palestinians have the right to self-determination. Much of the international community, including Canada, has linked Palestinian self-determination to negotiations with Israel, but this is not a necessity under international law. Israel, for example, was recognized by the United Nations before making peace with the Palestinians and/or their neighbours.
- 139 nations already recognize Palestine as a state. Canada is not among them.
- The international community – including Canada – often say that they support “a negotiated two-state solution with peace and security for both peoples,” but on the ground, through its military occupation, with settlements and other infrastructure of occupation, Israel has made the two-state solution impossible.
- Israel unilaterally walked away from the most recent round of attempted negotiations with the US’ John Kerry in 2014. Negotiations have not been reinitiated since. As such, talk of a “negotiated solution” is empty, and boils down to an excuse for a perpetuation of the status quo, a situation which is highly advantageous to Israel, and brutal and oppressive for Palestinians.