We’re back!!: a report on a recent Canadian tour to Israel/Palestine

A group of 13 Canadians has just completed a fascinating 2 week tour of Israel, Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Organized under the umbrella of the National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine, the group travelled extensively – from the Lebanese border in the north to the Negev desert in the south. We visited the Knesset and the Holocaust Museum as well as some of the key religious sites. In all, we met 23 Palestinian and Israeli NGO’s, politicians, students and local leaders, in addition to having many casual conversations with individual citizens.


Travelling in our own minibus with driver and guide was safe and efficient (and fun)

Overall the trip was exciting, illuminating and exhausting. Each trip participant will draw his/her own conclusions.

See 10 of my own observations here.

1. Contrary to our fears, safety was not an issue. In the weeks leading up to our departure, there had been an upwelling of violent incidents. A number of Israelis had been attacked by Palestinians in Jerusalem and in the West Bank in particular. Israel responded by a “shoot to kill” policy towards accused and potential attackers, which has resulted in many deaths, including youngsters of 14 – 18 years old

However, during the 2 weeks of travelling around in Israel/Palestine we never felt any danger at all. Our guides had our safety as their number 1 priority. The only inconvenience was that, as a precaution, we rescheduled one day of our trip to avoid a potential demonstration and Israeli military reprisals in the city of Hebron. Instead we had a pleasant day in Jericho and at the Dead Sea. Everywhere, Palestinians were welcoming and hospitable – ever grateful that outsiders came to look at their situation.

2. Israel is a success story on many levels. Flying over Tel Aviv on arrival in Israel, one gets a sense of how vibrant and how successful the Israeli project has been. Israel is a member of the United Nations and has diplomatic relations with 160 countries.


In 1948 Tel Aviv was a small Jewish village outside the Palestinian city of Jaffa. It is now a modern city like Toronto.

It boasts a dynamic high-tech industry, modern infrastructure (a lot more modern than Canada’s), and 12 Nobel Prize winners. It also has a fearsome military, equipped with fighter planes, missiles and nuclear bombs. Hebrew, once only spoken in synagogues, has been now revived as the national ”lingua franca” helping to bring together a new nation founded by Jews who have come to Israel from places as varied as Russia, the USA, Morocco and Iran.

3. However, Palestinians, whether they live in Jerusalem, inside Israel, or in the Occupied Territories are increasingly desperate. We could see evidence that Israeli society is expanding everywhere at their expense. And the expansion, whether undertaken by rogue groups of settlers, or the Israeli military (IDF) itself, can be shockingly brutal. The unarmed Palestinians, and their powerless and ineffective government, have little ability to defend themselves. Palestinians feel that Israel is unfairly given impunity by the international community which still lives in the memory of the Holocaust.

Every situation is different, but we detected a general pattern of Jewish encroachment and domination over the Palestinians.


In Sheikh Jarrah, a traditional Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, this family told us how messianic Jews, with guns and dogs, have taken over half of their house, leaving their family in one room

  • Palestinians living in Haifa although citizens of Israel, face a daily struggle with Israeli officialdom for decent education, better infrastructure, and against systemic discrimination.
  • Palestinian Bedouins, also citizens, showed us how military force is being used to drive them off their traditional lands.
  • Those living in the West Bank explained how Israel is using a variety of methods to annex about 75% of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and incorporate it into an ever expanding Israel.

4. Israel has created a “rights hierarchy’ for all those living in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, including Israel and the Occupied Territories. While the total population of the area is about equally split between Jews and non-Jews, only those who are citizens of Israel, where Jews form a large majority, are entitled to vote for the Israeli government – the only one that really counts. Each person must carry an ID card which instantly identifies them and defines their rights.

Israel’s “Rights Hierarchy”

rights hierarchy triangle

At the top of the pyramid are Israel’s Jewish nationals – citizens who have full rights similar to those enjoyed by Canadians. Next come Palestinian citizens of Israel. They are the”most equal”of Palestinians, but still suffer significant discrimination, high unemployment and a poor educational system. Importantly, they are legally excluded from living in hundreds of “Jewish” communities. At the bottom of the pile are the refugees, expelled in 1948, for whom Israel claims no responsibility and to whom it gives no rights at all. Source: BADIL

5. There is a wide spectrum of political opinion in Israel, but there does seem to be broad consensus on one point – Israel should keep the land and property taken from the Palestinians in 1948. “We won, they lost” appears to be a view shared by Israelis of both ‘right” and “left”.


The former mayor of Safed, here showing us a beautifully restored synagogue, admitted that “some things happened in the past of which we are not proud”. But that seemed to be the end of it as far as he was concerned.

The notion that Zionists should return any of the land, jewelry, goods, books, cattle or moneys taken from Palestinians in 1948 did not seem to occur to anyone. (Of course I assume all would agree that is justified for Jews to recover goods stolen from them by the Nazis only a few years before 1948.)

6. On the Palestinian side, there is unanimity on the “unfairness’ of what has happened to them, but a broad range of opinion on what to do about it. Older Palestinians show remarkable patience and gritty determination in the face of what appear to be hopeless odds. “Hang on” would seem to best determine their attitude. A shrinking number express any hope that the USA will ever force Israel to give equality to the Palestinians.

old woman olives

This old woman in the West Bank told us how her house was repeatedly attacked by settlers who want to force her and her sister out of the area. They live in constant fear.

Many younger Palestinians seem completely frustrated as no positive future is offered to them. They show little enthusiasm for the Palestinian Authority which many openly referred to as ‘stooges’ (or worse.) Some of them have taken to violent individual acts, attacking Israeli soldiers with knives knowing that in doing so they likely face death. While we met few Palestinians who support these actions, we met nobody who would condemn them either, saying that they stem from continued Israeli expansion and aggression. Other young Palestinians, especially those with some wealth, escape their frustration in an insouciant party scene.

The most coherent Palestinian strategy was articulated by Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian BDS movement. He argued that the BDS movement to boycott Israel is a peaceful and non-violent international measure aimed at forcing Israel to give Palestinians their democratic rights.

7. There seemed to be very little enthusiasm among either Palestinians or Israelis for a “2 State solution”. While the international community (including Canada) still officially supports a 2 state solution, we found almost no support on the ground for this idea. Indeed, given the extent of penetration of Israeli settlements into the West Bank, it is not clear whether a two state solution is still possible. And even if it were possible, at best it would appear to address only the concerns of the Palestinians living in the West Bank, but ignore the issues facing the Palestinians living in Jerusalem or inside Israel. And it does not even attempt to provide a solution for the 5 million Palestinian refugees living just outside Israel’s borders. It would seem that Canada, along with the international community, should begin to consider other options.

8. A huge “sleeper” issue that appears almost completely ignored by the international community is that of the 5 million Palestinian refugees. We stayed overnight in one of the 19 refugee camps located in the West Bank.  Our refugee host families could not have been more accommodating and hospitable.


Our refugee host explained that not only were their families expelled from Israel in 1948, but all their jewelry, books, bank accounts, furniture, animals and lands were confiscated without any compensation

Those refugees and their children (now numbering 5 million) are still demanding their right to return and compensation for destroyed or stolen property. The present value of goods stolen could amount to billions of dollars. Today, the refugees appear to be without a political voice, but this is an issue both Israel and the international community will have to deal with.

9. We also saw evidence that Israel has made determined efforts to erase the Palestinian collective memory. For example, the JNF has been complicit in using forestry to cover over the remains of many of the over 500 Palestinian villages that were destroyed following the expulsion of the Palestinians.

canada park entrance compressed

Ayalon Canada Park is built on top of 3 destroyed Palestinian villages with the aid of moneys raised by JNF Canada. The fund planted trees to obscure the remains of the destroyed villages.

In other spots we saw archeological digs used to destroy the evidence of the last 2 millennia of Arab/Palestinian habitation. Public buildings have been constructed on top of Muslim cemeteries, and mosques turned into bars and nightclubs.

10. Finally, many Palestinians and Israelis were aware that Mr. Harper was defeated in the most recent election. vt_justin_trudeau06jpg_jpg_size_xxlarge_promoThe Israelis were disappointed of course, and the Palestinians were elated and congratulated us over and over again. However, we warned them that they may have unrealistic expectations about what Mr. Trudeau can or will do. Many seemed surprised to know that Trudeau has many times declared his complete support for Israel (while criticizing specific Israeli policies).


  1. So appreciated reading your observations. No surprises at all. I am so glad you are continuing to educate those who travel with you and those who read your blog.

  2. Re: 2. Israel is a success story on many levels.
    We should never forget that that success is, in part, a result of massive foreign aid to Israel. US direct military aid exceed US$3 billion yearly. There is a great deal of other aid including massive private gifts. There is, for example, a large wall near Hebrew University of Jerusalem with the names of people who have given a minimum of US$1million to the institution. In contrast, anyone who thinks of supporting Al Quds University won’t get the tax benefits, might worry about being accused of supporting a terrorist organization, and must certainly worry that their gift will be destroyed by Israeli soldiers who frequently raid the campus and damage buildings while arresting students. Success is also attributable to the use of stolen resources. Water and land are taken from the Palestinians. There is also massive foreign investment in Israel and Israelis are able to study in the world’s top universities and learn while working in a wide variety of foreign research laboratories (including US military laboratories) What is called “Israeli success” would more accurately be called “the success of Israel and its foreign supporters”.

    1. It figures that’s a “Doctor” who specializes in “information hiding” according to his bio, would just love this report.

  3. Thanks Peter and we need more of this on the ground experiences and thoughtful analysis on all sides. Three quick comments: 1) with the right of return, and the higher fertility rate among Palestinians, the ‘Jewish nationals’ as you describe them are entirely fearful of a loss of any majority in a democratic state. 2) Bargouti is so smart and impressive and I tend to agree that the BDS call is the most comprehensive, non-violent and effective strategy. But with PM Trudeau on record saying it cant even be discussed on Canadian college campuses, how is your group now returned and other Canadians, advance BDS in the Canadian/global ‘actions speak louder than words’ policies. 3) Your human rights pyramid tells the tale. Can we now arrange for tours, groups, seminars conferences etc with Canadian Human Rights experts to come and see, then educate and act??

    1. i think Trudeau is under the misconception that BDS is somehow anti-semitic. Whey he (and others) others understand that the 3 demands of the BDS movement (1 end the occupation, 2 equality for all citizens of Israel and 3 right of return for the refugees) are already OFFICIAL CANADIAN POLICY, their opposition to it will look foolish.
      Good idea about organizing tours for Canadian Human Rights Experts..

  4. Welcome back, Peter. Good report. About #7 (as usual!): How much enthusiasm among “Palestinians or Israelis” did you find for a “democratic single state solution”? Also, a small point: I think we should get out of the habit of using Israeli to mean “Jewish Israeli.” For example, in “A number of Israelis had been attacked …” and in “‘We won, they lost’ appears to be a view shared by Israelis of both ‘right’ and ‘left,’” I assume you are talking about specifically Jewish Israelis.

    1. yes. terminology is difficult. I get tripped up myself. Even Palestinian Israelis often say ‘israelis’ when they mean ‘Jewish Israelis’. And of course when many Jewish Israelis say ‘Israelis’ they mean ‘Jewish Israelis’. ecch!!

  5. This trip was really excellent: wide range of speakers; well organized; intelligent and compatible group. I’m very grateful to have experienced the tour.

  6. when one starts reading this article, one gets the impression that the author is trying his best to objective and to simply state facts, until the author starts writing about Israel being a success story and describes the “Israeli project” whatever that means as a successful one. He defines success as having modern infrastructure, a formidable military and possessing nuclear bombs – nuclear bombs as a measure of success? For heavens sake, spare us. Is this how you define success? Yemen, Sumalia and Afghanistan are also members of the UN. I guess that makes them successful too according to the author’s definition.

    What about the unfathomable destruction that the “successful” Israeli project has done to the environment? The rendering of the Jordan River into little more than a dump of raw sewage, and the killing of the Dead Sea? Not to mention the mountain of garbage outside of Bengurion airport that had to be shut down, not for environmental reasons, but because it became so high it started to pose a hazard to flights in and out of the airport.

    And of course, not to mention the utter destruction of another people. Is this how success is measured? By the extent to which someone destroys everything and everyone around them?

    I think the author is trying so hard to appear ‘nutral’ that he lost perspective. I don’t think the author is neutral. I think the author is certainly biased – biased against injustice. So, might as well stop pretending.

    1. Hey Friend,
      Thanks for writing. A number of my Palestinian friends have had the same response to my report.

      I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian. I don’t have a “dog in this fight”. I try to approach this issue as a Canadian who believes in fairness, human rights and international law.

      How would a European react coming to Canada for the first time? Most would say that it is a very successful, modern country. But that does not change the fact that we built this great country on land stolen from aboriginal people, or that we dig up polluting tar sands, or, or..

      i don’t think it is helpful to ignore or deny some of the impressive things Israel has done. But neither do I think Israel should be allowed to ignore or deny that this was done at a terrible cost to the Palestinian people, and that it has a moral obligation to set things right.

      1. I see your point, but I think it is misleading to compare Israel with Canada. True early Europeans did great harm to indigenous peoples in Canada, but the modern Canada is taking steps to make amends. While far from perfect, steps are being made nonetheless and the first one was to acknowledge the harm done. Having done harm in Canada, however, does not justify the harm that Israel continues to do with impunity. This would be like comparing apples with oranges. There is also healthy debate in Canada concerning the environment and how to protect it rather than how to exploit every ounce of it. There is almost none of that in Israel. What I took issue with in your article was really how you defined success – in terms of economic and military might, in isolation of the many failures of Israel as a member of the international community. Success is not only defined in terms of economics and war machines.

  7. Thanks for taking the time to be ‘on the ground’ rather than armchair critics. That said, here’s some opposing food for thought:

    2. While the majority of Jews ‘returned’ to Palestine/Israel in the early 20C, the suggestion here is that ALL did. In fact, there has always been a Jewish presence in Palestine (Jews were the first Palestinians, under Roman occupation). Jews have always spoken Hebrew in Palestine and it was modernized in the early 1880s – hardly “now has been…”

    3. Yes, Palestinians are rightly frustrated. Perhaps if they elected non-corrupt peace-loving leadership they might actually achieve statehood. The ONLY reason Israel is in the West Bank (not Gaza, don’t forget) is because the PA can’t be trusted to rein in violence against Israel. They foment it actually. Think of the billions in aid that the PA and Hamas have used to line leaders’ pockets or buy rockets, build attack tunnels… they don’t give a damn about their own people, only about attacking Israel. The violence started LONG before a single settlement was built. Right or wrong, that’s not the main obstacle to peace. As well, many of the lands are “disputed” simply because Jordan illegally annexed them in 1948 and expelled the Jewish land owners. Let’s not forget that the PA rejected a peace deal from Israel that included East Jerusalem and land swaps. Their rejection of it should frustrate the Palestinian people more than anything. Again, they’ve been robbed of a chance for peace by their leadership.

    4. The fact that Israel welcomed back people who declared war on them in 1948 is more than can be said for most countries. After tensions settled somewhat, Arabs in Israel were given FULL citizenship rights in 1966. Any lingering discrimination is no different than Indians and Blacks in the USA – it’s an internal issue that gets better over time – unless Arab Israelis start stabbing Jewish citizens. The Arab Israelis I’ve met are very happy to be Israelis and reach the highest levels of professional life. Arabs in the territories are governed by the PA and Hamas and are not citizens of Israel, so what rights in Israel should they have? Even then, they get treated in Israeli hospitals and get good jobs in Israel (until BDS shuts down their employer – see Soda Stream). “Expelled” in 1948 is a questionable term. Many Arabs stayed so how could there be a policy of expulsion? As a matter of fact PM David ben Gurion told Golda Meir to seek out refugees and invite them back. They refused. As a consequence of a defensive war, what rights is Israel required to provide them? No other country in the world has ever been asked to do that after defending their right to exist.

    5. See above. That is the nature of war and particularly in self-defense. There is a big difference between citizens of Germany being stripped of their rights, their belongings and their lives simply for being Jewish vs. Arabs declaring war on the Jews and losing. I’m sorry for the moderates who were caught in the crossfire, but again, that’s the nature of war. Jews truly expelled from Arab lands were absorbed by Israel because Jews care about their own people. The “naqba” (tragedy) is that war started in the first place simply because a Jewish presence in Palestine was unacceptable to the Arabs. You reap what you sow.

    6. Yes, it is unfair. It’s really unfair that Palestinian leadership don’t give a damn about their own people. There are peaceful ways to achieve independence when you have leadership that believes in that. Think of Ghandi. It’s unfair that other Arab nations, particularly Egypt and Jordan have used the Palestinian territories as pawns in a political game. I have no sympathy, however, when citizens of Gaza elect Hamas to be their representatives and consequently get caught in the middle of a war that Hamas started. You reap what you sow.

    7. Any option that brings permanent peace is great, but Israel can’t be asked to commit national suicide. They have 70 years of experience to back up their fears. When the PA (maybe) and Hamas (not likely) stop fomenting hatred and violence, then perhaps they can be trusted partners in peace. BTW, the last peace deal from Israel included a land swap to make up for settlements. Abbas rejected that too. What does it take?

    8. This has never has happened in the history of mankind. Israel has not demanded to be compensated for property and goods of Jews expelled from East Jerusalem in 1948 or from expulsions out of Arab lands throughout the middle east. As a matter of fact, Jordan destroyed over 30 synagogues and ancient Jewish sites of historical significance in ’48. They even desecrated Jewish graveyards and used the tombstones as building material. Israel has every right to ask for compensation, but they don’t. Move on.

    9. Anyone intimately familiar with JNF, knows that there is no “hidden agenda” to cover up Palestinian history. They simply plant trees where there aren’t any (Israel is one of two countries in the world to have a net gain of trees). Abandoned land in need of trees is just that. Don’t know where you’re getting your info from – the Israel Antiquities Authority is known for respecting ALL archeological sites. The Muslim Waqf, who control the Al-Aqsa facilities were caught bulldozing sites around temple mount that contained Jewish historical finds. They refused to stop digging when it was pointed out, so let’s not point fingers on this one. Al Aqsa itself is built on Roman ruins on top of the Jewish Temple!

    10. Say what you want about Mr. Harper, but when representatives at international forums started in with age-old anti-semitic diatribes and biased criticisms of Israel far and beyond anything leveled at another country (including human rights abusers N. Korea, China etc) he had the guts to call a spade a spade. Criticize Israel’s policies? Fine. But keep it fair in comparison to other countries under the same circumstances. If you can’t show you’re being even-handed, then by extension, that’s anti-semitic. People need to stop talking about Jews vs. Israel vs. Zionism like they have any clue how those things are related.

    Again, thanks for your efforts to dig deeper, but not everything is what it seems, especially if you don’t have more background to judge with. I hope this helps open minds to another point of view.

    1. hey Mr. Steinberg,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and substantive response – including a rebuttal of many of my points. You won’t be surprised to know that I do disagree with many of the points you raise. In some areas, however, I think you may have misinterpreted what I said, or perhaps I didn’t say it clearly.

      I certainly agree that Jews have lived in Palestine for a very long time – likely back 3000 years, maybe more. They have lived their continuously even during the Roman occupation, under the Byzantine empire, during Crusader times, under the Ottomans and right up to the present time.

      i do not believe, however, that they spoke Hebrew. Most of them spoke Arabic (as did most Jews across North Africa). I also understand that some of them, mostly Sephardic jews expelled from Spain and Portugal, spoke some kind of latin based language.

      According to Wikipedia, the revival of Hebrew as a profane language (as opposed to a sacred language) began with the Zionist project in Palestine, around the end of the 19th century.

      I don’t have time or space to discuss many of the other points you raise. Do you live in Ottawa? It would be interesting to have a public discussion of some of these points. I could learn something… and perhaps you might too. Best.

      1. It’s a pleasure to have a reasoned discourse rather than the hate-fest found on many comments sections online. No, I’m not in Ottawa but I appreciate the offer. Although I’m not a language scholar, my understanding is that Hebrew-like Aramaic was the most common language in ancient Israel, and much much later Arabic became common. Jews have always recited some prayers in Aramaic during Passover. Early Jewish immigrants to Palestine came from Arabic countries so they blended well with local Arabs and Arabic/Hebrew speaking native Jews, later immigrants did not blend well. Sephardic Jews spoke local languages of Spain and North Africa (Spanish, Arabic etc) but also spoke Hebrew and variant languages like Ladino which is half Spanish, half Hebrew (much like Yiddish is half German). Morrocan Jews speak mostly French, then Hebrew and then Arabic. I know Jews from all over the world, so this is not conjecture. My visits to comments pages shows me that there is great ignorance about the Jewish People, Zionism and anti-semitism. Thank you for being open to dialogue.

  8. also of interest (I hope): Modern Hebrew was developed by Eliezer ben Yehuda in 1881. Hebrew was spoken already, but it was limited in its vocabulary for modern times. An example is having a word for “bottle” rather than just “vessel”.

  9. Thank you for a very good report. I would like to add to your point #2 ‘ Israel is a success story on many levels’. I agree that Israel has had many successes–on the technical level and building of infrastructure inside Israel. However, I see the key success of a country to be how it treats its own citizens. In this case–how is Israel treating the Palestinians, including the Bedouin, living within its borders as well the Palestinians it has militarily occupied in the occupied territories, including occupied East Jerusalem since 1967.

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