Canada began providing financial (and military) help to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Harper government. Human Rights Watch claims that those PA security forces are implicated in widespread arbitrary arrest and torture. Many human rights activists in the West Bank say the PA is more active in defending Israel than the rights of Palestinians. Read more.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed a shockingly widespread use of arbitrary arrest and torture by the police forces in both the West Bank and Gaza, including those of the Palestinian Authority which get considerable aid and training from Canada.
On Tuesday, October 23, CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonte interviewed Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director for HRW about his shocking findings. (A podcast of the 7 minute CBC interview can be heard here starting at 28:30 min mark. )
The report is the result of a two-year investigation by Human Rights Watch into patterns of arrest and detention conditions. It draws on 86 cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which show that Palestinian authorities routinely arrest and torture people including those whose peaceful speech displeases them.
Canada has been involved in training Palestinian security forces in the West Bank since the early 2000’s, along with US and British troops and police at the US-built International Police Training Center in Jordan.
Canada’s involvement includes Canadian Military and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency, according to Canadian journalist Yves Engler.
Operating under an official military name, (“Operation Proteus”,) Canadian Forces, under US military leadership, provide training and logistical support to the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.
In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Peter Kent, then minister of state for foreign affairs in the Harper government, said Operation Proteus was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it received “most of the money” from a five-year, $300 million Canadian aid program to the PA.
It is no secret that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are deeply unpopular in the West Bank. Many Palestinian human rights advocates say that the PA forces routinely suppress any form of protest against the PA or against Israeli actions, often claiming the protesters are inspired by Hamas.
Earlier this year, for example, PA forces were photographed violently attacking Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank city of Ramallah who were demanding that the PA show support for protesters in Gaza who were being shot and tear gassed by Israeli troops.
The Human Rights Watch report concluded that “The Palestinian Authority engages in close security coordination with Israel. We found a number of cases of Palestinians detained by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, often based on similar sets of allegations.”
Mr. Netanyahu recently told a major Jewish gathering, “if it weren’t for Israeli troops stationed (in the West Bank) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “overrun in two minutes“. Netanyahu’s comments seem to confirm the allegations by HRW and by human rights activists in the West Bank.
How much do Canadian officials know?
Canadian military officers serving in Afghanistan were sharply criticized in 2009 when it came to light that they were complicit in the torture of Afghan prisoners. At first, they denied any knowledge of the abuses, but eventually admitted their complicity.
If the abuses in the West Bank are as widespread as the Human Rights Watch report seems to imply, it is hard to believe that Canadians involved in training the security services of the Palestinian Authority do not know about it.
Canada can do better
According to the Global Affairs website: “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip).” However, based on where our money goes, Canada’s priority on the ground seems to be to reinforce a security apparatus which frequently acts to suppress political resistance – even peaceful resistance – to the Israeli occupation which our official website says Canada opposes.
“We want the Palestinian authorities to stop arresting and torturing critics. We also urge the United States and European countries (…) to suspend assistance for forces implicated in widespread arbitrary arrest and torture until these abuses stop and those responsible are held to account,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director.
Given the revelations of HRW, Canadian authorities should take a closer look at the impact of our own “aid” to Palestinians in the West Bank. (Canada does not give any aid to Hamas, of course, for security or anything else.)
Instead of directing our funds overwhelmingly to support what appears to be a repressive security apparatus in the West Bank, Canada should perhaps consider giving aid and training to some of the many small and struggling Palestinian human rights organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We encourage brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.