CTIP appeals to Canada’s faith leaders to issue a call for truth and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine on Nakba Day

Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas in Manitoba is one of many Canadian Church leaders who has made laudable efforts to get Canadians to recognize the pain and suffering imposed on indigenous Canadians as a result of our colonial past.  It is time for the Catholic Church and other Canadian Churches to begin to address Canada’s role with respect to another injustice – one which continues to cause pain and suffering for millions of Palestinians. Read more…

Appeal to Canadian faith leaders – Bishops, Priests, Ministers, Imams and Rabbis

As news of the loss of life in Israel/Palestine increases, I am writing to encourage faith leaders of all denominations in Canada, to use the occasion of Nakba Day, May 15th, to address the root causes of anger and frustration in Israel/Palestine and reflect on Canada’s role in it.

In 1947, Canada joined other western countries in supporting the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine without due regard for the consequences for those already living there. And we later stood by as hundreds of thousands of simple farmers were driven out because they were not Jewish. Palestinians call it the “Nakba” – the “disaster”. This Saturday May 15th is “Nakba Day”. Whether their religious service is on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, this weekend would be an appropriate moment for faith leaders to begin a thoughtful discussion with their parishioners on Canada’s role in this tragedy and what could be done about it.

Many Canadians look to their church or religious leaders for moral guidance and comfort. It demands thoughtful consideration of issues and perspectives in light of the principles that animate their faith. It often also requires courage and determination.

The slow and difficult path through which Canadian churches came to eventually embrace “Truth and Reconciliation” with our indigenous peoples is a good example. Thanks to the courageous efforts of determined and principled faith leaders, many Canadians have come to accept the unpleasant truth of what European colonists did to indigenous peoples.

The Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians along with the Association of Palestinian students is organizing a demonstration in Ottawa at the Human Rights Memorial on Nakba Day, Saturday May 15th.

As tensions flare once again in Jerusalem, Gaza and elsewhere in Israel/Palestine, it is time for those whose calling and responsibility is to provide moral guidance to Canadians, to reflect on that issue as well.

It is not enough to call for a reduction in violence. While that is good, it doesn’t address the underlying causes. Canadian faith leaders could play an important role by inviting their own parishioners to start a serious reflection on where justice and compassion lie in this issue.

Embracing and acknowledging Canada’s role in creating the situation in Israel/Palestine will require courage and determination. Canada supported the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine in 1947 without regard for the potential consequences for its non Jewish indigenous inhabitants, who were subsequently driven out.

At its root, this is not a war between Israel and Hamas. Those Hamas rockets are a sign of defiance, impotence and decades- long frustration.

Let us not be distracted by the different forms that resistance takes. Let us focus instead on the oppression that is the cause of the resistance.

The underlying issue is that Palestinians (including Christian Palestinians) were driven out of their homes in 1947/48, with the support of Western nations, including Canada. Since then millions of Palestinians have been made refugees, others live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and nearly two million more live inside Israel as citizens with only partial rights. There will never be peace until these issues are addressed.

The Nakba continues

The 73 year history of oppression and expulsion continues today, as Palestinians in Jerusalem (both Muslim and Christian) are ground down by the ongoing Israeli policy of the “Judaization of Jerusalem”, whose objective is to turn that historically multi-cultural and multi-religious city into a Jewish one and to transform a predominantly Muslim and Christian country into a Jewish State.

The most recent flashpoint was ignited last week as Israeli settlers backed by the Israeli police and military, moved to expropriate and expel Palestinians from neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem where they have lived in for generations. When Palestinians demonstrated in opposition, including at their Mosque, they were violently attacked by Israeli police.

It is understandable that church leaders are hesitant to expose themselves or their organizations to accusations of anti-Semitism. No one likes being accused of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is ugly and deserves to be resolutely combated. But it is unfair and totally unjustified to accuse of anti-Semitism those who are honestly pursuing freedom, equality and justice for everyone.

On Nakba Day, Canada Talks Israel Palestine calls on faith leaders in Canada to begin a conversation about truth and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.


  1. Peter, I appreciate much of your work but your comments about Canadian churches are missing a lot. The churches have done a huge, huge amount, for a long, long time on this issue. One early work is the 1971 book by the Mennonite, Frank H Epp, “Whose Land is Palestine?” and his two books on “The Palestinians: A Portrait of a People in Conflict” and its partner book on the Israelis. Likewise, one by Al Forest of the United Church. There are groups in the Mennonite church, United Church, Anglican, and the ecumenical organization, Kairos, that continue to be very active! Catholics are active too. – Bill Janzen, formerly with Mennonite Central Committee

  2. Peter, much as I appreciate your work, on this piece you are off-base. Canadian churches have done a huge amount for a long, long time on this issue. MCC has had programs with the Palestinians since 1949 and other Canadian churches have done a lot by supporting the Middle East Council of Churches. In 1971, my friend, Frank Epp, a foremost Canadian Mennonite, wrote the classic “Whose Land Is Palestine?” in 1971 and two other books. Al Forest, editor of the United Church Observer, wrote a book, “The Unholy Land.” Groups within various churches, notably Mennonite, United, Anglican continue to be very active, as is Kairos, the leading Canadian ecumenical organization. Catholics are active too. My book, “Advocating for Peace” has a section on the work I did when I was with MCC. Canadian churches have done a lot.


    1. Hey Bill, Thanks for your useful and helpful input.

      You are absolutely right that many dedicated church leaders, including people like Al Forest and Frank Epp (and yourself) have courageously defended Palestinian human rights for many years. They (and you) are an inspiration.

      I am also aware of other Christian organizations doing excellent educational work today – including UNJPPI, Kairos, Canadian Friends of Sabeel, Christian Peacemaker Teams, CNEWA. The United Church as a whole has also worked hard on this issue. I am indebted to the Mennonite Central Committee whose staff in Amman gave me an eye opening visit to Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.

      However, as you know we need MORE PEOPLE talking MORE OFTEN often and MORE LOUDLY about this painful story. It seemed to me that in the context of the current violence, and especially falling on Nakba day, it was an ideal time to challenge more Canadian church leaders to speak out. I also call on Muslim and Jewish leaders to do so as well.

  3. Larson and parnas,

    I asked several Canadian Jewish leaders why there was no concerted effort to deal with the antisemitism of your two organizations. They replied that you both were jokes not worth the bother.

    1. Thank you Mr. Sigman,
      Anti-Semites are not a joke and no serious person would dismiss them as such. Are you a serious person, Mr. Sigman? If so, please engage with the topic at hand.

    2. Well if you can’t say anything intelligent you might as well deflect.

  4. Rabbi Hannah at Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver offered a reflection this week which stated in part:

    “Young Palestinians have become desperate. Their narrative is not irrelevant and it is not dead. And with violence flashing and flaring, I cannot help but wonder what further encouragement we need to acknowledge Palestinian despair. Are we not willing to honor their holy days and holy sites? Is it not imperative that we uplift the quality of Palestinian lives and insist on their equities? If we don’t turn the corner of humanizing the Other, we stand to lose everything. We lose Israel as a safe haven for anyone. We lose our claim to be a “light” to any nations; we lose our stance within the nobility of Jewish ethics.”

  5. Supposedly civilized society should be careful not to self-righteously look down its nose to condemn the evil acts of one racial/ethnic/religious/cultural group or another.
    We in ‘civilized’ society should be careful about feeling smugly self-righteous as we look down our figurative noses to condemn the evil acts of one racial/ethnic/religious/cultural group or another. I once heard a philosophy professor say (in a television documentary) that all of us should avoid believing that we, as human beings, are not inherently predisposed to committing an atrocious act. Contrary to what is claimed or felt by many of us, he said, deep down there’s a tyrant in each of us that, under the right circumstances, can be unleashed.

    Though some identifiable groups have been severely victimized throughout history a disproportionately large number of times, the victims of one place and time can/do become the victimizers of another. I’m not one who holds much faith in the Bible, but I still give credence to the claim within (a verse somewhere stating) that base human nature is indeed “desperately wicked”. And maybe even more so when convinced ‘God is on our side’.

  6. For suggested reading and reflection on Nakba Day, there is an essay published today (May 14) on-line in Jewish Currents that touches on some of the dilemmas of the “Truth and Reconciliation” framing, suggesting instead the decolonization framing: https://jewishcurrents.org/the-nakba-demands-justice/
    Somewhat parallel to this is a remarkable essay on the right of return by Peter Beinart that also appeared in Jewish Currents a few days ago: https://jewishcurrents.org/teshuvah-a-jewish-case-for-palestinian-refugee-return/

  7. Unfortunately, when it comes to this conflict, peace and justice are in direct contradiction

    The Palestinian refugees in Gaza suffered grave injustice during the 1948 Nakba, but many years later when Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005 they had the opportunity to opt for peace and live side by side with Israel.

    And yet, they prioritized their desire for justice over the mutual interest of peace

    This latest escalation is simply because Hamas believes that by shooting missiles on Tel Aviv, Israel will crumble, Jews would flee to their next diaspora and the Palestinian refugees would go back to the fields and homes they left behind, 73 years ago.

    Hamas should stop dwelling in the injustices of the past and start working towards a better future for Palestinian and Israelis in two states living side by side

    1. Hey Ahik,
      I am not in the head of the Hamas leaders, but I would doubt that many of them think their weak and imprecise rockets will make Israel crumble. Lots of Israelis will be scared, of course, but I am sure Israels’ military knows just how limited the effect of those rockets are – even if Iron Dome didn’t exist.

      I have been on the “receiving end” of some Hamas rockets in 2014 near Sderot. They were about as “big” as a hand grenade. If they had landed on my car, no doubt I would have been killed. I admit that I was scared. Three or four of them landed more than 50 metres from me, in an open field incidentally, and nothing was damaged at all.

      I think it is more plausible that Hamas felt that SOMEBODY had to react to the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, the police brutality at the Al Aqsa mosque and they felt this was their time. Israel keeps on its ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and NOBODY (certainly not Canada) says a word or does anything.

      In any event by doing what they did, they have become immensely popular across the Palestinian political spectrum because, unlike the PA, they do resist.

      I don’t know if they have a strategy. But it is a cry of frustration and desperation.

      Frankly, I think Israel has only itself to blame.

    2. Ahik,

      We should not equate “peace” to “capture and surrender”. Israel did not withdraw from Gaza; it retained control of Gaza’s borders and imprisoned those who were left inside. Many of those who were trapped in Gaza had never voluntarily lived there. They were forbidden to return to their homes and forced to live in an overcrowded territory with other prisoners.

      Those who have been unjustly imprisoned (anywhere in the world) are never at peace. We are “at peace” only when we are free of anxiety and distress. Israel never offered that to the people trapped in Gaza.

      A plea for “two states living side by side” would be meaningful only if there were a definition of “state” that both parties, and the rest of the world, would accept. A prison is not a state.

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