The following letter was written by a group of gravely concerned students of the Faculty of Law at McGill University while the violence being committed against Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli military continued unabated.
We write this letter on behalf of ourselves and others in the legal community in Canada who wish to express concern and disgust regarding the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Palestinian people. We write this letter in recognition that while the legal community in Canada is diverse, it can unite over common cause and exert influence.
We write this letter in recognition that this is a time to ground abstract legal principles in reality. We write this letter in recognition that there can be no meaningful peace without justice. It follows that a commitment to achieving justice is a commitment to achieving justice everywhere. We emphasize that a sense of justice is informed by a sense of shared humanity.
We believe that the legal community in Canada must take a united stance, and echo these statements loud and clear. Lawyers and legal experts across the world have noted that Israel has failed to demonstrate that the overwhelming use of force is connected to reducing risks of Israel being attacked by Hamas. Richard Falk, an international law professor emeritus at Princeton University and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has stated that, “you can’t pursue these military objectives by these means in a way that is compatible with international humanitarian law.” He continued, “[t]he whole mission is one that is legally flawed. The civilian character of Gaza is so overwhelmingly a part of this reality.”
Many of our institutions, including McGill, hold partnerships with Israeli institutions that are directly complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian people.
While both Hamas and Israel have been accused of war crimes, false equivalences must be avoided. “Israel’s crimes are so powerfully overwhelming, and the disparity in the casualties seems to be a pretty good indicator of the disparity of accountability,” said Falk. “And not only the numbers of killed, wounded, and traumatized but also the nature of who’s dying. 55 of the 58 Israelis killed have been military personnel. You have not only a quantitative disparity but also a qualitative disparity.”
John Dugard, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories and an international law professor emeritus at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said in an interview, “[G]iven the fact that Gaza is an occupied territory, it means that Israel’s present assault is simply a way of enforcing the continuation of the occupation [...] the response of the Palestinian militants should be seen as the response of an occupied people that wishes to resist the occupation.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leaders of other major Canadian political parties, and certain Canadian politicians continue to express their unyielding support for Israel. Harper has done what is in his power to deny the Palestinians their right to self-determination, demonstrating a complete disrespect for international law.
Moreover, many of our institutions, including McGill, hold partnerships with Israeli institutions that are directly complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian people. A committment to human rights means that they must be held accountable when their actions do not accord with their stated objectives. We strongly oppose this institutional complicity, and demand that our institutions take responsibility for their actions.
The Faculty of Law at McGill has had a partnership with the Hebrew University for a yearly summer program, one among several ongoing collaborations between McGill and an institution directly implicated in Israeli violence.
The rejection of a logic that justifies mass civilian deaths and destruction does not require a legal background. Gaza is largely comprised of displaced Palestinians from surrounding areas that have been subsumed under what is now Israel. In fact, 80 per cent of Gaza’s population are refugees. A belief in rights for refugees should translate into a belief in the rights of Palestinians to basic necessities, such as food, clean water, healthcare, and education. The realization of these rights cannot happen as long as Gaza is under siege and as long as Israel continues to oppress and control the Palestinian people.
Attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by Israel are routine, amounting to the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. Gaza’s civilians are trapped in the Gaza Strip, which is often termed an open-air prison. Even if they tried to flee they have nowhere to seek refuge. According to a World Health Organization report published in 2012, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020 – the recent violence has only accelerated this process.
As one example, Israel’s Hebrew University recently published a notice announcing a collection of goods to be sent to Israel Defence Force soldiers in support of their efforts in the bombardment of Gaza. This notice was signed by the university, its academic staff committee, and its official student union. Yet, the Faculty of Law at McGill has had a partnership with the Hebrew University for a yearly summer program, one among several ongoing collaborations between McGill and an institution directly implicated in Israeli violence. These are facts upon which many Canadian law schools pride themselves.
To stand in solidarity with Palestinians does not amount to an attack on Israel, or its citizens. It amounts to a recognition that Palestinians are no less deserving of basic necessities, dignity, and peace than their neighbours. It is a recognition of their humanity.
We, the undersigned, condemn the senseless killing of innocent civilians, including children. We condemn the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, healthcare centres, mosques, schools, and Gaza’s only power plant. We condemn Israel’s prolonged illegal occupation of Palestine. We wish to reiterate the International Court of Justice finding that the West Bank is illegally occupied, meaning that Israel is acting contrary to international law when it enters the West Bank and builds illegal settlements.
If justice is truly blind, we contend that a sincere belief in equal rights for all must translate to a desire for Palestinians to live a life of peace and dignity. To stand in solidarity with Palestinians does not amount to an attack on Israel, or its citizens. It amounts to a recognition that Palestinians are no less deserving of basic necessities, dignity, and peace than their neighbours. It is a recognition of their humanity.
Dr. Mohsen al Attar, Senior Lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast and Visiting Professor, McGill University
Daud Ali, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School
F.S.E. Arps, New College, Oxford
Association des Juristes Progressistes (AJP), Montréal
Me Ataogul, Association des Juristes Progressistes
Me Mylène Barrière, lawyer
Lillian Boctor, law student, McGill University
Canadian Association of Muslim Women Lawyers
Kuzi Charamba, McGill University
Louis Chartrand, ASSÉ Legal Committee
Anjali Choksi, lawyer and teacher in the Humanities Department, Dawson College
Alyssa Clutterbuck, law student, McGill University
Marvin Coleby, law student, McGill University
Amanda Ghahremani, law student, McGill University
Rick Goldman, lawyer and McGill University graduate
Miatta Gorvie, McGill University Faculty of Law Graduate
Delaney Greig, law student, McGill University
Renz Grospe, law student, McGill University
Me Alexandra Hobson, lawyer
Mika Imai, student-at-law
Humera Jabir, law student, McGill University
Isabelle Jacovella Rémillard, law student, McGill University
Olivier Jarda, law student, McGill University
Talia Joundi, law student, McGill University
Sharifa Khan, JD, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University; MA, University of Toronto
Jessica Leblanc, law student, UQAM
Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, law student, McGill University
Sarah Munsch, law student, McGill University
David Nisker, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School
Danny Nguyen, student, École du Barreau du Québec
Aishah Nofal, law student, McGill University
Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste, McGill University, Law clerk at Quebec Court of Appeal
Michelle Owusu, law student, Osgoode Hall Law School
Kevin Paul, law student, McGill University
Mark Phillips, law student, McGill University
Amna Qureshi, lawyer
Nour Rashid, law student, McGill University
Pierrick Rouat, law student, McGill University
Susan J. Sokol, Esq.
Cee Strauss, law student, McGill University
Shaheynoor Talukder, lawyer, Talukder Chen LLP
Garrett Zehr, law student, McGill University
This is an edited version of an open letter. For the full version, please visit http://justicepalestine.