Gaza crisis demands action

Gaza crisis demands action "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist; "And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist; "And then they came f

Gaza crisis demands action

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

“And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

“And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

“And then … they came for me … And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

Many know this poem, written by German Pastor Martin Niemöller in the wake of Nazi atrocities. A few years ago, an elderly Jewish woman leading our tour of the Holocaust Museum in Montreal recited this poem at the end of our visit.

I remember thinking how well the poem applied to the tragedy of modern-day Palestinians. But I didn’t have the nerve to ask this sweet, compassionate Jewish lady what she thought of that. It seemed rude to bring it up in the face of the Jewish Holocaust story.

But amid the horrors emerging from the Gaza strip since Christmas, I feel compelled to reconsider Niemöller’s lament.

At time of writing, the Palestinian death toll in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza has surpassed 1,300 (including at least 400 children). Israeli army targets have included a UN school full of Gazan civilians; UN relief workers delivering aid to starving Palestinian civilians; and a building full of civilians instructed by the Israeli army to take shelter there.

I have waited for Canada’s leaders to say something about Israel’s war crimes—crimes acknowledged by the UN and, from what I can tell, most of the world—but I have waited in vain.

Canadian political leaders have not only remained silent about Israel’s violations of international law, but have blamed the Palestinian deaths on the “terrorist” group, Hamas.

The rhetoric about Hamas disguises the fact this group was elected in the most democratic elections seen in the Middle East in years, and that each Israeli death caused by a Hamas-launched Qassam rocket since 2001 has been matched (if not preceded) by a 10-fold higher death toll amongst the Palestinian population. (The ratio of deaths in this latest conflict is nearing 100 to 1).

Yes, Hamas’ Qassam rockets are aimed at civilian areas—but they almost never kill anyone because they are cheap, inaccurate weapons. The same cannot be said of the F-18 fighter jets, helicopter gunships, and Merkava tanks used by Israel—all subsidized by the USbillion in aid America gives Israel every year.

Given the silence of our leaders on the atrocities in Gaza, it falls to the rest of us to make our opposition known. For weeks, I have been utterly despondent about the perennial question, “What can I do?” But last weekend, I saw a glimmer of hope in a larger movement that is gaining momentum in the wake of the bloodbath.

A coalition of Palestinian groups has been organizing a boycott of Israeli exports since 2005. The campaign, modelled on the global movement that helped put an end to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, is known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—BDS for short.

Naomi Klein (author of The Shock Doctrine and No Logo) has written about why everyone should participate in the BDS campaign on The Nation (www.thenation.com) and her website (www.naomiklein.org).

The next obvious question becomes … what is there to boycott in the Yukon? After a little internet research, I was surprised to find out we Yukoners have ample opportunity to show our opposition to the violence Israel is heaping on Gaza.

Here’s what my research turned up:

Starbucks Coffee. The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, regularly supports Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians, and his company has sponsored fundraising campaigns for Israeli Defence Forces personnel.

The majority shareholders of Coles Bookstore and Indigo.ca. Coles, Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, founded the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, a support organization for Israeli Defence Forces personnel who don’t have family in Israel.

L’Oreal, the French cosmetics giant, has made substantial investments in Israel since the 1990s, including the operation of a factory in the Israeli settlement of Migdal Ha’emek, founded in 1952 on lands belonging to the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of al-Mujaydil. (Palestinian citizens of Israel are forbidden from buying, renting, or living in the town because they are “non-Jews.”) Incidentally, The Body Shop was bought out by L’Oreal in 2006.

Any product whose barcode starts with 729. The digits “729” at the beginning of a barcode indicates the product comes from Israel—for example, the barcode on a box of Naot shoes.

With economic hard times upon us, it’s hard to boycott local businesses. (I know about the barcode on the Naot shoe box because I bought a pair a couple of years ago from a really good, local shoe store on Main Street.) I’m not suggesting trying to put any of these companies out of business—but a message must be conveyed.

As a consumer, tell merchants why you are not buying Israeli products. If you work for a store that supports Israel, show this letter to your manager. If you operate a business listed above, or sell Israeli products, copy this letter to your head office and tell them if you are losing sales.

If you’re still unsure about whether or not it’s time to support a boycott of Israel, consider what Klein reports at the end of her article on that very question:

“Several days into Israel’s Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, the managing director of a British telecom specializing in voice-over-internet services, sent an e-mail to the Israel tech firm MobileMax. ‘As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company.’ Ramsey says that his decision wasn’t political; he just didn’t want to lose customers. ‘We can’t afford to lose any of our clients,’ he explains, ‘so it was purely commercially defensive.’”

Ramsey’s reasoning would hardly satisfy Pastor Niemöller—but his company’s refusal to do business with Israel does recognize something else Niemöller had in mind: the power of public opinion.

“In the Middle East, they came first for the Palestinians…”

How long before the rest of us learn it’s time to speak up?

Anne Chilibeck

Haines Junction