The Canadian government is sending $25 million of taxpayers’ money to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is uniquely dedicated to supporting Palestine refugees. But does Canada’s financial aid advance the cause of peace or impede it?
Some observers say that UNRWA actively supports Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the genocide of Jews. Hamas controls Gaza, from which it launches rocket and tunnel attacks on Israel.
“I’m horrified,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent, who said there is ample proof that “massive amounts” of UN aid have been redirected to support Palestinian military efforts against Israel. “We have abundant evidence that UNRWA is part of the problem.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that “UNRWA is an obstacle to achieving peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Canadian official policy states that “Canada is committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The goal of Canadian aid to Gaza and the West Bank is to “support the establishment of a law-based, peaceful and prosperous society.”
Champions of Palestine argue that Palestinians are victims of Israeli imperialism and colonialism, theft of Palestinian land, ethnic cleansing and genocide, apartheid and white supremacy. Jewish Israelis are thus alleged to be oppressors of Palestinians and the Palestinians are victims of Israeli oppression.
It follows, goes the argument, that the 100 years of Palestinian mob violence and terrorism against the Jews in Palestine and Israel, the repeated invasions by Arab armies, the Palestinian and Arab refusal to engage with Israel or to ‘normalize’ relations, the Palestinian rejection of all peace plans offered, and the continuing incitement to violence by the Palestinian Authority, are justified by the demand for Palestinian liberation from oppression.
However poorly this argument fits with the facts, many Canadians seem to believe it.
The demand for ‘liberation’ from ‘oppression’ is, however, not the same as a desire for peace. In fact, the Palestinians have multiple reasons for not wanting peace with Israel, all reinforcing the determination to reject peace.
The first is the despised status of Jews in the view of Islam. Jews are viewed in the foundational texts of Islam as, at best, stubborn rejecters of the true faith, and, at worse, enemies of Islam. The idea that Jews could be politically independent and run their own state and society is monstrous to Islam and to many Muslims, and a violation of God’s order. The Palestinian Hamas Charter openly calls for the elimination not only of Israel but of all Jews everywhere.
The second reason is that for 1,400 years, Palestine was occupied by invading Islamic forces, first the Arabs as they expanded their empire from Europe to India, then the Ottoman Turks. Under Islamic law, lands governed by Muslims became Islamic foundations, which belong to Muslims in perpetuity. The establishment of a Jewish state on land long controlled by Muslims is thought by Muslims to be theft from God. Making peace with Jewish Israel would mean that the Palestinians would be surrendering Islamic territory to Jews, and by doing so betraying Islam and God.
The third reason is that peace will not restore the honour they lost when they and the Arab armies were defeated by the Jews. In Arab culture, all men are warriors and honour goes to those who have achieved victory. Those who have lost in conflict have lost their honour. Palestinians can’t make peace with Israel because to do so would be to accept defeat and the loss of honour. Nothing but the Palestinian defeat of Israel, and victory over the Jews, would restore Palestinian honour.
If Palestinians aren’t interested in peace, how could they be persuaded that peace is desirable?
I’d propose the basic economic principle: if you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, punish it.
Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas understands this principle well; he wants more Jews murdered, so he rewards the murderers and their families.
Apparently Canadians, American and Europeans also want more Jews murdered, because they coddle and fund the Palestinian Authority. So too with international organizations, such as the United Nations, which repeatedly reward the Palestinian Authority’s bad behaviour by granting it recognition.
The repeated rejection by the Palestinians of peace offers – from the United Nations proposed division of Palestine into two states for two peoples, to the many offers of “land for peace” – has not led to any punishment of the Palestinians. Apparently, Palestinians get a free pass because they’re self-proclaimed “victims.”
But this means that Canadians and others are happy to accept the Palestinians’ incitement to violence and rejection of peace.
Israel is ready for peace and has been for 70 years. It’s a highly successful society, democratic with full human rights, renown for scientific mastery and technological innovation. It has no desire or need to enter into conflict with Palestinians or more distant neighbours, other than for self-defence. Until now, it has had no peace partner among the Palestinians.
Of course, not all Palestinians agree with the policies and objectives of Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.
Bassem Eid, founder of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, identifies himself as “a proud Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp and raised a large family.” He argues that “After 66 years of mistakes and missed opportunities, it is time for us Palestinians to create the conditions for peace and to work for a better future. It is time that we stopped pretending that we can destroy Israel or drive the Jews into the sea. It is time that we stopped listening to Muslim radicals or Arab regimes that use us to continue a pointless, destructive, and immoral war with Israel.
“I want peace and prosperity for my people. I want an end to the misery and the destruction.”
If Canadians, Americans and Europeans want to bring about peace and a better future for Palestinians, they must hold Palestinian governments and organizations accountable for their anti-peace actions.
But Canadians and others are enabling Palestinian violence and rejection of peace. Canadian aid supports Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism.
If we don’t change our policies, defund the Palestinians and reject international recognition for the Palestinians, we can expect no movement toward peace, and no improvement in the lives of Palestinians or Israelis.
Philip Carl Salzman is a professor of anthropology at McGill University. He founded the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, and its international journal, Nomadic Peoples. His latest book is Classic Comparative Anthropology: Studies from the Tradition (2012). He is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a member of the Academic Council of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Studies, a fellow of the Middle East Forum and a member of the board of directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.