May 10, 2001
Stockwell Day is in trouble with his caucus again, this time over his stand on Middle East violence. In a speech to the Canadian Jewish Congress last weekend, he laid the blame for the violence squarely at the feet of Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials.
He said that recent mortar attacks against Jewish communities could not have taken place without the knowledge or tacit approval of the Palestinian police and their superiors. "We know that paramilitary organizations, including the Hezbollah, Hamas and Arafat's own militia, the Tanzim, continue to train and participate in the attacks," Mr. Day said.
Despite that fact, he went on, many people outside of the Middle East have the impression that Israel is the aggressor because they see television pictures of Israelis with tanks and guns firing at Palestinians armed with stones and slingshots. "Is that a truthful portrayal of what is going on?" he said. "There is a moral difference between an accidental injury or the death of bystanders who are tragically caught in a crossfire of violence . . . and the deliberate murder of innocent people in a premeditated act of terrorism, and those differences should be portrayed."
Arab and Muslim groups are calling that assertion outrageous. So are some of Mr. Day's own MPs, who accuse him of breaking the Canadian Alliance's policy of evenhandedness on Middle East issues. In the eyes of his critics, this is just one more in the long string of Stockwellian gaffes.
Well, as someone once said, in politics a gaffe is when you tell the truth. That is just what Mr. Day has courageously done.
Seven months into this most recent Palestinian uprising, known as the intifada, there is no longer any doubt that Mr. Arafat and other leading Palestinian authorities are supporting the campaign of violence. Indeed, he boasts about it, calling the intifada the Palestinians' only weapon against Israeli oppression. Despite his signed pledge before the world to abandon violence as a means of solving the Arab-Israeli dispute, Mr. Arafat stands aside while Palestinian militants carry out bloody attacks against Israeli civilians.
Consider the events of yesterday. When two teenaged boys were found dead near their homes in the West Bank, their bodies bound, mutilated and pummelled with stones, Mr. Arafat refused to express regret, saying only that Palestinian children were victims too. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, by contrast, immediately voiced regret and sorrow over the death of a Palestinian baby killed by Israeli shrapnel during a gun battle in the Gaza Strip that was initiated by Palestinians.
Any death is tragic, but there is no comparison, no parallel, between the deliberate stoning and murder of two teenaged boys and the accidental killing by stray shrapnel of a Palestinian baby in the heat of battle. Mr. Day is right. There is a moral difference, and Canadian politicians should be able to say that without being condemned for it.
Canada's Middle East policy, like the Alliance's, has been to avoid blaming anyone and to urge everyone to work for peace. That's fine as far as it goes. But sometimes objectivity becomes a kind of blindness. Only the blind can believe anymore that the intifada continues only because of Israeli violence. The intifada continues because Palestinian militants and Palestinian leaders let it continue. The killing would stop tomorrow if they stopped attacking Israel, and it's about time somebody said so.
©2001 - The Globe and Mail