TORONTO: Nine Canadian members of parliament from three political parties, who witnessed the daily suffering of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, are staunchly criticizing Israel for its abuse of human rights and collective punishment of the Palestinians.
"Everybody is shocked at how a strong, intelligent, wealthy, educated and liberal society like the Israelis -- with a such a sad history of their own-- have themselves turned into human rights abusers," says
Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish, one of the parliamentarians who went to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on a week-long fact-finding mission last month.
The trip was funded by the Palestine House, a Palestinian cultural centre in the Toronto area. "You got your money's worth," Parrish addressed a public forum organized by the Palestine House last week.
"You have nine members of parliament who've come back completely and totally convinced that what's going on over there is a crime against humanity."
Parrish shared with the audience a presentation she had given on the trip at a NATO parliamentary assembly in Bulgaria the week before as chairwoman of the Canadian-NATO parliamentary association.
"The only country that's not on the side of Palestine is the United States of America," she said. "They were not happy to listen to the presentation, and several of the delegates came over to me later and said, 'We agree with you but our government doesn't at this time.'"
Canadian politicians regularly visit Israel on trips sponsored by the Canadian Jewish community, but those tours rarely include visits to the Palestinian Territories.
The nine members of parliament, however, toured the West Bank and Gaza, gathering information and statistics and speaking to Palestinian and Israeli officials and non-governmental organizations.
Parrish said that 10,000 arrests of Palestinians have been made in total in the last 18 months while there are still 3,000 people being detained without charges or legal counsel. "And how about a new rule there by the way? That you can be arrested for 18 days and held without charges. That's a democracy!" she exclaimed sarcastically.
She said she witnessed the daily harassment and humiliation of Palestinians by teenage border guards. "In Israel, they put them (18-year-olds) all in the army and they give them a machine gun and they tell them, 'The Palestinians are to be harassed -- they are less
than human and they (the guards) can treat them like garbage.'
"We went through checkpoints where there'd be three of them standing there and they have a cigarette hanging out from the corner of their mouths and this machine gun hanging by their side and nice designer
sunglasses on top of their heads and they would make a pregnant lady stand there for hours. and they'd laugh," said Parrish, describing what she witnessed at checkpoints in the Palestinian Territories.
"There were stories we were told by women's groups that women clad in Burkas were physically touched," she said. "Some were asked to undress naked."
In Jenin, the Canadian group found 180 buildings destroyed in the space of one third of an acre. Parrish reported that 270 tanks were used for that purpose. "To put that in perspective, 200 tanks were used during the 1967 war."
Liberal MP Colleen Beaumier described the Jenin refugee camp as a "mini ground zero." She said she was mostly offended by the fact that Israeli snipers were situated in a mosque and that they urinated in
the mosque before leaving. "What kind of people are being cultivated that would desecrate someone else's place of worship?" asked the Jewish Canadian politician. "It goes far beyond the insanity of destroying a city. What happened in Jenin -- the actions they were insane, but the attitude is evil."
"The acts of Sharon and the acts of the Israeli government are acts of terrorism," she added.
The members of parliament are still working on a final draft of their 65-page report that will be produced in 1,000 copies, including photos and the comments and recommendations from Palestinians, non-governmental organizations and community leaders. The parliamentarians will also make their own recommendations to the Canadian government.
"The U.S. war on terrorism has become a convenient cover for Sharon's inhumanity, which was referred to as Apartheid by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem as well as dozens of NGOs," said Parrish.
"Permanent withdrawal from settlements is absolutely essential," she added. "They have no business being there, no business growing more settlements, and they're on every hilltop around Jerusalem.
"Why is it (that) the Israelis are exempt from laws that affect every other country in the world? The Israeli government must recognize the Palestinian state."
But the most important and repeated message the group heard, said Parrish, is: "End the occupation, end the harassment, end the humiliation and end the use of brutal force."
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