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Canadian opposition MPs tour Palestine ahead of rumored fall election

Aug. 11, 2009 3:48 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 12, 2009 6:08 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma’an - Canadian parliamentarians from the country’s three opposition parties visited the West Bank village of Bil’in Monday, during a week-long trip to Jordan and Palestine.

Members of Parliament from the Liberal, Bloc Quebecois, and New Democratic Parties, all also members of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Association, will tour the area alongside CODEPINK activists and a Canadian film maker.

Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewsky (Etobicoke Centre), will not accompany the group on a trip into the Gaza Strip, where the delegation was invited by the UN Relief and Works Agency and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

The notable absence of a member from the leading Conservative party is in keeping with current Canadian policies on the region. During the Israeli war on Gaza the Canadian government was the first to announce that Israel had the right to defend itself, was the only country to vote against a war crimes probe at the UN Human Rights Council, offered its services to Israelis in Venezuela after the country expelled its Israeli ambassador over war crimes allegations and refused to participate in the Durban Review conference on racism on the grounds that it would be used as a platform to attack Israel. Canada also barred British MP and activist for ending the siege on Gaza George Galloway from entering Canada on a speaking tour.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the only national leader out of a score of heads of state - including US President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the heist profile figures - not to speak out against the continued demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the construction of Israeli settlements. A 2006 article in the Canadian magazine The Walrus, linked Harper with the Christian Zionist movement, which seeks the return of Jews to Israel in anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

A news release from the delegation said MPs were “concerned about the current humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank and hope their visit will provide firsthand knowledge and understanding to bring back to Parliament and Canadians,” indicating a possible challenge to Canadian policy in the coming months, alongside rumors of another election in the country this fall.

On Monday the delegation heard from Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi, who talked with them about the growing risk of an increase of human rights violations against Palestinians by the new right-wing Israeli government elected over the winter.

The delegation heard testimonies from villagers on the effect of wall and settlements on their lives, as well as testimonies of crimes committed by the Israeli army during the weekly non-violent demonstration against the wall and occupation.

Barghouthi expressed fears on growing risks of further deterioration of the lives of Palestinians and of the peace process, invoking Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement activity, the recognition of a Palestinian State and its denial of a permanent solution for refugees, borders and sovereignty. “Israel attempts on transforming our basic right to a sovereign state into a so-called state that will not have any of its characteristic. Temporary borders, settlement expansion and the forcible destruction of properties -as they are currently taking place in Jerusalem- this is what they offer us” said Barghouthi.

Those participating in the delegation are: Richard Nadeau, MP Gatineau (BQ), Borys Wrzesnewsky, MP Etobicoke Centre (Liberal), Libby Davies, MP Vancouver East (NDP), Kim Elliott, Sarah Marois and Ehab Lotayef of the peace organization CODEPINK and Vancouver film maker Jase Tanner.

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