A temporary respite from Israel-Hamas hostilities should not be Canada’s focus, Israeli and Palestinian advocates argued separately on Parliament Hill Monday, even as the Canadian government continued to push for “humanitarian pauses.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a Monday speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto that a humanitarian agreement is urgently needed to help people in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.
Israel declared war against Hamas after the Oct. 7 attacks, in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed and 222 taken hostage, according to the Israeli government.
Israel responded with force, showering Gaza with rockets and in recent days launching a ground offensive. More than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed in the days since, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, and it says most of them are women and children.
Joly reiterated Canada’s unequivocal condemnation of Hamas, which it deems a terrorist group, for the attacks. She said Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism “in accordance with international law.”
The fact Canada has stopped short of calling for a ceasefire has drawn condemnation from some.
“Is that what civilians deserve, who have done nothing wrong, to take a coffee break before jumping right back into being butchered?” said Justice For All Canada advocate Ahmad Al-Qadi during a Monday press conference.
“Instead of standing against the violence, (Canadian MPs) have given carte blanche for Israel to do as it pleases,” he told reporters.
Al-Qadi said a ceasefire is needed now.
Irwin Cotler, a longtime human-rights activist and a former Liberal attorney general, said Hamas has violated past humanitarian pauses.
“What Israelis have learned is that these pauses only end up working to abduct other hostages,” Cotler said.
He said Canada should focus its efforts on building a multi-country coalition to pressure Hamas to release all hostages through any means possible. He said this would echo coalitions against the so-called Islamic State group, and might even include a military aspect.
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Iddo Moed, said that Israel would like to deliver more humanitarian aid but his country is hampered by the actions of Hamas, which he said often diverts supplies and money meant for civilians.
“Humanitarian pauses are a luxury if you’re comparing to the condition of the hostages,” Moed said.
In her speech, Joly urged Hamas to release more than 200 hostages held in Gaza, which she said may include two Canadians who are still missing. Hamas has let four hostages go to date.
Israeli-Canadian dual national Vivian Silver may be among the hostages. Her son, Chen Zeigen, said Monday releasing hostages needs to be higher on the world’s priority list. Silver, 74, went missing from her home on Kibbutz Be’eri near the Gaza border which was raided by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
“Hamas is trying to frame the hostages as prisoners of war. But these are babies and toddlers and women and elderly people, taken from their homes,” Zeigen said on Monday.
“They have not had any access to … the Red Cross. We have not been given any information about their fate.”
Zeigen was speaking at a press conference facilitated by the Israeli government. It included people related to Israelis who were either killed by Hamas or suspected of being taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Zeigen said he’s been in frequent contact with the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv about his mother, although Ottawa has not confirmed the identities of the two Canadians it suspects are being held hostage by Hamas.
Aharon Brodutch, an Israeli immigrant to Canada who now lives in Toronto, flipped through laminated photos of the four relatives he said Hamas kidnapped on Oct. 7.
“We thought that this would never happen again. But this has happened. We have experienced a day of a second Holocaust,” Brodutch told reporters.
He called on Muslims to denounce a group that has taken civilians as hostages.
“We have big Muslim communities in Canada who are seeing this, and I’m sure many of them are horrified by what has happened. I would like to see the Canadian Muslim community — which I’m sure can indirectly impact Hamas — fight for Muslim values.”
Israeli tanks and troops were pushing deeper into Gaza on Monday, where conditions for civilians are deteriorating as food, medicine and fuel run dangerously low.
The siege has pushed Gaza’s infrastructure nearly to collapse. With no central power for weeks and little fuel, hospitals are struggling to keep emergency generators running.
On Saturday, crowds of people broke into four United Nations facilities and took food supplies in what the UN said was a sign that civil order was starting to break down amid increasing desperation.
Joly said in her speech that the Canadian government has an obligation to help its citizens get out of the territory. Global Affairs Canada said that as of Monday, it is in contact with 460 Canadians, permanent residents and family members in the territory.
On Sunday, 33 trucks of humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Relief workers say the amount is still far less than what is needed for the population of 2.3 million people.
In the occupied West Bank, Israel said its warplanes carried out airstrikes Monday against militants clashing with its forces in the Jenin refugee camp, the scene of repeated Israeli raids. Hamas said four of its fighters were killed there.
As of Sunday, Israeli forces and settlers have killed 123 Palestinians, including 33 minors, in the West Bank, half of them during search-and-arrest operations, the UN said.
“The humanitarian situation facing the Palestinian people — facing Palestinian women and children — is dire. Extremist settlers’ attacks continue in the West Bank,” Joly said in her speech.
Global Affairs Canada said it has helped 65 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members leave the West Bank since the conflict began, and it is in touch with 70 people who are still there.
The Canadian Armed Forces confirmed on Monday that it has sent special forces to Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv after Global Affairs Canada requested military support to help prepare for the possible escalation of hostilities in the Middle East.
The fears of a broader conflict have been exacerbated by clashes at the Israeli-Lebanese border, which officials say might lead to the need for an evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon.
Joly said that as the region faces this precarious moment, there is also a need to look forward to the future, supporting a two-state solution.
She said the world faces a generational challenge to prevent a global conflict and Canada has an important role to play in building a stable, inclusive world.
That includes what she called “pragmatic diplomacy,” even with countries with whom we do not agree.
“As respect for the rules diminishes, empty chairs serve no one. Let me be clear: I am door opener, not a door closer,” she said. “Therefore, with rare exceptions, Canada will engage.”
Sarah Ritchie and Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.