May 5, 2017
A portrait of Palestinian prisoner of Israeli prisons Marwan al-Barghouthi on the wall by Qalandia. On both sides of the portrait, the words written in different languages read, “Patience, Marwan.”
He is said to have organised the hunger strike, stating “Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prison’s” in an op-ed published by the New York Times on April 16, 2017.
Photo credit: Eman – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10126665
Since the mid-2000s Palestinian security forces have been trained by US, British and Canadian troops and police at the US-built International Police Training Center in Jordan (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). Part of the US Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank also trains and aids Palestinian security forces. Dubbed Operation Proteus, Canada’s involvement includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent said Operation Proteus was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it received “most of the money” from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the PA.
With little media attention, over the past decade tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of dollars in Canadian aid money has gone to training and supporting a Palestinian security force that serves as an arm of Israel’s occupation. Internal government documents unearthed by Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume confirm that as the overriding objective of Canada’s $300 million five-year aid program to the Palestinians.
“There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read a November 2012 note signed by former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
The heavily censored note suggests the goal of Canadian aid was to protect a corrupt Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in 2009, from popular backlash. Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”
Demolished 2 apartment home of the 8-member Idrees family, their relative, her husband and their two children (Beit Hanina, 2014); photo credit: ‘Amer ‘Aruri, B’Tselem’s field researcher in East Jerusalem – http://www.btselem.org/photoblog/20140209_jerusalem_demolitions, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32438392
Berthiaume effectively confirmed that Canadian aid money is used to train a Palestinian security force to serve as an arm of Israel’s occupation, but this startling information has simply been sent down the memory hole. While Berthiaume’s article was published in a number of Postmedia papers, there was no commentary in a major paper or follow-up stories about Biggs’ internal note or Operation Proteus (with the exception of stories in small town papers covering individual police or soldiers leaving for the mission).
Two years before Berthiaume’s revelation I emailed Globe and Mail Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin about Canada’s aid/military mission to support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. I wrote, “Hi Pat, not sure if you saw Peter Kent’s comment on Operation Proteus, Canada’s military mission in the West Bank. In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post Kent dubbed Proteus Canada’s ‘second largest deployment after Afghanistan’ and said it receives ‘most of the money’ from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the Palestinians. It’s an issue that has barely been discussed and I thought it might interest you. Below is a piece I recently wrote partly on it.”
Martin responded, “it’s a good idea,” but the Globe has yet to publish anything on Operation Proteus or Biggs’ comment that Canadian aid to the PA was designed to suppress popular protest by a people suffering under a 50-year illegal occupation. (During John Baird’s 2012 trip to Ramallah Martin quoted the then foreign minister saying Canada was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which Baird said benefited Israel).
It’s not too late for the Globe and other media to cover Canada’s role in suppressing “popular protests” in the West Bank. Operation Proteus continues with Brigadier-General Conrad Joseph John Mialkowski recently appointed the new head of the military mission. When Canada’s five-year aid package to the PA concluded in 2013 the Stephan Harper government extended it and the government’s website says $30 million was dispersed to Palestinians in 2014–15 (the last year cited).
The Canadian media should cover the prisoners’ hunger strike and its challenge to PA security cooperation with Israel. Even better, it ought to report on Canada’s role in entrenching Israel’s 50-year-old occupation.