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Palestinian emergency services and local citizens search for victims in buildings destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 17.Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

In’am Carere is a Palestinian from Gaza, a graduate of Pearson College, part of the United World Colleges, and an active member of the business community in Guelph. Shawky Fahel is a Palestinian born in Jaffa, Israel, the founder of JG Group, the chair of CIDO, a non-governmental organization active in the Middle East, and the principal donor of the Foundation for Palestine Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Gaza today stands on the precipice of unimaginable catastrophe. Its borders closed, deprived of food, medicine, electricity and now even water, Gaza awaits a devastating ground attack by more than 300,000 heavily armed soldiers on its borders. On Tuesday, at least 500 people were killed by an explosion at a Gaza City hospital, and both sides are blaming each other. As the children of Nakba, the catastrophe that made our families refugees in 1948, we are horrified and terrified.

As human beings, we are horrified by the vicious Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians because of their stunning inhumanity. As Palestinians, we are terrified of the violence and inhumanity that awaits our families in Gaza, the West Bank and, potentially, Israel itself.

We hear that our relatives are leaving East Jerusalem, where tensions run high, and that settlers and Israeli police threaten them on the West Bank. We hear from Gaza that our relatives face deprivations that may cause their death.

A brother vacated his home near the Port of Gaza because most nearby buildings had been totally destroyed. He is staying at a YMCA daycare facility and is dependent on heart medicine, which will soon run out. There is no running water, and they have only two cans of beans for a family of five. They asked for our prayers and for our Canadian family to take their children if they die. How can we answer?

A sister living in the Remal neighbourhood of Gaza City has just one day’s worth of drinking water. There is no food to buy at the one open store. However, she must stay in her home despite continuous bombardment because her mother-in-law is in a wheelchair and they cannot manage moving her. She has no medicine and no prospect of getting some. A niece is having panic attacks, like so many other children around her. They have decided to stay in their home and die as they have lived together.

The Israeli defence minister has callously announced Gaza would be deprived of food, electricity, water and even medicines – actions which are contrary to international law. The demand that Palestinians flee or die echoes the Nakba, when our relatives were forced into horrid refugee camps and ended up dispersed throughout the world. It is clear that a massive Israeli invasion would cause enormous civilian deaths in a land where nearly half the population are children younger than 18, and where medical equipment and medicines are scarce or non-existent. Israel is now saying that humanitarian aid will be allowed in – it is essential that it happens without delay.

We are very pleased that Canada is giving $10-million in humanitarian aid to the region, and that it has called on Israel to respect international law. Canada needs to keep pressing Israel on this. The eminent American commentator Richard Haass, in a Foreign Affairs article entitled What Friends Owe Friends, argues that Washington should tell Israel to stand back because its strategy is “flawed in both ends and means.” Canada and Israel have been friends. That friendship and our commitment to international law demand that we call upon Israel to stand back. Its ends are not clear, and its means are frightening.

Canada has disappointed us in recent times. Liberal and Conservative governments have often made the wrong decisions at the United Nations. Many times Canada has voted with the United States, Israel and a few other countries to deny Palestinian rights, while traditional friends, such as Britain, France and the Scandinavian countries recognize the moral arguments for those rights and the need to respect international law.

Canada played a major part in the creation of a peacekeeping force in the Middle East in 1956 at a time when a Middle Eastern conflict threatened world peace. Moreover, as the gavel holder of the refugee committee established during the 1993 Oslo accords, we played a part in dealing with the refugee process at that time. It is not enough for us to simply echo bad policies made in Washington or elsewhere. We did not fight in Iraq, a dreadful American decision. We now need to say no again to ethnic cleansing, the deaths of tens of thousands and a war that cannot end well.

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