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Open letter to Prime Minister Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau:

We, the undersigned academics, lawyers, and community leaders, are profoundly perturbed by the unbalanced and partisan position adopted by the Canadian government and federal political parties regarding the current violence in Gaza. While more than 650 Palestinians75 per cent civilians, according to the United Nations – have been killed in Israel's latest military operation, official statements have focused exclusively on denouncing Hamas' rocket strikes (responsible for two fatalities) and uncritically proclaiming Israel's right to self-defence.

While Hamas' indiscriminate rocket firings are illegal under international law, Israel is still bound by basic international humanitarian law principles protecting civilians during times of war and prohibiting collective punishment. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza violate fundamental norms of international law. As of July 22, the toll of the ongoing offensive (the third major military assault on Gaza in six years) includes:

– at least 147 children killed, including four by missile strike while playing soccer on a Gaza beach; – 3 504 Palestinians injured (it is uncertain how many are civilians, but the number includes 1 100 children and 1 153 women); – 2 655 families whose homes have been destroyed or severely damaged; – 117 000 people displaced; – at least 90 schools and 18 health facilities damaged (including the destruction of al-Wafa Hospital, the only rehabilitation hospital in Gaza and the West Bank)

1.2 million people with no or very limited access to water and sanitation services.

And the toll increases by the hour.

Multiple human rights groups have documented and condemned likely Israeli war crimes in Gaza. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay concluded two weeks ago that "Deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes . . . raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law." This week, Ms. Pillay confirmed: "There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated [by Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip], in a manner that could amount to war crimes."

Amnesty International's report observed, "In several cases of [air strikes on civilian homes in Gaza], no evidence has emerged to indicate that the alleged 'Hamas operatives' were inside the homes at the time of the attack, that the homes were being used to store munitions, or otherwise being used for military purposes." According to Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Program: "Unless the Israeli authorities can provide specific information to show how a home is being used to make an effective contribution to military actions, deliberately attacking civilian homes constitutes a war crime and also amounts to collective punishment against the families."

Human Rights Watch similarly found that "Israeli air attacks . . . have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war."

The disregard for international law conveyed by the government's silence on such potentially grave violations committed by Israel discredits Canada domestically and internationally. Moreover, adoption of such a one-sided position subverts Canada's own official foreign policy goal of achieving a "comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement" between Israel and Palestine. Rather than maintaining a studious silence in the face of these documented violations of international humanitarian law, a true friend would act responsibly and call Israel to account for those violations.

As a country claiming to champion universal human rights and dignity, Canada's foreign policy must align with international law, and reflect the equal value of Palestinian and Israeli life. The callous devaluation of Palestinian life communicated by our political leaders does not represent us as Canadians.


Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, Associate Professor of Global Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto; Dr. Reem Bahdi, Associate Professor, University of Windsor Faculty of Law; Dr. Cornelia Baines, Professor Emerita, Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Health, University of Toronto; Dr. Himani Bannerji, Professor Emeritus, York University; Dr. Gregory Baum, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University; Susan Boyd, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia; Dr. William D Coleman, Professor, Balsillie School of International Affairs and Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, McMaster University; Dr. Mohammad Fadel, Associate Professor, University of Toronto Faculty of Law; Dr. Christos Giannou, former head surgeon, International Committee of the Red Cross Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Osgoode Hall Law School; Guy Goodwin-Gill, Senior Research Fellow (International Law), All Souls College, University of Oxford; Dr. Wael Hallaq, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University; Dr. Nader Hashemi, Associate Professor, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver; Dr. Rhoda E Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, School of International Policy and Governance and Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University; Jasminka Kalajdzic, Associate Professor, University of Windsor Faculty of Law; Azeezah Kanji, Noor Cultural Centre; Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, former refugee judge; Order of Canada and Order of Ontario; Dr. Jeff King, Senior Lecturer in Laws, University College London; Dr Gary Kinsman, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Laurentian University; Dr Atif Kubursi, Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, McMaster University; Dr Andree Levesque, Professor Emerita, History Department, McGill University; Dr Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, McGill University; Michael Lynk, Professor, University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law; Dr Mojtaba Mahdavi, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta; Jim Manly, Member of Parliament 1980-1988; Dr Roxanne Mykitiuk, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School; Dr Winnie Ng, CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University; Dr Obiora Okafor, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School; André Paradis, Former President, Amnesty International Canada French-speaking section, Former Executive Director, Ligue des droits et libertés du Quebec; Dr Trevor Purvis, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University; Dr Sherene Razack, Associate Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; Judy Rebick, author; Sid Ryan, President, Ontario Federation of Labour; Dr Sarah Schulman, Distinguished Professor, City University of New York, Fellow, University of Toronto; Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa; Dr Veronica Strong-Boag, Professor Emerita, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice/Educational Studies, University of British Columbia; Dr Charles Taylor, philosopher; Dr Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia; Dr Christopher Waters, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor; Dr Melissa Williams, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto The full list of signatories is available at

Authors' note: ​Institutional and organizational affiliations are listed for identification purposes only, and do not imply endorsement by the institution or organization.