Israel is continuing to massacre Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, in a brutal attack that has been described as a “textbook case of genocide” by a leading expert.
The violence has renewed calls from arms monitoring groups for greater transparency in federal government reports that track Canadian military exports, and calls from human rights groups for Canada to ban arms sales to Israel.
As of Monday, the Palestinian health ministry said Israel had killed 2,670 Palestinians and injured 9,600 others in Gaza since October 7. Israel has killed at least 1,030 Palestinian children in its attacks, or one every 15 minutes, according to the charity Defence for Children International. Reuters reported that bodies of those killed in Israel’s airstrikes were being stored in ice cream trucks because cemeteries were short of space and moving them to hospitals was too dangerous.
Israel’s massive assault came in response to a major attack launched by Palestinian factions on October 7, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis and resulted in 199 being held hostage. In retaliation, Israel's military dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza in the space of six days.
On Friday, the Israeli occupation forces ordered that 1.1 million Gazans evacuate to the region’s southern area, in a demand that the UN slammed as defying “rules of war and basic humanity.” That afternoon, a convoy of civilians attempting to escape along a road identified by Israel as a “safe route” was hit by an attack, killing 70, including children.
Israel’s other alleged war crimes include using white phosphorus on civilian areas and cutting off basic necessities for survival (including food, medicine, water, and electricity). Israel has also attacked journalists attempting to cover the assault, killing at least 11, injuring at least six others and holding BBC reporters at gunpoint in Tel Aviv. The group Doctors Without Borders called on Israel to show “the most elementary humanity” amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe on the ground.
Writing for Jewish Currents, Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University, explained: “Israel’s campaign to displace Gazans—and potentially expel them altogether into Egypt—is yet another chapter in the Nakba, in which an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel.”
“But the assault on Gaza can also be understood in other terms: as a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes. I say this as a scholar of genocide, who has spent many years writing about Israeli mass violence against Palestinians.”
Amid concerns that Israel could be about to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, Canadian officials have issued statements warning of the “importance of protecting Palestinian and Israeli civilians” and the need for humanitarian access to Gaza. Canada has pledged $10 million in humanitarian funding for “the crisis in Israel, West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Those statements followed official pledges of support for Israel in its revenge attacks against Palestinians from Canadian politicians at every level of government and across all major parties, as well as condemnations of protests organized in solidarity with Palestine. The Israeli flag was lit up on the House of Commons last week.
Calls For Arms Embargo
Israel’s brutal assault has renewed questions about Canadian arms sales to Israel. In 2022, Canadian manufacturers exported more than $21 million in military goods to Israel, meaning last year saw the third-largest tally of annual military exports to Israel on record (behind 2021 and 1987).
Canadian military exports to Israel have increased dramatically over the past 10 years, from $2,379,586 in goods in 2012 to a high of $26,092,289 in 2021, according to data published annually by Global Affairs Canada (GAC).
But arms monitoring groups warn that little information is available about the exact kinds of goods that Canadian manufacturers may be shipping to fuel Israel’s war machine, and who is making them.
“The exact types of Canadian military goods exported to Israel are poorly understood,” said Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with Project Ploughshares in an interview with The Maple. “There’s really not much information on exactly what types of technology are being transferred or have been transferred, aside from the broad ways in which the government of Canada reports these exports.”
To export military goods, Canadian manufacturers must obtain permits under the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA). As part of this process, goods are categorized under Global Affairs Canada’s (GAC) “Export Control List” (ECL).
Canada’s annual reports on exports of military goods give information on the value of goods from each category in the ECL. GAC’s 2022 report shows that Canadian companies sold $10.4 million worth of goods categorized as “electronic equipment” or “spacecraft,” $4.9 million worth of goods related to “aircraft,” and $3.1 million worth of goods related to “bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges and related equipment and accessories.”
These categories provide only very broad strokes, said Gallagher. With countries other than Israel, arms monitoring groups are able to identify the specific kinds of goods being sold through secondary sources, such as press releases published by the manufacturers themselves.
This is not the case with Israel. “There’s much less information on the exact type of goods that have been exported from Canada to Israel,” said Gallagher. In terms of why that is the case, Gallagher said that he could only speculate.
“I suspect that some manufacturers are less keen on reporting arms contracts to Israel out of fear of condemnation,” he explained. “We really just don’t see the same fanfare when the end user is Israel.”
Even in the case of goods exported under the categories of explosives or firearms, Gallagher said, it is impossible to say for certain whether these are being used in military assaults, since these categories include products like hunting rifles and demolition kits.
“We do consistently see exports of explosives to Israel. There is still some concern, because we don’t know what they are,” said Gallagher. “Obviously, Israel has shown little regard for international humanitarian law, particularly when it’s conducting airstrikes.”
“This does speak to a greater need for transparency on the part of the government of Canada to tell us exactly what types of military goods are being supplied abroad.”
Under the EIPA, “the Minister of Foreign Affairs must deny exports and brokering permit applications for military goods and technology if there is a substantial risk that the items would undermine peace and security, or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws.”
Canada has also been a signatory to the international Arms Trade Treaty since 2019, which supposedly “promotes responsibility, transparency and accountability in transfers of conventional arms.” Canada regularly claims to have “among the most rigorous” arms export controls in the world.
Human rights groups have long argued that Israel’s human rights violations are more than sufficient to impose an arms embargo.
This week, the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) renewed its longstanding call for Canada to end arms exports to Israel over human rights concerns.
“We're watching in horror as Israel has launched an attack on the people of Gaza, which is unprecedented in scale, and the measures of collective punishment that it is imposing on the civilians there,” Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME told The Maple. “The speed at which Israel is killing civilians is just absolutely shocking and alarming.”
“In spite of this, Canada has refused to modify its arms exports whatsoever, or to acknowledge that arms exports in this context could pose a human rights risk,” Bueckert continued. He added that Israel maintained a brutal military occupation and regularly violated human rights even before the latest bombardment.
“On any given week, Palestinians are being shot dead in the West Bank and being killed in Gaza and East Jerusalem,” said Bueckert. “There's a crisis situation here where we need Canada to stand up for international law.”
“We need to see an embargo on arms exports so that we're not materially involved in these deaths.”
In a report published by CJPME in 2022, the advocacy group noted that Canadian military exports to Israel have also come at a time of increasing recognition that Israel maintains a system of apartheid over Palestinians.
“The continued transfer of military goods into this context is inconsistent with Canada’s obligations under international treaties, and violates the spirit and intent of the Arms Trade Treaty,” the report found.
Bueckert noted that Canada imposed an arms embargo on Israel following the outbreak of the First Intifada in December 1987, over concerns that these exports might fuel hostilities further and contribute to violations of human rights.
“The only reason that [the embargo] was ever reversed was as one of the conditions for signing the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, not a recognition that the human rights risk had gone away,” Bueckert explained.
On Monday, the advocacy group Labour Against the Arms Trade urged Canadian unions representing arms and security industry workers to heed a call from Palestinian labour unions to stop producing and shipping arms to Israel.