I Am Ariel Sharon by Yara El-Ghadban is a timely novel that sheds light on the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people.
OPINION | The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
Part 1 of this article describes how Canadian politics, institutions and media have responded to the Israel-Palestine conflict, providing context for my review of I Am Ariel Sharon in Part 2.
The Impact of One-sided Reporting
I read I Am Ariel Sharon hard on the heels of reading Amnesty International’s landmark report on the State of Israel’s system of domination, which Amnesty says amounts to a system of apartheid. (Some human rights activists refer to this system as Apartheid 2.0, to distinguish it from the South African form of domination and settler colonial rule.)
The Amnesty Report is the latest of a series of human rights reports by most of the major rights organizations around the globe, including various Palestinian and Jewish Israeli human rights groups. The latter have issued outstanding reports on the system of domination and discrimination against Palestinians – one authored by B’Tselem about a year ago and one by Yesh Din in 2020.
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic issued a report in February 2022 that finds Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank amounts to the crime of apartheid. Further, Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories since 1967, submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 21, 2022. His report also concludes that the treatment of Palestinians by Israel amounts to apartheid. One recommendation in the report is for Israel to quickly and unconditionally end their occupation of Palestinian territory.
The sparse and unhelpful reporting on Amnesty’s report – a major human rights and international law document – has been sparse and unhelpful. This highlights the difficulty I see in allowing either a Palestinian perspective or a human rights perspective (extending to stateless individuals such as the Palestinians and the Kurds) to receive anything like a proper hearing in Canadian political and legal discourse. The marginalization of Palestinian voices has a sad history. The brilliant cultural critic, literary scholar and humanist Edward Said penned a preface to a reissue of Orientalism. In it he said, in terms that surely apply in Canada as well as his home turf in the U.S.A.:
The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny.
In Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, Said notes the many ways in which one-sided accounts by news outlets and scholars have affected readers and viewers. It has left them critically unaware of the dispossession of Palestinians and the assault on their rights due to harsh military occupation after the 1967 War.
Canada’s Response to the Israel-Palestine Conflict
I was struck by the similarity of all Palestinians – both those adrift in refugee camps in various countries or those who have somehow made their way to Canada as refugees or migrants – to the impressive Syrian activist Wafa Mustafa, recently profiled in the Globe and Mail. She was denied a visitor’s visa to Canada and considers herself something more than a mere refugee. Speaking of the Canadian government’s treatment, she laments that “to them obviously I’m not an activist, I’m not a daughter of a detainee … I’m nothing but a refugee.” I wish to acknowledge that Mustafa’s frustrations at her status make clear that she, like so many others, has suffered greatly at the hands of the Syrian dictator Assad. And other refugees have likewise suffered from the human rights atrocities of other dictators in the region.
Palestinians are likewise denied their full humanity by the Canadian government, major institutions and the mainstream media. Many of them are refugees in or from war-ravaged Syria and have been forced to flee Israel/Palestine. Canada’s voting record at the UN over the past two decades shows a consistent pattern of not voting in favour of resolutions condemning the human rights violations of Palestinians. Individuals and human rights organizations pointed to the anti-Palestinian stance of the Trudeau government as a significant reason why Canada should not be granted a seat at the UN Security Council.
The “punishing destiny” Said refers to is surely at work in the marginalization of Palestinian voices in Canadian mainstream or legacy media. This treatment extends to human rights advocates who support stateless Palestinian citizens. We might consider the debacle when CBC management forced a host to apologize for uttering the word “Palestine” on air. The absurdity and unfairness of the CBC’s position was heightened by the fact that the guest on Cross Country Checkup, the popular radio program, was the brilliant graphic novelist and nonfiction writer Joe Sacco. The book that triggered this lapse on the part of the host was titled Palestine! The lesson is clear – if one wants to be invited onto the CBC, one must refer to Sacco’s masterful nonfiction novel as *blank*, a graphic novel. Meanwhile, the hard right governments of Israel increasingly name the West Bank – Occupied Palestine – as Judea and Samaria, that is, a territory intended to be permanently incorporated into Israel.
Interested Canadians will have read of the trials and tribulations of human rights educators trying to assemble materials offering a fair and balanced account of the state of human rights for Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and in Israel. While I don’t have space to detail the limits on academic freedom in Canada, I will briefly mention one egregious episode. An astonishing sequence of events known as the “Azarova Affair” played out in 2020-2021 at the University of Toronto Law School. It is a perfect illustration of the various obstacles at work in the ability to study and become aware of the serious, systemic violations of Palestinian rights. It is my understanding that Law School administration first offered a position as Director of a vital Human Rights program to the highly capable lawyer Valentina Azarova. After an intervention by a sitting Federal Court tax judge, the school rescinded the offer.
Articles I have read refer to Azarova as a ‘superb human rights scholar.’ A factor in the reversal of position was surely her willingness to engage in serious study of Israel’s human rights violations with respect to the Palestinian population, particularly those living in Occupied Palestine (only one of several state’s whose conduct she has studied). The shameful handling of the matter was so serious as to provoke the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) to “censure” the university for a period of many months. The latest in this sorry saga involves a judicial review of the decision of the Canadian Judicial Council respecting the judge who interfered in the appointment process. That decision is still pending as of the writing of this article.
Digging Deeper for Information
Despite the truncated opportunities for scholarship about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the relative failure of Canada’s legacy media to cover the violations of Palestinian rights, it is possible for the diligent reader in this country to read books from abroad that provide powerful accounts. One such history is the remarkable work by the late Israeli historian and sociologist Baruch Kimmerling. Politicide is a scathing critique of the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Defence Minister turned Prime Minister of Israel and a co-founder of the hard right Likud Party. The Party was led for many years by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until late last year. Kimmerling sees Sharon as having engaged in a process with an ultimate goal of dissolving the Palestinian people’s existence as a legitimate social, political and economic entity. To Kimmerling, this politicide is a consequence of the 1967 War, which Israel won against Egypt and various other Arab states, as well as of the orientation of various political parties in Israel. Sharon’s process involved many violations of international law and subverting the rule of law within Israel.
Kimmerling’s detailed account of Ariel Sharon, as well as Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, provide helpful context for the reader of I Am Ariel Sharon. Read Part 2 for my review.
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The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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