Hamas is committing war crimes in targeting Israeli citizens, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism, said at a virtual community rally in solidarity with Israel held in Montreal the evening of May 13.
Speaking from his Jerusalem apartment at 2 a.m. local time, Cotler faulted the international community, including the Canadian government, for not standing firmly with Israel, a fellow democracy, and drawing moral equivalency between the acts of a terrorist organization and a country defending its citizens.
“The widespread and systematic attacks targeting a civilian population as a matter of state policy constitutes, not only a war crime, but crimes against humanity, and this is what we have been witnessing,” said the former federal justice minister and founder-chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
“And it doesn’t end there; there’s also the firing from residential enclaves (in Gaza), using Palestinians as hostages and human shields,” said Cotler, who also enumerated Hamas’s use of UN facilities and open calls for the killing of Jews.
He also accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) for inciting terrorism through its “pay for slay” incentive, which he claimed pays out $350 million annually to those who attack Israel.
Cotler charged that the current conflict was provoked by the competing Hamas and PA leaders who resent the recent normalization of relations between Israel and certain Arab states, under the Abraham Accords.
The Montreal Jewish community “stands in complete solidarity” with Israel and is outraged by “this vicious attack on our homeland,” said Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, president of Federation CJA which organized the event with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec (CSUQ).
“The actions of Hamas and its militants are unsupportable and the relative silence around the globe is unacceptable,” said Adelson-Marcovitz observing that more than 1,600 rockets had been fired on innocent people in Israel from Gaza.
She noted that the rally was being watched by “lone soldiers” in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from Montreal posted on the country’s borders. “We thank you all for your service,” she said.
Israeli Consul General David Levy urged the community to tell government, the media and Canadians in general what is really happening. If Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, had not intercepted “about 90 per cent” of the enemy rockets, Israeli casualties would likely have been much higher, he said.
By contrast, Levy said, the IDF makes a huge effort to avoid harming civilians.
CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko became emotional when he described IDF soldiers as “the most moral and humane in history.” But he also expressed sympathy for all blameless victims of the violence.
“First and foremost, our hearts turn to the human suffering on both sides of the Gaza border. I speak for all when I say how deeply troubling it has been to watch the spectacle of civil strife in too many neighbourhoods in Israel,” he said.
Rabbi Poupko stressed that Israel is “not at war with the Palestinian people. The State of Israel is at war with the leadership of Hamas as a terror group whose ideology is there for all to see.” He quoted from its charter a call for jihad “to destroy this Nazi invasion.”
“No mundane real estate dispute is the real cause. These attacks are a desperate attempt to gain relevancy in the Middle East that has turned its back on the Palestinian leadership in the wake of the Abraham Accords.”
CSUQ president Jacques Saada criticized the media for misrepresenting the current situation, which he characterized as a “cynical” Palestinian leadership endangering its own people.
“Israel has the right to defend itself; no, it has the duty to defend itself,” he said.
The rally also heard from Yael Goldstone, 23, who recently completed a three-year stint in the IDF, including its spokesperson unit. In 2016-2017 she lived in Montreal as part of the Shinshinim program where Israeli high school graduates spend a gap year in a Diaspora Jewish community.
The morning after the rally she was to start reserve duty. “The last thing I wanted to do just four months (after competing her regular service) was to put my uniform on again,” she said. “We need the community (abroad) to support us; it gives us strength to continue to fight.”