October 6th, 2020
Letter to Champagne re Humanitarian Crisis in Palestine
Canada must take action to help alleviate the suffering in Palestine
The Honourable François Philippe Champagne, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Global Affairs Canada
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Champagne:
I am writing to raise serious concerns about the current situation in Palestine. The people there, already vulnerable because of the humanitarian crisis whose scope you are familiar with, are now facing untenable economic and political circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has infected thousands and is filling up resource-depleted hospitals. The situation is grave.
The humanitarian crisis in Palestine was terrible before COVID-19 and is significantly worse now as the pandemic rapidly spreads throughout the region. Every day, the number of cases rises dramatically, reaching a record-high of 1,118 new cases on September 15. In the Gaza strip, with a population of nearly two million, only 87 intensive-care unit beds are equipped with pulmonary ventilators. This is not only insufficient but also a disaster. COVID-19 has added to the many existing challenges: water and food shortages, irregular access to land, overpopulation and an almost nonexistent electric system. Canada must take action to help alleviate the suffering.
We wish to inform you of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) desperate financial situation. Under the obligation of the Paris Economic Agreement, Israel is responsible for collecting and transferring import taxes on behalf of the PA. However, since May, Israel has withheld all tax revenue from the PA to put pressure on them to resume security coordination with Israel, despite Israel’s plan to annex occupied territory. According to the Palestinian Representative to Canada, this tax revenue makes up 65 per cent of the PA budget.
Without this money, the PA have been unable to pay public servants’ wages, including those of health care workers fighting COVID-19 on the front lines who have been working without pay for more than four months. Help is desperately needed as the virus spreads rapidly in Gaza and the West Bank. We support the PA’s request for financial support from the Canadians government to help pay the wages of medical workers as part of Canada’s international effort to support poorer countries in the fight against COVID-19. Financial support could be provided through the World Bank Trust Fund or the European Union’s PEGASE mechanism, which has been done by other countries such as Japan.
We also urge Canada to significantly increase its annual contribution to UNRWA in support of Palestine.
In addition, Palestinian access to hospitals is impeded by the many checkpoints and the wall around East Jerusalem. Moreover, the humanitarian crisis in Palestine is never ending. There is a lack of economic opportunity (unemployment rates are among the highest in the world), poor sanitation, few material resources, food insecurity (limited access to agricultural lands), summary arrests (700 children arrested each year) and ongoing police violence.
At the last United Nations General Assembly, your government voted in favour of Resolution 74/139, which recognized the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. This was a vote in the right direction. We are now asking you to take corresponding action. If Canada wants to restore its international reputation and be an indispensable diplomatic player at the United Nations—as it should be—your government must take a clear position on the Middle East.
We call on the Canadian government to take steps to resolve this social, political, humanitarian and health crisis. It is time to move past the old debates and finally help improve the lives of Palestinians. We believe that you, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, understand the urgency of the situation and the opportunity it offers your government to show leadership in making the contributions outlined above and in working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We look forward to your reply.
Jack Harris, Q.C, M.P., St. John’s East, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic
Alexandre Boulerice, M.P., Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie