AS ISRAEL massacred Indigenous Palestinians yet again with US-funded weapons, and Canada yet again furnished ideological cover by blaming both sides and exalting Israel’s “right to assure its own security,” the affinities and solidarities between these settler-colonial “democracies” are clear.
While Israel’s bombings of the Gaza Strip have now ceased, the suffocating status quo for Palestinians — siege, settlements, checkpoints — remains firmly in place. These last eleven days of slaughter were an eruption of the continuous violence inherent to all projects of building a settler state on stolen land, in the face of Indigenous refusal to submit to colonial domination and disappear. Just hours after the ceasefire was declared in Gaza, Israeli forces were back to firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque.
In the words of Palestinian writer Mouin Rabbani, this is “a state of permanent conflict punctuated by periodic carnage” — also known in Israeli state terminology as “mowing the lawn.”
Forms of colonial violence echo each other across space and time. From Canada to Palestine, settler rule is enforced by mass incarceration, extrajudicial killing, torture, and rape.
Israel brutalizes Palestinian worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque, as Canada violates sacred Indigenous sites with judicially-sanctioned impunity, and abuses and criminalizes Indigenous protectors of sacred waters and lands.
Israeli police protect mobs attacking Palestinians and chanting “death to Arabs” in the streets, as Canadian courts exonerate killers like Gerald Stanley, who shot and killed young Cree man Colten Boushie: a continuation of the long history of states deputizing private settlers to enact violence and terror against the colonized.
Israel ethnically cleanses Palestinians from East Jerusalem through evictions and demolishes “unauthorized” Palestinian houses and villages (while simultaneously facilitating settlement construction), as Canada evicts Indigenous people from encampments and prosecutes land defenders for building shelters on their own territories. These are some of the most literal expressions of colonial “domicide,” making Indigenous people homeless on their homelands.
On top of the erasure of Indigenous lives, societies, and histories is the erasure of the ability to talk about it.
This is achieved not only by overt assaults, such as Israel’s bombing on Saturday of the Gaza offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, or Canada’s arrests of journalists for reporting on abuses of Indigenous rights. It is also quietly consolidated by the everyday refusal of Canadian and international media to call colonial practices by their legally-accurate names — occupation, apartheid, genocide — instead depicting Indigenous responses to violence as violence itself.
While Indigenous peoples are incarcerated and shoved onto ever-vanishing slivers of their partitioned lands, the legal and political technologies of settler rule circulate freely across colonial borders and take root.
British land law and title registration regimes have been transplanted across colonies, from Australia to Canada to Palestine, enabling the conversion of Indigenous territory into colonial “property,” while rendering Indigenous peoples as “illegal occupants” on their own lands.
Legal and military precedents from America’s genocidal “Indian Wars” have been carried over into the “War on Terror” — a mantle for states’ ongoing efforts to stamp out Indigenous resistance, from Palestine to Kashmir to Unist’ot’en Camp to Standing Rock. All these “wars” are premised on the assertion that the targets — once called “savages,” now called “terrorists” — may be subjected to extraordinary violence but are precluded from legitimately resisting with violence, or even non-violence, in return.
Philosopher Charles Mills famously elucidated liberal theory’s underlying “racial contract”: in which rights and freedom between white people have been predicated on the domination and exploitation of non-white peoples. In states like Canada and Israel, there is also a settler colonial contract: in which land, wealth, and political rights for colonizers require the dispossession and eradication of the colonized.
The terms of this implicit settler contract underwrite official documents like the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding on the Canada-Israel Strategic Partnership, which pledges to “deepen the relationship and cooperation” in areas such as border defence, counterterrorism, public safety, and trade.
The Memorandum begins by proclaiming Canada’s and Israel’s “shared commitment to a common set of core values such as democracy, free markets, security, peace, justice, human rights and freedom” — exemplifying the long tradition of weaponizing liberal “values” to justify systems of oppression and control.
Examining how these values are operationalized by Canada in its defense of Israel reveals the deeply skewed meaning of such terms in the colonial lexicon.
“Democracy” involves Canadian political leaders valorizing Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” never mind that it meets the legal definition of apartheid. Meanwhile, Canada has been a leader in refusing to recognize the outcomes of Palestinian democracy, at least when it conflicts with Israel’s desired result — effectively holding democracy for Palestinians hostage to the interests of the state colonizing them.
“Free markets” refer to the removal of barriers to settler enrichment from the expropriation and exploitation of Indigenous lands. The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, for example, permits goods manufactured in Israeli settlements to be accorded the same preferential status as goods manufactured in Israel — in violation of the international legal prohibition against treating the occupation as legitimate. While the Trump administration’s decision to start labelling settlement products as “made in Israel” elicited widespread condemnation, this extremist position was already Canadian practice, repeatedly defended by the Canadian government in court.
“Security” entails Israeli security companies invested in the open-air caging of Palestinians also contributing to the tools of mass institutional incarceration of Indigenous and Black people by the Canadian state. For instance, the perimeter securitization equipment for Canada’s federal prisons is procured from Senstar, a Canadian subsidiary of Israeli apartheid wall constructor Magal Security Systems. Senstar actually boasts of producing enough fencing to encircle the world – a chilling measure of its global reach.
“Peace” means little more than the violent pacification of resistance to oppression, aided by the circulation of tactics and technology between settler states. Canadian police – front-line enforcers of Canada’s settler sovereignty – have trained with Israeli security forces, while Israel recruits Canadians for its occupation army in overt contravention of Canadian law. Canadian-manufactured engines power Israeli drones that terrorize the people of Gaza; in turn, Israeli companies advertising their products as “battle-tested” on Palestinians sell drones to the Canadian government, to augment its surveillance over colonized Arctic waters and land.
“Justice” translates into Canadian charities being listed as “terrorist entities” for daring to donate medical equipment to Gaza, while cases against corporations for bolstering illegal Israeli settlement activity are thrown out by Canadian courts. Canada’s activism for impunity extends into the international arena. The Canadian government officially opposes the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, insisting that Palestine should be precluded from appealing to the ICC since it is not a state. Perversely, the very source of injustice against Palestinians – the denial of their sovereignty – is used as a reason to bar them from justice: a colonial catch-22.
“Human rights” looks like Canada repeatedly voting against UN resolutions affirming the fundamental rights of Palestinians, while defending Israel’s de facto “human right to dominate” under the aegis of “self-defence.” (In fact, no state has a right to self-defence in international law against a people it is occupying, but rather an obligation to protect their safety and well-being.)
Writer and activist Arundhati Roy has critiqued human rights for functioning as a discount substitute for justice. But when it comes to Indigenous peoples, advocacy for even this bare minimum by non-violent means – whether by blockades or BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) – is treated by Canadian political leaders as the “radical” source of aggression rather than the response.
And so, what “freedom” amounts to is the freedom to continue policies of apartheid, appropriation, and annihilation, by repression of the freedom to protest against them. As Israel attempts to erase Palestine from the physical landscape, social media platforms erase Palestinians from the virtual landscape, and Canadian governments try to erase Palestine solidarity from the political landscape by institutionalizing the conflation of criticisms of Israel with antisemitism.
Palestine is often imagined in Canada as a far-off “foreign policy” issue; the colonial devastation on graphic display in Gaza, Al Aqsa, and Sheikh Jarrah depicted as distant and dissociated from Canadians’ own place and time. Al Aqsa may literally mean “the farthest,” but in Canada nothing could be closer than the violence of colonialism. It is as close as the stolen words of justice on our tongues, the stolen lives mourned in our hearts, and the stolen land beneath our feet.
From Canada to Palestine, Indigenous people have risked their safety, freedom, and lives time and time again, to expose the injustices and inhumanities of colonial rule and to show the beautiful possibilities of a world organized differently. Maintaining that the situation is too “unclear” or “complex” to act in solidarity with them is not an innocent move, but yet another colonial move to innocence: tacitly upholding the settler contract, in all its brutality.
Feature image by Stan Williams (used with permission)
RESOURCE LIST from the Toronto Palestine Film Festival