We call on Canada to champion an enduring ceasefire in Gaza now

ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND WAR ON GAZA

Editor’s Note: This post discusses details of Day One of the hostage and prisoner exchanges. Day Two also saw a successful second round, despite delays amid Hamas allegations of Israeli truce violations including insufficient aid being allowed into Northern Gaza. So far the only crossing that has been opened for humanitarian aid is the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza.

EuroMed Human Rights Monitor on casualties in Gaza war

The numbers here also include estimates of those deceased Palestinians still under the rubble. (Click on the image itself for a clearer view.)

Hostage and prisoner exchange and humanitarian pause

Seven weeks after the 7 October 2023 Hamas attack, which killed approximately 1200 Israelis, and the Israeli military response, which has killed almost 15,000 Palestinians, including over 6000 children, with countless more wounded, a four-day “humanitarian pause” began.

Details of the deal which took effect on Friday, 24 November at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) include:

  • A four-day “humanitarian pause” so that 50 women and children under age 19 taken by Hamas and related groups could be freed in return for 150 Palestinian women and teenagers in Israeli detention (from a list of 300 Palestinians, 267 children, and 33 women)
  • the 50 hostages would be released in groups of approximately 12 per day and approximately 39 Palestinians per day, with the first group to be released at approximately 4 pm
  • the ICRC and the Palestinian Red Crescent will facilitate the hostage and prisoner releases
  • Israel has stated the pause will be extended by a day for each additional group of 10 hostages released
  • Approximately 200 trucks (with vital humanitarian aid, including fuel) will be allowed daily into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, under rigorous monitoring

An operations room in Doha will monitor the truce and the release of hostages and has direct lines of communication with Israel, the Hamas political office in Doha, and the ICRC, Qatar’s foreign ministry said.

Aid trucks began entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt about 90 minutes after the ceasefire began at 5 am local time.

 As of 10 am ET the transfer of 13 Israeli hostages, together with a further 10 Thai nationals and 1 Filipino citizen, was confirmed.

Who are the Palestinian prisoners being freed?

From a list of 300 Palestinian prisoners provided by Israel, 39 Palestinians, including 15 minors, were released at 8 pm local time (18:00 GMT).  They had been transferred from Israeli prisons to the Israeli-controlled Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank in the early evening.

The Guardian reports that in an apparent bid to prevent Palestinians from celebrating the release of prisoners,

Israeli security forces fired volleys of tear gas at thousands of Palestinians from all over the West Bank who had gathered outside of Ofer Prison.

Reflecting upon the hostage deal, Guardian journalist Bethan McKernan wrote:

The hostage swap deal has also shone a light on Israeli detention and sentencing practices in the Palestinian territories, where Palestinians are tried in military courts and minors are regularly imprisoned….

Many are held in administrative detention, which allows for pre-emptive arrest, on secret evidence, and six-month extendable stints in prison without charge or trial.

Reuters also reported:

The Palestinian Prisoners Society said that as of Wednesday, 7,200 prisoners were being held by Israel, among them 88 women and 250 children aged 17 and under.

At least 3,000 of those held have been arrested since the 7 October attacks.

The Palestinian children detained by Israel

For more on Israel’s policy of detaining minors, see Israel-Palestine war: The Palestinian children detained by Israel (Katherine Hearst, middleeasteye.net, 21 November 2023).

Katherine Hearst writes:

While the kidnap of minors by Hamas on 7 October, during an attack that left 1,200 Israelis dead, has been highlighted in media reports and during the ongoing efforts to release 200 hostages held in Gaza, the situation for Palestinian minors held by Israel has been underreported.

In this specific release of Palestinian prisoners, for example, the 15 Palestinian teenagers were

jailed for offences such as throwing stones.

Hundreds of minors detained

Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) estimates that an average of 500-700 children are detained by Israeli forces every year.

Widespread abuse

A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded that the maltreatment of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli military detention was

widespread, systematic, and institutionalised throughout the process.

These child detainees often gave confessions while enduring verbal abuse, threats, and physical and psychological violence.

Military trials

Citing detailed reports from the abovementioned non-governmental organization Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), Hearst writes:

Israel is the only country that systematically prosecutes minors in military courts, which often accept confessions obtained by coercion.

An estimated 500-700 children, some as young as 12, are tried in military courts every year, the most common charge being stone-throwing, which carries a 20-year prison sentence.

Minors routinely kept in solitary confinement

DCIP has also documented the widespread “routine” detainment of child detainees in solitary confinement.

These actions by Israel contravene the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Israel is a party.

Detractors of the hostage deal, like former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, have alleged:

It’s another swap of hostages — innocent victims — for criminals that are in Israeli jails at a ratio of 3:1 in favor of the Hamas terrorists.

The Rideau Institute comments:

These revelations on Israeli incarceration practices put the hostage-prisoner deal (and Bolton’s ratio) in a somewhat different light, whatever the make up of later exchanges might be.

Key factors leading to the limited ceasefire-for-hostages deal

In an excellent analysis of the key factors leading up to the ceasefire, see Secrecy and public anger: how the Israel/Hamas ceasefire deal came about (theguardian.com, 22 November 2023).

That article begins:

The hostage deal that was finally agreed by the Israeli cabinet in the early hours of Wednesday was very similar in outline to what was on the table a month ago, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

At that time Netanyahu categorically rejected the ceasefire-for-hostages deal because he was determined to proceed with his ground offensive. Having done so, with a brutality and ferocity that we have catalogued in our past several blog posts, the purported rationale for accepting the deal now is that

The Israeli Defense Forces are now open to a tactical pause while decisions are made about how to move southwards.

This is likely putting a positive gloss on a decision that was ultimately forced on the Israeli War Cabinet by what the Guardian describes as

acute and mounting pincer pressure: from the Biden administration, and internally from the hostages’ families and their sympathisers, who have waged a relentless public campaign to put the captives’ lives first.

Actual leverage used by Biden administration

Steps taken by the Biden administration to pressure Israel to agree to a deal included:

  • a “toughening” of the administration’s tone on the humanitarian consequences of the Israeli offensive
  • “breaking” with Netanyahu over his plan to reoccupy Gaza, and
  • the imposition of visa bans on Israeli settlers implicated in violence towards Palestinians in the West Bank.

With respect to the visa bans, the Guardian article states:

What really got everyone’s attention was the signal that there would be potential repercussions for the settlers.

The Rideau Institute comments:

It is surely noteworthy that when the US deigns to use a miniscule portion of the massive leverage it can potentially exert over Israel, it has the intended effect.

Ultimately, however, it was the hostages’ relatives who “did the heavy lifting,” making it politically impossible for the Netanyahu government to ignore their demands.

Prime Minister Trudeau welcomes hostage deal and humanitarian access

On 22 November 2023, the Prime Minister issued a statement on “the agreement to secure the return of hostages taken by Hamas and observe an extended humanitarian pause in Gaza,” describing it as “progress” while emphasising that

Rapid, sustained, and unimpeded access to humanitarian relief remains critical. Much more is needed to address the dire humanitarian situation and urgent needs of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The final paragraph reads:

We must do everything possible to avoid the further loss of innocent civilian life and move toward long-lasting peace in the region. Canada mourns the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives following the October 7 attacks, and we will continue to stand firmly with the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in their right to live in peace, security, and dignity, without fear. We will continue to support a two-state solution where a peaceful, prosperous, and safe Palestinian state thrives alongside a peaceful, prosperous, and safe state of Israel.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

For the very first time we are seeing language from the Government of Canada that meaningfully reflects what Foreign Minister Joly said at the time of the Ahli Arab Hospital blast in mid-October, that “Palestinian civilians, Israeli civilians are equal and must be protected.”

We are also seeing language from the Prime Minister that is clearly at odds with the Netanyahu government’s determination to resume the war as soon as the hostage deal is completed.

President Biden holds press conference on Gaza hostage release

On 24 November 2023, during the American Thanksgiving holiday, President Biden gave a press conference in Nantucket, Massachusetts, praising US diplomacy behind the hostage deal and further stating:

My expectation and hope is that as we move forward, the rest of the Arab world and the region is also putting pressure on all sides to slow this down, to bring this to an end as quickly as we can.

The Rideau Institute comments:

Given that the rest of the Arab world has been united in calling for an immediate end to military operations in Gaza since the extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh on 11 November 2023, the implicit warning to Israel seems clear.

Whither Canada?

As well as issuing the statement referenced earlier, Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill on 22 November 2022:

This is an important bit of progress, but we have to redouble our efforts now to get toward a lasting peace.

To that end, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked Ottawa to take a leadership role:

Israeli leaders have vowed to keep the war going. Canada now must become a global leader in gathering support among allies and partners for a just peace — an end to violence that works for both Israelis and Palestinians.

We commend the Government of Canada for endorsement of the need for urgent steps beyond the limited ceasefire-for-hostages deal.

We call on the Government of Canada to join with the countries like France, Norway and Ireland who have led the way in calling for a full ceasefire.

WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY

Parliamentary e-petition number e-4649 calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict is now closed, having received 286,555 signatures.

Thank you to all who signed and publicised it!

BUT NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO CEASE PRESSURING OUR GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT AN ENDURING CEASEFIRE AND FULL HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO GAZA.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca  >

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < melanie.joly@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < pierre.poilievre@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>

Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >

And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.

Photo credit: UN (Aid trucks at the Rafah crossing)

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