Ceasefire is only a beginning to finding peace in Middle East, Winnipeggers say

Two Winnipeggers are lauding the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas but say it’s only a Band-Aid solution to a bigger problem — and Canada needs to help.

“It’s the beginning of the end of this particular conflict and with a little bit of hope and luck, maybe it’s the beginning of restarting the peace talks,” Jewish Federation of Winnipeg president Joel Lazer told CBC Friday.

“With no ceasefire we have no dialogue. If we have no dialogue we can never solve the problem.”

A ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, went into effect early Friday morning, following 11 days of violent conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Hamas — the militant group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 — and other militant groups fired over 4,000 rockets at Israel throughout the fighting, launching the projectiles from civilian areas at Israeli cities. 

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting what it said was Hamas’s military infrastructure. A senior Israeli army official said Israel hit 1,600 “military targets” over the 11 days.

According to a Friday Associated Press report, the Gaza Health Ministry says at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and another 1,910 people wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between fighters and civilians, the Associated Press reported. 

Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a five-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel accepted the proposal for a ceasefire late Thursday night. Hamas quickly followed suit and said it, too, would honour the deal.

“It’s certainly the end of people dying on both sides, people being injured on both sides, and never mind if you’re lucky enough not to be injured — just the mental stress of having rockets fly indiscriminately to your home,” said the Jewish Federation’s Lazer.

“So ceasefire — great. I have high hopes that it will begin and stay. They don’t always. But without a ceasefire, we don’t get anywhere.”

Idris Elbakri says in spite of the ceasefire, broader issues remain unresolved. (Lindsay Tsuji/CBC)

Idris Elbakri, a Palestinian Canadian from Jerusalem who now lives in Winnipeg, said the truce brings relief.

But he fears broader issues remain unresolved.

“Unfortunately, the world’s response has been kind of ignoring that there is a fundamental problem that needs to be solved, and that is that Israel occupies the Palestinians and when they resist that occupation, a disproportionate amount of force is unleashed on them,” Elbakri said in a Friday interview with CBC.

“So sadly, I expect there will be more violence in the future but I’m happy that people have some relief for now.”

Fighting in the region intensified again on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, part of a holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Police tactics decried as heavy-handed — including firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound, who hurled stones and chairs — and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

Palestinians inspect the destroyed building in Gaza City housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media on Friday, after it was hit last week by Israeli airstrike. A ceasefire took effect early Friday after 11 days of heavy fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers that was ignited by protests and clashes in Jerusalem. (Hatem Moussa/The Associated Press)

Elbakri says Palestinians living in Jerusalem suffer from high taxation, along with inadequate education and housing. Some face forced expulsion to make way for Israeli settlers to live in their homes, he said.

“People are all the time tense and worried, and there’s just no break for them from that. That will continue,” he said.

Lazer said he will remain hopeful the ceasefire will last, at least for a while, “because the alternative is terrible.”

“I am optimistic by nature. I believe that if people will put their positions aside and take care of their interests and be educated about each other’s interests and cultures and desires, that we could work it out,” he said.

Lazer also urged people to be kind and distinguish between those fighting in the Middle East and the civilians caught in the middle.

“I don’t think that there’s many people that I know that have difficulty with the Palestinians, but there’s a whole pile of people that I know have difficulty with Hamas, and they’re not the same,” he said.

Jewish Federation of Winnipeg president Joel Lazer says he’s hopeful the ceasefire will last, ‘because the alternative is terrible.’ (Submitted by Joel Lazer)

“The everyday person? That’s not Hamas.… I think if we could separate our positions from our interests and take care of our interests and accommodate other people, we can come to some resolution,” he said.

“I’m Jewish. That doesn’t mean I’m responsible for what Israel does. If you think that all Jews are Israel, it’s kind of antisemitic.”

Several clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups broke out in Canada, including Winnipeg, during the 11 days of unrest in the Middle East.

Canada needs to step up

Both Lazer and Elbakri agree that Canada needs to actively aid the peace efforts in the Middle East.

“The Canadian government’s response has been sorely, sorely inadequate on this issue,” Elbakri said.

“Canada is quick to affirm Israel’s right to defend itself but it does not extend that same right to the Palestinians. I think there’s a lot of grassroots frustration and I think a lot of momentum building up in Canada to kind of move the position of the Canadian government to be more in line with the principles of human rights.”

Canada once held a respected international reputation as a peacekeeper, of standing up to oppressors, said Lazer, who suggested that prestige has faded through inaction in the Middle East.

“I think there’s lots of room for us to do more,” he said.