Israel peers warn against displacement of Palestinians in Gaza to places like Canada

Laura Osman and Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, January 3, 2024 2:34 pm EST

OTTAWA – Countries traditionally aligned with Israel are warning its right-wing government not to consider a displacement of people living in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli officials repeatedly suggest that Canada could take in Palestinians.

This week, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said his country should “encourage the migration” of Palestinians from Gaza and restore Israeli settlements there, echoing similar comments from National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The spokesman for the United States Department of State, Matthew Miller, condemns the comments of both politicians as “inflammatory and irresponsible”, while the French president, Emmanuel Macron, describes them as “unacceptable”.

Last month, members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party reportedly discussed countries willing to accept Palestinians in Gaza as refugees.

The Israel Hayom newspaper report cited anonymous sources who said a Knesset member had singled out Canada, mentioning its new program offering limited visas to family members of Canadian citizens seeking passage out of Gaza.

The report has not been independently verified by The Canadian Press.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said in a social media post last week that he had never discussed moving Gazans out of Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for more. comments.

“It is obscene to have to say this, but at no time have I discussed with any member of the Israeli government the so-called ‘voluntary transfer’ of Gazans out of Gaza,” Miller posted online on December 29.

“Anyone who pretends otherwise is full of lies.”

Next week, Canada is expected to launch a temporary immigration program for family members of Canadians trapped in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The program would offer three-year visas to up to 1,000 Palestinians whose family members are willing to support them while they are in Canada.

During the first month of the latest war between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli government ministry drafted a proposal to transfer the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Egypt and resettle them in other countries.

The memo specifically noted that Canada’s “lenient” immigration practices could make the country a target for resettlement. Israeli officials have confirmed the veracity of the document, but said the proposal is not government policy.

In November, Ram Ben Barak, former deputy director of the Mossad intelligence agency, told Israeli television that for Palestinians “it is better to be a refugee in Canada” than to live in Gaza.

University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau said recent statements by Smotrich and Ben Gvir amount to “openly advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Paula Gaviria Betancur, warned that Israel appears to be seeking to permanently alter the composition of Gaza’s population.

“As evacuation orders and military operations continue to expand and civilians are subjected to relentless attacks on a daily basis, the only logical conclusion is that Israel’s military operation in Gaza aims to mass deport the majority of the population civil,” Gaviria Betancur wrote in a December 22 statement.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy responded by saying his country asked Palestinians to move to a humanitarian zone inside the Gaza Strip, from where Hamas then launched rockets.

“We want civilians to be protected in areas where Hamas is no longer using them as human shields,” Levy said on social media on December 26.

“The only people encouraging the mass displacement of Gazans are those who falsely label most of them as ‘refugees’ and fulfill their dreams of resettling in Israel through violent struggle, rather than living in peace together.” us”.

The war began after Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

Gaza has been under near-constant bombardment since then, and local officials say Israel’s military response has killed more than 22,300 people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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