Canadian Speaks Out for Palestinians
Kim Elliott speaks in tones so soft that it's sometimes tough to hear her.
But she uses her voice effectively, making her more courageous than many other Canadians who shout a good game about human rights and freedom of expression, but who slink away when it comes to talking the talk about Israel's invasion of Gaza.
That despite the awful allegations about Israeli army actions that started to dribble out last week: children being used as human shields, civilians being shot for not instantly obeying commands, units buying T-shirts depicting pregnant Palestinian women with targets on their bellies.
Elliott not only speaks out but, as the publisher of the online magazine Rabble.ca, walks the walk.
This month, she went all the way to and around Gaza where she, along with 59 other (mostly women) peace and human rights activists, entered at the invitation of the United Nations.
"There was this doctor we met who told us of `caged rats syndrome,'" she tells me. "It's like putting a bunch of rats in a cage and seeing what happens. It's limiting their movement and packing them in really densely so they turn on each other. They want to get out but can't. Anger just boils over."
Among her fellow sojourners are five Canadians, including Sandra Ruch, one of the Jewish women who occupied Toronto's Israeli consulate in January in protest of the invasion, as well as American author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and Code Pink leaders Medea Benjamin and (former colonel and diplomat) Ann Wright, whose peace activism in the U.S. led to their being barred from entering Canada in 2007.
(On a side note: never in my life had I been ashamed of my country until the Stephen Harper government began to transform it into NeoConada. Last week's banning of British MP George Galloway for unspecified security reasons was just the last straw.)
The group had freedom to tour at will, Elliott insists. "We didn't have anything to do with Hamas other than that they stamped our passports. We wandered around by ourselves all night. We were safe because, as we'd heard, Hamas had so cracked down on the gangs that had started to take over."
Elliott, whose interest in the Palestinians began long ago and who has visited the Middle East many times, went to Gaza so she could bear witness to the effect of the attack and Israel's long-running siege, which strangles the movement of food, medical supplies and other necessities into Gaza.
Which is why there are tunnels from Egypt.
The media emphasize that the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and weapons into Gaza - true - but everything from zoo animals to seedlings also move underground. Just this week, Egypt seized 560 sheep that were being herded through.
"The inhumanity of the border is, oddly enough, what left the most striking impression - more than the incredible destruction of homes," Elliott explains. "The Red Crescent Society said they need at least about 1,000 trucks a day to go through every day to properly sustain the people. On average since the siege, it's about 100 trucks. Some days, there are none. Most of what is feeding the people is going through the tunnels."
So, with all the injustices around the world, why focus on Palestinians?
"I got my human rights background at Amnesty International and, up until very recently, they wouldn't touch this issue, in Canada especially. People felt so threatened!" she says.
"So, not only were the Palestinians suffering enormous human rights abuses...but the focus of the media in disenfranchising them and the way people are attacked for working this issue motivated me."
© 2009 The Toronto Star