Published on
The Montreal Gazette

Palestinian Lawsuit Condemns Canadian Condo Project as War Crime

They're building condos on our land, villagers say

Sue Montgomery

Members of a tiny Palestinian farming community will be in Quebec Superior Court tomorrow claiming two Canadian construction companies are committing war crimes by building condominiums and roads on the village's land in the West Bank.

It will be the first time that Canada's War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act, passed in 2000, will be used in a civil case.

University of Toronto law professor Ed Morgan, who is also past president of the Canadian Jewish Council, said that while the move is "imaginative," the group may have some difficulty in convincing the Quebec court that it has jurisdiction over the case.

"The Quebec court is going to have to find that there's a real and substantial connection to Quebec, which seems a stretch to me," he said, pointing out that any alleged wrongdoing took place outside of Canada.

The village of Bil'in, with a population of just 1,700, claims Green Park International and Green Mount International, two companies registered in Quebec, are "aiding, abetting, assisting and conspiring with Israel" to illegally construct residential and other buildings on the village's lands.

According to the lawsuit, the lands of Bil'in are subject to the rules and obligations of international law because the West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Canada's war crimes law and other international laws prohibit an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Ronald Levy, the lawyer representing the two companies, declined to comment on the case while it is before the courts.

But he recently told the Canadian Jewish News he thought the suit was "a media exercise intended to besmirch Israel - they don't care if they win or not, they just want attention. We consider this an abusive action."

Levy has filed three motions arguing that a Quebec court shouldn't hear the case.

Mohammed Khatib, of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, Bil'in, has been travelling around Canada with other residents of the 408-hectare agricultural village, trying to raise awareness and support. He said they're optimistic.


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"We believe we'll succeed and that's why we're here," he said.

"Maybe not today or tomorrow or the coming months, but we will succeed because we are right."

The 35-year-old said the companies are destroying olive trees to make way for buildings that are reserved exclusively for Israeli citizens. So far, about 45,000 people have moved into the settlement.

Morgan said the Quebec court may also have an issue with the fact Bil'in already went to an Israeli court, where it argued the settlement violated building and planning laws.

It also argued against the location of an Israeli security wall that separates the village from 60 per cent of its land. The court agreed that the wall had to be partially moved.

"It's a creative legal manoeuvre to try to use the home jurisdiction of the company that you're suing, but Canadian courts, Quebec included, don't like to think of themselves as courts of appeal for a foreign court that you lose in," he said.

"Having already sued for something very similar in the Israeli courts ... they're going to have to convince the Quebec Court why it should be reheard here."

But Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer helping the villagers, said no civil suit has ever been filed in Israel because the Supreme Court there has never ruled on the legality of settlements in the Occupied Territories, saying instead they are a political issue.

The case is scheduled to be heard tomorrow, Tuesday and Thursday.


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