A small group of Liberal and Conservative MPs are in Israel as part of what they say is a bipartisan trip to show solidarity with the country as it mourns a horrific Hamas attack and is under investigation for the deaths. in the Gaza Strip.
“Israel is definitely not the same Israel as it was before the terrorist attacks,” Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said in an interview from Jerusalem.
“I thought it was important for me to go, to better understand and explain to my colleagues what Israel’s perspective is on what happened on October 7 and the war with Hamas.”
The group began the trip on Monday, meeting with survivors of the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel and took about 240 hostages.
Housefather said that before they go home Wednesday night, his fellow MPs will also meet with the co-chairs of the Canada-Israel parliamentary friendship group and some government officials. They are also likely to travel to areas affected by the October 7 attacks.
The trip was organized by an informal coalition of Jewish federations across Canada, which sent another 43 people to take part in the trip along with five MPs.
Liberal MP Marco Mendicino said in an email that the group had heard “horrific and heartbreaking” stories about October 7, including from families who rushed to bunkers during the attacks or suddenly lost contact with loved ones on WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging application.
Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman posted a photo of herself in Israel with fellow Tory MPs Michelle Rempel Garner and Marty Morantz.
Lantsman posted on social media that the MPs were there to testify “and to express our solidarity with the Israeli people.” None of the Conservatives responded to an interview request, but caucus spokesman Sebastian Skamski echoed Lantsman’s statement.
“The terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas represent the single worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust and Canada must continue to stand with Israel and the Jewish people,” he wrote.
After the October 7 attacks, Israel declared war on Hamas, began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million Palestinians.
Territorial health officials say more than 12,700 people have been killed in the revenge campaign so far, two-thirds of them women and children. Another 2,700 people were reported missing.
The United Nations reports that more of its humanitarian workers have been killed in the six-week conflict than in any other war, and says Israel is violating humanitarian law.
The father of the house noted the suffering of civilians in Gaza, but said Canadians may not realize the extent to which Israelis continue to grapple with the aftermath of attacks that started the war.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from communities near Israel’s borders, air-raid sirens continue to sound and many schools are closed. Universities delayed the fall academic term until late December, as the Israeli military called up so many young people.
The Liberal MP said hotels in the country were deserted, and people were on edge.
Hamas attacked many collective farming communities, each known as a kibbutz. The father of the house said those areas are often home to leftist people who are highly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But he said even people with that political background tend to be “in solidarity” with the government’s position on the war.
“There is no call that I see from anyone in Israeli society, in the center, on the left or on the right, to stop this until Hamas is removed from Gaza,” Housefather said.
“The elimination of Hamas, in my opinion, is a prerequisite to discussing a two-state solution.”
He added that the idea of a ceasefire was “a complete non-starter” among Israelis.
The Liberal government has received calls from MPs in various parties, including their own, for Canada to follow France and Ireland in calling for a cessation of hostilities. Israel argued that such pauses would only allow Hamas to rearm and kill more Israelis.
“Hearing from today, the people who survived the attack on the kibbutz as well as the people whose children were killed in the kibbutz is an important first step to better understand the situation from the point of view of the average Israeli,” added Housefather .
He said many Israelis express a sense that they have the ability to protect themselves against Hamas, which Canada recognizes as a terrorist group, in a way that Jews have not been able to through centuries of pogroms and the Holocaust.
He says it’s a fact he doesn’t understand, and one that many Canadians are probably missing.
“They say, ‘Yes, we care about people being killed; we don’t want civilians to be killed in Gaza. We are deeply hurt by the death of any person who is not a terrorist,'” he said.
“But they say, ‘If we don’t destroy the terrorists, they will kill us tomorrow.’ And that’s the lesson they learned from Oct. 7.”
The father of the house said his group will meet with Arab Israelis but has no plans to meet with Palestinians. He said this is because there is no access to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, and the territories are not safe to enter. There were no Palestinian officials in Jerusalem for the MPs’ meeting, he said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said 84 people with ties to Canada were able to leave the Gaza Strip for Egypt on Sunday.
The list of foreign nationals cleared to make the trip on Sunday, as published by Gaza’s General Authority for Crossings and Borders, includes 135 people with connections to Canada.
The latest update from Global Affairs Canada, issued on Friday, said 376 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives had previously left the Palestinian territory through the Rafah crossing.
Global Affairs continues to report that as of Friday, it is aware of a Canadian who is missing.
Washington is now indicating that Canadians are among those believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas — a detail that Ottawa has not confirmed.
In a summary of a call Saturday between Joly and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, her office said they discussed the need to “secure the release of hostages, including US citizens and Canadian.”
Global Affairs Canada said on Nov. 10 that it appointed an envoy “to seek the release of Canadian hostages abroad, including in the Middle East.”
But Joly said his department would not confirm whether Canadians were among the hostages, as doing so could complicate rescue efforts.
On Monday, heavy fighting broke out around the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza, which has been home to thousands of patients and displaced people for weeks.
The fighting came a day after the World Health Organization evacuated 31 premature babies from Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, where they were among more than 250 critically ill or injured patients stranded there several days after Israeli forces entered the compound.
Israel says Hamas is using civilians and hospitals as shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of Palestinians.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 20, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press