CANADA AND LEBANON – Has Canada”s role changed for good?

CANADA AND LEBANON

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– Has Canada’s role changed for good? –

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Last time I was in Lebanon, it was in October, 1984. I attended a donors’ conference of the world-wide churches on the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). During those days, I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches and used to go to Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon regularly representing three Canadian churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches. Visitors were representatives of the churches in Europe and North America. The meeting was held in Beirut. Before the meeting, all of us were invited to participate in field trips of various regions to assess the devastation of war. I was asked to survey Southern Lebanon with Wim Schot of the Dutch Inter-Church Aid,.

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The devastation we saw then was just like the ones we are seeing on the TV in the Hezbollah/Israeli conflict. All of us first met at the apartment, which belonged to General Secretary, Gabby Habib, of MECC, in an elegant district near American University. Americans, British, and French delegates were told that they must not leave the apartment for safety. They stayed there for one week, while the rest of us toured the country.

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Wim and I went to Saida first by a boat owned by Falange Forces (Maronite Christians). It was full of heavily armed men. We sailed early morning from Beirut far into the Mediterranean to avoid Druse shells from the coast. About two hours later, we were stopped by an Israeli gunboat. It took an hour to check all of our ID papers. Wim and I concluded that Israelis were the allies of Maronite Christians. By the time we arrived in Saida, it was evening: a 50 km trip if done by land. We toured Saida, Tyre, Nabatiyeh and the Israeli/Lebanese border region. Each night, we were awakened by the sound of gun-fire. It was the time when there were hostages in captivity including American journalists and a British churchman, Terry Waite. We returned to Beirut by land, because presumably by then it was assumed to be safe. We went through check points manned by many warring factions; Druse, Falange, Sunni, Shi’ites, as well as Israeli Defense Force. Never had we been threatened nor barred by any party.

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Why am I telling all this? I want to say that I had never felt grateful for being a Canadian. We were not part of an empire, an impartial honest broker and a trusted peace-keeper. I was proud to carry my passport and grateful for my government. My colleagues who had been cooped up in Gabby’s apartment were envious and wished their countries had the same reputation as Canada and Netherland did.

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My question is: can I do the same now in 2006, after the stand Tory government took during and after the month’s war in Lebanon?

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August 30, 2006

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