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Liberal, NDP MPs to travel to West Bank to connect with Palestinians

Riot police officers stand guard while Palestinians protest against U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit and his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Jan. 10, 2024. (REUTERS - image credit)
Riot police officers stand guard while Palestinians protest against U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit and his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Jan. 10, 2024. (REUTERS - image credit)

Five Canadian MPs are set to begin a week-long visit to Jordan and the West Bank today to meet with Palestinian refugees and progressive Israeli groups.

The group of MPs landing in Amman, Jordan's capital, includes Liberal MPs Salma Zahid and Shafqat Ali and New Democrat MPs Heather McPherson (the party's foreign affairs critic), Matthew Green and Lindsay Mathyssen.

"What we have seen in the last three months is that it is a humanitarian crisis, and the situation also in the West Bank has been worsening," Zahid, chair of the Canada–Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, told CBC News prior to the MPs' departure.

"I think it is really good to be on the ground to see, and to talk to some of the impacted families."

The trip is sponsored travel paid for by Canadian Muslim Vote, a registered non-profit Muslim charity.

Liberal member of Parliament Salma Zahid arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Zahid is among the MPs travelling to the West Bank and Jordan.
Liberal member of Parliament Salma Zahid arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Zahid is among the MPs travelling to the West Bank and Jordan.

Liberal member of Parliament Salma Zahid arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 1, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In October, Zahid spearheaded an effort to get MPs across party lines to sign a letter demanding that the Canadian government call for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Twenty-two other Liberal MPs initially signed the letter — the first sign of fracture in the government caucus over Canada's position on the war.

Canada voted for a ceasefire at the UN General Assembly in December, just days after CBC News reported a group representing Muslim donors had left the Liberal Party of Canada's highest donor rank.

"I think it is important that Canada is known as a peacemaker, a peace-builder. So Canada should be a strong voice for a ceasefire in that region, to make sure that we put an end to the killing of innocent Palestinian people," Zahid said.

NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona Heather McPherson rises on a point of order to move a motion on Ukraine following Question Period, Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in Ottawa.  McPherson is one of three NDP MPs on the trip to the West Bank.
NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona Heather McPherson rises on a point of order to move a motion on Ukraine following Question Period, Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in Ottawa. McPherson is one of three NDP MPs on the trip to the West Bank.

NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona Heather McPherson rises in question period on April 27, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"This region is in chaos and Canada needs to play a role, working with our allies," said McPherson.

"I think what this trip allows us to do is ... speak with some authority, because we will be on the ground. We will speak with progressive Israeli organizations who are calling for peace."

A preliminary itinerary the group released to CBC News mentions stops in Jordan and Ramallah in the central West Bank to speak with "affected" Palestinian communities, along with visits to refugee camps.

The West Bank has not seen the same volume of media coverage as Gaza, the main theater of conflict since October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched an attack that saw it kill 1,200 Israeli civilians and take 240 hostages.

Since then, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza has estimated Israel has killed some 23,000 Palestinians in retaliatory military actions.

The Canadian government lists Hamas as a terrorist organization. Canada does have a diplomatic presence in the West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority, a different political entity that is recognized by the United Nations as the only representative Palestinian governing body.

On Friday, Israel said it had killed three Palestinian men who infiltrated a settlement in the West Bank.

The news wire service Reuters has reported that Israeli forces have killed hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank and have arrested thousands since Oct. 7.

In December, the Canadian government joined 13 other countries, including the United Kingdom, France and the European Union, in calling on Israel to do more to stop "extremist settler violence" against Palestinians.

The United States has also imposed travel bans on extremist settlers associated with acts of violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in the Muqata'a, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 10, 2024.  The U.S. has imposed travel sanctions on what it calls "extremist" Israeli settlers. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Jan. 10, 2024. (REUTERS)

Ali, the Liberal MP for Brampton-Centre, and Mathyssen, the NDP MP for London-Fanshawe, said they have heard from constituents alarmed by the humanitarian crisis on the ground.

Ali said he wants to "meet with those non-governmental organization individuals who are working on the ground to have knowledge and perspective on how we can assist Palestinians in basically rebuilding. If you see it by yourself, you can talk about it with more clarity."

Mathyssen said she is going "to hear the stories, to see for ourselves what's going on on the ground, to meet with key organizations that are providing humanitarian aid."

Second MP trip to Middle East since conflict erupted

This trip is the second by a group of Canadian MPs to the Middle East since Oct. 7.

In November, two Liberal and three Conservative MPs travelled to Israel to meet with survivors of Hamas's deadly attack and family members of those killed. That trip was sponsored by the Canadian group United Jewish Appeal.

At the time, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East suggested it would have been fair for those MPs to meet with Palestinians as well.

The MPs visiting the West Bank this week say they're not worried about appearing one-sided.

"I am going there to that region as [a] member of Parliament and as the chair of the Canada–Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group. I think it is really very important that I visit the region," said Zahid.

"It's very important to me that I am hearing from Jewish organizations, that I am meeting with Jewish representatives that can talk to us about their calls for peace," McPherson said.