Highland Scots Experience Parallels Palestinian Case

Highland Scots Experience Parallels Palestinian Case

As published in the Victoria Standard: September 13, 2016

At the recent Ottawa Green Party convention, Elizabeth May defied the party memberships’ support for BDS (boycott, divestment/sanctions) against Israel and insisted on remaining leader. Her stance subtly supports Trudeau’s parliamentary “condemnation” of those Canadians who dare support BDS. Unfortunately, a concerted BDS campaign may be the only way to moderate the illegitimate conduct of the Israeli state, an imperfect but legitimate entity. The threat of BDS is not new to Israeli politicians. The U.S. government threatened such action in 1949 to pressure the new Israeli government to repatriate Palestinian refugees but later relented under a new president.

The Green Party leader is a former Cape Breton resident and frequent visitor to the Island; a domain of vibrant Highland Scot history and culture. In fact, if Elizabeth May descends from the Mays of clan Donald; her ancestors are famous as the last group to surrender to England. An ambitious political leader might remember that the Highland ancestors of Scottish Canadians suffered similar shameful treatment during the early eighteenth century’s infamous Clearances to what Palestinians have endured since their expulsion in the 1948 Nakba (disaster). Therefore, a little empathy might be in order.

In both the Highland Scot and Palestinian cases, an indigenous population was expelled from their ancestral lands by a combination of military force, political tactics and financial appeal to local elites. While the English offered titles and wealth to Scottish Lairds willing to dislodge their crofters in favour of profitable sheep, the European Zionists of the early twentieth century purchased Palestinian land from absentee Arab owners who cared little for their peasant tenants. These landless farmers became aliens in their own land while the ancestors of 1948’s displaced Palestinians still inhabit refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The brutal post-Culloden suppression of Gaelic culture and the merciless pogrom against Highland “rebels” and their families was not unlike the military regime Palestinians have endured since 1967. Like the English in the eighteenth century Highlands, the modern Israeli military/ security apparatus has largely destroyed hope for Palestinian statehood through a combination of military, judicial, geographic and cultural oppression. I refer to Israeli measures like demolishing and renaming abandoned Arab towns, passing laws that declare 1948 war refugees to have “abandoned” their land and building a so-called security fence through Palestinian farmland.

While Highland lairds actually paid their tenants to leave, only the more extreme Israeli elements have proposed paying Palestinians to leave the Occupied Territories. Reparations and the right of return are anathema to a Netanyahu government that practices permanent territorial expansion. For the time being at least, they can rely on Canada’s economic and diplomatic support.

May’s prime ministerial presumption amply demonstrates her understanding of how our “symbolic” democracy actually works. Her performance is designed more to impress the nation’s power brokers than what Walter Lipmann called “the bewildered herd,” those obliged to pay taxes, fight wars and cast an uninformed vote when called upon. Were the Green, Conservative or Liberal parties truly democratic, the “leaders” role would be limited to announcing and implementing the wishes of the majority.

Elizabeth May’s true beliefs on the value of the BDS campaign in convincing the Israeli leadership to obey international law and make fair arrangements with the Palestinians may never be revealed. However, she is certainly aware of Israel’s status as a highly-subsidized U.S. protectorate, global dealer in sophisticated weaponry, elite security advisor and valued Canadian trade partner.

Canada, to its discredit, signed the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement in 1997 for political and economic reasons. “In an implicit recognition of the occupation, Canada’s free trade accord with Israel includes the West bank as a place where the country’s customs laws apply. Canada’s trade agreement is based on the areas Israel maintains territorial control over, not on internationally-recognized borders.”

By comparison, the Palestinians’ persistent efforts at self-determination and autonomy seem of minor import to an official Canada whose post-harper stance on Israel remains unchanged. While it is too late for the Highland diaspora to return en masse to Scotland, hope remains for Palestine. I call on Elizabeth May to reflect on history’s lessons concerning the parallel nature of the Highland Scots/Palestinian experience at the hands of powerful actors indifferent to their welfare. Such reflection may lead to a Green Party policy that resonates with voters eager for a bold option.