The peace activist, Harmeet Singh Sooden, has expressed dismay over the Canadian Government's failure to address an official complaint about his mistreatment by Israeli authorities, after taking more than a year to respond.
While travelling on a Canadian passport, Mr Sooden entered Israel on 14 June 2008 to volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) as a human rights defender in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
While there, he was assaulted and injured, threatened, denied the right to legal counsel and consular representation, held incommunicado in solitary confinement and unlawfully deported on 18 June 2008. He was told by Israeli authorities that he was being deported for being “a threat to the security of the State of Israel”.
In his complaint of 29 September 2008, Sooden asked the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) to make a formal protest to the Government of Israel for denying him consular access; to seek accountability for the excessive use of force by Israeli authorities against him; and to ensure that human rights defenders are not denied entry into the Occupied Territories to do legitimate human rights work.
In its belated response, DFAIT called the details of Mr Sooden’s mistreatment “troubling”. The two-paragraph letter went on to say, “Officials at the Canadian Embassy in Israel have informed Israeli authorities of our concerns surrounding this case.”
“It’s taken DFAIT over a year to respond,” says Mr Sooden. “They’ve told me nothing, they seem to have done nothing. They obviously haven’t taken this complaint seriously at all. This is yet another example of our government failing to protect the rights of Canadians abroad.”
Activists say that Sooden’s deportation from Israel appears to be part of an ongoing Israeli policy of preventing human rights defenders from documenting and exposing Israel’s human rights violations in the OPT.
“DFAIT’s response is consistent with the Canadian Government’s failure to condemn Israel’s serious violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity,” says Sooden.
ISM is an international human rights organisation composed of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals who monitor the human rights situation and protect human rights in the Occupied Territories.
Several human rights defenders affiliated to the ISM have been killed, severely injured, imprisoned or deported by Israeli authorities — a fact which goes largely unreported in the Western media.
Sooden and three others were kidnapped in Iraq on 26 November 2005 while participating in an international Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation. One member of the group, US citizen Tom Fox, was murdered on 9 March 2006. Mr Sooden and the remaining hostages, Canadian James Loney and Briton Norman Kember, were freed two weeks later.