There were approximately 50,000 Canadian citizens in Lebanon when violence between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist organization, escalated.
That?s about two-thirds the population of Prince George or two-and-a-half times the population of Fort St. John, but the Canadians in Lebanon are not centralized in one urban area. They are spread out over 10,000 square kilometres, including areas subject to sporadic bombings and poor telecommunications.
There has been much criticism throughout the past two weeks on how the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon has been managed.
While the Canadian government has been trying to locate and evacuate tens of thousands of Canadians, hundreds of thousands of citizens from other nations have been trying to get out at the same time. Contrary to what you may have been led to believe through media reports, by the end of the first week of the crisis, Canada had evacuated more of its citizens than Britain, France or the United States. No, it has not all gone smoothly and the conditions were not ideal.
One of the fall-outs of this crisis has been the resentment of many Canadians that the evacuees, quite a number who have been living full-time in Lebanon for many years, have been ungrateful about the efforts to rescue them from harm?s way, all at taxpayers? expense.
Point taken. Yet a Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen, and we have a duty to ensure the safety of all of our citizens. Plus, put yourself in the evacuees? shoes for a moment.
Whether vacationing in Lebanon, visiting relatives or living there, imagine the terror of bombs raining down on you, waiting in the hot sun with small children or elderly parents, loaded down with your personal belongings with limited access to food and water, and worried about the health and safety of your family. At that very moment, it would be difficult to keep your cool when a reporter comes up to you, puts a microphone in your face and asks you your opinion regarding the evacuation effort.
There are just as many Canadians who are now safely back in Canada that have expressed immense appreciation for the Canadian government and embassy staff who worked tirelessly around the clock to help their fellow citizens. Unfortunately, their comments have not received nearly as much media coverage as statements by disgruntled evacuees.
Our government has repeatedly called upon the Israeli government to exercise restraint and to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. Yet Canada also recognizes Israel?s right to defend itself and its citizens from unprovoked attacks by terrorist organizations. Hezbollah, like Hamas, does not believe in Israel?s right to exist.
It cannot be considered ?taking sides? when the Canadian government refuses to condone the actions of those who refuse to denounce violence against innocent Israelis as a means to advance their extremist agenda.
The strife in the Middle East is historic and complex and it will not be solved easily or soon. In the meantime, the priority for the Canadian government will continue to be the protection of its citizens caught in the crossfire.