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Thursday, June 12

Canadians told to look under Israeli forests
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Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Canadian taxpayers are partly financing the uprooting of Palestinians from their villages to make way for forests, a movie now being screened in Canada states.

“The Village under the Forest” is produced by two South African Jews - Emmy award-winning filmmaker Mark Kaplan and author Heidi Grunebaum who did the narration. Grunebaum visited the South Africa Forest in Israel and discovered that the forest, built by funds from South Africa, had been constructed on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Lubya. “It felt like the rug being pulled out from under my feet,” she declared.

“The Village under the Forest” won the Audience Award at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival for Best South African Film in 2013.

Grunebaum states that Lubya was among the 513 Palestinian villages destroyed by the Israeli military in 1948. The Jewish National Fund planted 86 pine forests and parks over the rubble.

The movie evoked powerful emotions. One critic wrote: “This film is a one-sided propaganda libel against Israel and the Jews. The film was funded by viciously anti-Israel NGOs that are under investigation. The narrative distorts well-documented history while being selective in portraying facts and relevant background and context.”

Countered another: “Films like this are long overdue to counter the myths fabricated for years to obscure Israel’s systematic ethnic cleansing of its Palestinian population, now so well-documented in the works of Israel’s new historians, from Benny Morris to Elan Pappe, and referenced most recently in the wildly popular work by Zionist writer Ari Shavit.”

Says festival director Lesedi Oluko Moche: “You’d expect a film like this from a Palestinian filmmaker, but it’s been made by two Jews, who bravely confront, interrogate and take responsibility for the actions of their forebears.”

Indeed, it is mostly Jewish historians, who have studied declassified Zionist documents and have stated that it was not the Arab armies that started the 1948 war but Zionist gangs which forcibly removed Palestinians from their villages and seized or razed them. The movie was screened in Ottawa by Independent Jewish Voices, comprising Jews who believe in truth, justice, human rights and peace for everyone in the Middle East.

Tyler Levitan of IJV said at the screening that IJV had sent a petition signed by thousands of people to the Canadian Minister of National Revenue, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, asking her to revoke the tax-free status of Jewish National Fund so that Canadians do not finance ethnic cleansing.

“As Canadian Jews and supporters of human rights, we are opposed to the JNF’s discriminatory policies of ethnic exclusion, and its role in the historic and ongoing dispossession of Palestinians from their lands. It is truly scandalous that the JNF’s branch in Canada has charitable status and is therefore subsidized by Canadian taxpayers.”

IJV estimates that because JNF-Canada enjoys charitable status it provides tax credits for donations and that a quarter of their budget comes from Canadian taxpayers.

Though this movie is about the forest that was funded by South Africans, other parts of the forest are funded by JNF from other countries. Canada Park, for example, is a 3,200 hectare park between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It was built, this movie states, on three Palestinian villages - Beit Nuba, Imwas and Yalu - after Israeli forces destroyed the villages and ousted their 5,000 residents in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. A 1986 United Nations Special Committee reported to the Secretary General that the villagers were denied the right of return to their land. JNF-Canada raised $15 million to build the park. The City of Ottawa is among those who donated.

The JNF was established at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Switzerland in 1901 to “acquire land” for “settling Jews on such land.” Its charter discriminates against people of other faiths, even if they had owned the land and it was taken away by force.

This year JNF had a fund-raiser in April for a hiking and biking trail in Canada Park “in honor of IDF soldiers who have been held in captivity.” Stop the JNF Canada and IJV arranged their own demonstration to honor Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba whose ruins are still visible in Ayalon/Canada Park and to honor Palestinian prisoners.

According to Addameer, the Prison Support and Human Rights Association, as of January 2014 there were 5,023 Palestinian prisoners, including women and children, held in Israeli jails and more than 750,000 Palestinians have gone through Israeli prisons since 1967. The foremost champions of human rights, justice and peace in the Middle East in Canada now are Jews and Christian groups.

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.

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