Speech obscures Palestinian suffering
Article in Western News
By Faculty Members
Thursday, June 19, 2008
With utter dismay we read Paul Davenport's speech at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) dinner held at the Best Western Lamplighter
Inn on June 1.
Earlier, faculty, students and community members, including Muslims, Jews and Christians had presented
Davenport with very strong evidence on the role of the JNF in the expulsion of Palestinians and the usurpation of their land.
His claims to diversity, equality and justice are undermined by accepting an award for tolerance from an organization that
allocates confiscated land to Jews only, described even by prominent Israeli scholars and human rights organizations as a
Davenport's blindness to Palestinian suffering is disgraceful: in Jerusalem, he visits Yad Vashem,
but says nothing of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the city's Palestinian inhabitants. He attends a Negev dinner but says
nothing about the Negev's (al-Naqab) Palestinian Bedouin and the JNF's role in past and ongoing displacement of the indigenous
nomadic population and the seizure of their lands.
In the Galilee, Davenport celebrated Israel's rehabilitation of
the En Ro'im Spring, an area haunted by the destruction of Palestinian villages and the gruesome massacres of Palestinian
villagers in Safsaf, Jish, Sa'sa', Saliha, Eilabun, Majd al-Kurum, Deir al-Asad, Nasr al-Din, 'Ayn Zaytun, Khisas, Kabri,
al-Bi'na, Nahf and Hula.
In Hula alone, a village to which Davenport refers, on Oct. 31, 1948, Jewish forces killed
more than 80 Palestinian villagers. Such massacres are thoroughly documented. Here is just one quote from the diary of Yosef
Nahmani, director of the JNF office in Eastern Galilee between 1935 and 1965:
In Safsas, after the inhabitants had
raised a white flag, the [soldiers] collected and separated the men and women, tied the hands of 50-60 fellahin [peasants]
and shot and killed them and buried them in a pit. Also, they raped several women; At Eilabun and Farradiya the soldiers had
been greeted with white flags, and rich food, and afterwards had ordered the villagers to leave, with their women and children.
When the [villagers] had begun to argue [the soldiers] had opened fire and after some 30 people were killed, had begun to
lead the rest [towards Lebanon]; In Saliha, where a white flag had been raised they had killed about 60-70 men and women.
Is there no more humane way of expelling the inhabitants than such methods?
Davenport said: "We toured the Birya Forest
outside of Tsfat. With a JNF guide, we also toured the Hula Valley nature reserve and admired the dazzling variety ... of
birds and other wildlife. We left ... with a profound admiration for what the people of Israel have achieved under extraordinarily
Biriyya, the original Arabic name for Birya, was occupied by the Zionist elite unit, the Palmach,
which expelled the population and ordered the burning of the village houses. Concealed under Birya Forest, marketed by the
JNF as one of its most successful green projects, lie the ruins of homes and lands of six Palestinian villages: Alma, Amqa,
Ayn al-Zaytun, Dishon, Biriyya (Birya) and Qaddita. Davenport was dazzled by Hula's wildlife, but said nothing of the suffocation
of Palestinian life, especially in the West Bank and Gaza.
In these illegally occupied territories, Israel warped
Palestinian life into a daily nightmare, and there also the JNF stamped its signature in the form of the infamous Canada Park,
burying the traces of three demolished villages. These JNF green zones entwine with Israeli security zonesand expanding Jewish
settlements rendering any reference to an independent Palestinian state a hollow slogan for Western consumption.
the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle has straddled two centuries, and Palestinian voices emerge from Palestine, squalid
refugee camps and places of exile, Davenport's speech echoes Israel's attempts to erase from Western consciousness the presence,
dispossession and suffering of Palestinians.
As members of the Western community, we feel ashamed of our president
and more determined than ever to continue to speak out for justice for Palestine.
The diary portion above is cited
in: Nahmani diary, Nov. 6, 1948 in Benny Morris, "Falsifying the Record: A Fresh Look at Zionist Documentation of 1948, Journal
of Palestine Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring, 1995), p. 55.
This article was signed by faculty members
Randa Farah, David Heap, Rebecca Coulter, Chet Creider, Sasha Torres, Wael Haddara, Paul Handford, Douglass St. Christian,
Peter Chidiac, Marjorie Ratcliffe, Matthew Rowlinson, Sahza Hatibovic Kofman, Roger Khayat, Abhijit Gopal, Tozun Bahcheli,
Mireya Folch-Serra, Bernie Hammond, Lesley Short, Muhammad N. Saad and Mahmoud El-Sakka,
An open letter from Maurice Ostroff
To Faculty Members at the University of Western Ontario, who subscribed
to the June 19, 2008 article in Western News "Speech obscures Palestinian suffering"
Randa Farah, David Heap,
Rebecca Coulter, Chet Creider, Sasha Torres, Wael Haddara, Paul Handford, Douglass St. Christian, Peter Chidiac, Marjorie
Ratcliffe, Matthew Rowlinson, Sahza Hatibovic–Kofman, Roger Khayat, Abhijit Gopal, Tozun Bahcheli, Mireya Folch-Serra,
Bernie Hammond, Lesley Short, Muhammad N. Saad and Mahmoud El-Sakka,
As academics, I trust you will accept the following
critical letter in the constructive spirit of open, honest, intellectual debate and exchange of ideas that academia encourages
and as I intend.
Since you signed the above article in your capacities as faculty members, it carries the prestige
of the esteemed academic institution that you represent. It is therefore especially disappointing to find that, untypical
of the academic standards of the University of Western Ontario, the article contains incorrect information presented as categorical
For example, although a modest amount of investigation would have revealed that the Jewish National Fund (JNF)
has never expelled anyone, you refer to "very strong evidence on the role of the JNF in the expulsion of Palestinians and
the usurpation of their land"
The JNF was founded in 1901 to buy land in Palestine for Jewish settlement with funds
largely collected from Jews around the world who contributed via the well-known "Blue Boxes'" in Jewish homes. It engages
in reclamation and forestation in close cooperation with the Jewish Agency. Its legitimacy derives from the fact that the
Agency was established in accordance with the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine that included the establishment
and recognition of a "Jewish agency " comprised of representatives of world Jewry to assist in the " establishment of the
Jewish National Home . . . in Palestine."
Your reference to the JNF, as an organization that allocates confiscated
land to Jews only, is also incorrect. Although there never have been any restrictions on the purchase of private land in Israel,
you are correct in that in the past, there was a restriction on the leasing of the small amount of JNF land bought by Jews
for the use of Jews, a restriction that pales into insignificance by comparison with the expropriation of large amounts of
land from aboriginal populations in Canada.
But, had you invested in just a little further research, you would have
discovered that even this restriction has been removed. Among its activities, the JNF in cooperation with the Jewish Agency
has been responsible for resettlement of new immigrants in accordance with the above Mandate decision of the League of Nations.
And because this land was bought with funds collected for the specific purpose of resettling Jews, this land was in the past
reserved for Jews.
However, in March 2000 the Israel High Court ruled 4-1 that even in allocation of JNF land, the
state may not discriminate between Arabs and Jews. The one dissenting judge, Ya'acov Kedmi, stated that although the state
has no right to discriminate against Arabs on state lands, the Jewish Agency, which was formed to promote Jewish settlement
in Israel, does have the right to decide who can benefit from its resources.
Your strong criticism of President Paul
Davenport for failing to refer to incidents alleged to have occurred in 1948 when he spoke of current achievements of the
JNF, carries interesting implications. By the same token, a visitor to Canada would be obliged to qualify any praise of Canada
with reference to the fact that in Canada "Indians today are the subject of legal discrimination; they have grievances because
of past undertakings that have been broken or misunderstood; they do not have full control of their lands; and a higher proportion
of Indians than other Canadians suffer poverty in all its debilitating forms". (See the White Paper, 1969, presented to the
First Session of the 28th Parliament by Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development)
you castigate me, if, in speaking about the incredible positive developments in Canada, I omit mentioning that even today,
there are over one hundred reserves for Aboriginals in Alberta alone and that prevailing injustices provoked a day of action
by Canada's aboriginal community last June? Would I be obliged to refer to a gravel quarry near Deseronto, on land never ceded
by the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, where trucks have carried an estimated 100,000 tons of newly crushed gravel out of the
pit every year before agreement was reached to acquire the rights to do so. In a May 2007 article "More than A Mine, A Metaphor"
in The Globe and Mail, Naomi Klein wrote "And as the time passes, the land disappears. Forests are clear-cut, mountains are
carved up, suburbs creep outward. The only question is what form compensation for the theft will take".
It is difficult
to understand what message you intend to convey by quoting carefully selected excerpts from the work of Yosef Nahmani as quoted
by Benny Morris about alleged cruel acts by Israeli forces as if these occurred in a vacuum with deliberate planning and intent
(if they indeed did occur as described).
The main indisputable facts are that in1947, the UN passed a partition resolution
that the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected. The moment the State of Israel was declared in May 1948, the Arab League declared
"Holy War, with the publicly declared intention of driving the Jews into the sea. Arab League Secretary, Azzam Pasha declared
"jihad". He said publicly "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian
massacres and the Crusades". The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini stated, "I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers!
Murder the Jews! Murder them all!"
Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Iraq invaded the newborn state and Israel became
involved in a war for survival.
The atrocities committed by Arabs are legion, but unlike the Israeli archives, the
Arab archives have not been opened to researchers. More significantly, new historians like Benny Morris whom you quote, chose
to ignore Arab atrocities as a matter of deliberate policy as recorded by Morris in "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee
Problem Revisited" in which he explains that in his research "What Jews did to Arabs, including massacres, played a role;
What Arabs did to Jews was barely relevant" In other words, when Israelis responded to Arab attacks and atrocities, the Arab
actions that triggered the Israeli responses, were ignored as irrelevant by Morris.
Very sadly, terrible thing happen
in wars. When describing battles, I expect you will agree that it is misleading to list the actions and casualties of one
I would very much appreciate your considered response, which I will study earnestly.
letter and any reply received from you will be distributed widely.