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Western News (the University of Western Ontario) | June 19, 2008

Speech obscures Palestinian suffering

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 racist policy.

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: “[W]e 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 difficult conditions.”

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 zones” and expanding Jewish settlements rendering any reference to an independent Palestinian state a hollow slogan for Western consumption.

Although 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.

The writers
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.

Posted on 20-06-2008

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