Letter from the Latroun villagers to the Canadian Museum of Civilisation
Re: Jewish National Fund Negev Dinner, Ottawa, 24 November 2008
Dear Mr. Rabinovitch,
As the residents of the villages of ‘Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba, we write to tell you our story. As you are undoubtedly aware, the Negev Dinner of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Ottawa is scheduled for 24 November 2008 at the Museum of Civilization. As President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, we hope that you will consider our experience and stand up for human rights by refusing to allow the JNF to hold its event at the Museum.
‘Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba are three Palestinian villages that were home to 10,000 civilians until June 1967. Close to the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and the West Bank, the villages are in their entirety situated inside the West Bank. Until June 1967, we lived peacefully in our villages. We are a simple, agricultural people and have never in any way posed a threat to security or been a source of trouble in the area.
Although the Latroun area in which our villages are situated was the site of a number of battles between Israel and Jordan in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Jordanian army had withdrawn its troops from the area before Israel invaded the territory during the Six-Day War in 1967. As soon as it occupied our villages, where we offered white flags and no resistance, the Israeli army forced us out of our houses and villages, on foot, with our children and elders. The soldiers would not allow us to take food, water or basic essentials, saying we would be able to return in a few days once the war was over. Forty-one years later, and we are still being denied our right to return. As soon as we had been forced off our land, our houses were demolished, along with our possessions and livestock, with no possible military justification. There is nothing left of our villages. At least eighteen elderly residents of the villages who were unable to leave were killed when the Israeli army demolished their houses over their heads. Dozens more civilians were killed on the long walk to Ramallah – some arbitrarily executed by Israeli soldiers, some, including children, due to heat exhaustion and dehydration.
To help the State of Israel cover up these atrocities, erase us from history and consolidate its control over our land in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in the 1970s the Jewish National Fund of Canada established “Canada Park” over the ruins of our destroyed villages. This is a stain on the good name of Canada, and, we believe, not representative of the intentions of the majority of the Jewish community in Canada, who we know to be good people. The Museums Act of 1990 establishes that the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation is “responsible for preserving and promoting the heritage of Canada, and contributing to the collective memory and sense of identity of all Canadians.” Moreover, one of the Museum’s Guiding Principles is to promote the “fundamental Canadian commitment to democracy in its political and social sense.” With such noble values, we are shocked that the museum would support the Jewish National Fund, an organization which has attempted to demolish our collective identity and memory in order to transplant a new identity and history on its ruins.
We also know our rights. Forcible transfer of civilians and extensive destruction and appropriation of property in occupied territory are war crimes amounting to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. We have a legal entitlement to return to our land and to receive compensation for damage suffered. Despite this, we remain displaced elsewhere in the West Bank, Jordan and beyond. We have only one simple wish – to return to our land to live in peace. We have informed the Israeli authorities that we are prepared to rebuild our houses ourselves, even without compensation from the State of Israel, and we long to be able to live once again as in the past, as peaceful neighbours.
The existence of Canada Park, and the financial support it continues to receive from the Jewish National Fund of Canada, serves to preclude this. As a Canadian charitable association, we believe that the Jewish National Fund’s support of Canada Park breaches Canada’s charitable status laws, which prohibit charities from violating Canadian public policy. We are aware that Canada views all of the West Bank as occupied by Israel and therefore subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
We also must remember that Canada Park is just a small part of the Jewish National Fund’s broader discriminatory policies which have served to appropriate Palestinian land throughout Israel and the West Bank for exclusive Jewish use. The Museum vows to refrain from “activities…which may promote intolerance.” Facilitating and supporting an organisation which actively operates to aid and abet war crimes, insitutionalise racism and prolong our suffering is certainly counter to the mandate of any Canadian Crown Corporation, including that of the Museum of Civilization. On this basis, we strongly urge you to refuse to allow the Jewish National Fund’s Negev Dinner to take place at the Museum of Civilization.
The residents of ‘Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba