In November of 2007, Linda Tabar, Freda Guttman and I co-authored an article on the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Canada’s role in supporting this organization and its appropriation of Palestinian land. We submitted the article for publication as an opinion editorial in a major Canadian daily, The Toronto Star, timed to coincide with a December 2nd JNF fundraising event in Toronto. The article, entitled "Breaking the Chains of Complicity" read as follows
The history of the past century and unfortunately the present one, has taught us that when war crimes are committed in conflicts, as they always are, they leave in their wake accumulated layers of complicities of varying degrees. These may not be apparent immediately, perhaps never known, especially by those who have been unwitting participants. However, if we can ever hope to end the cycles of violence and despair that continue to plague the world, it is imperative that we understand all the ways in which ordinary people participate in abetting such crimes, even when this is done in all innocence. This is imperative because even the most unwitting degree of collusion can help make war crimes or crimes against humanity possible.
One of the authors of this article, Freda Guttman, came to this understanding in 1991 upon being taken to visit Canada Park in the occupied West Bank. Canada Park is a treed recreation area that was created with the financial aid of Canadians, mainly Jews, through the Jewish National Fund. The JNF, an international Zionist organisation, founded in 1901, is the prime instrument by which Israel ensures Jewish control of the land. About half of the land owned by the JNF was land confiscated or seized from Palestinians made refugees in the 1948 War.
The JNF charter forbids it from selling or leasing land to non-Jews. This arrangement has allowed Israel to discriminate against its Arab citizens. The JNF can also be said to play an integral role in the systematic denial of the fundamental right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, a right enshrined in the UN resolution 194 of 1948. The JNF has created over 100 parks and forests on Palestinian lands.
What Canadian donors to Canada Park most probably did not know was that it was built on the ashes of a war crime: the deliberate destruction of three Palestinian villages, ‘Imwas, Yalu, Beit Nuba, following the ethnic cleansing of their inhabitants in 1967 on the orders of Yitzhak Rabin. There among the lists of donors from various Jewish communities in Canada, were Guttman’s parent’s names. The original sin was committed by the Israeli government and its Army, but the lines of complicity were undeniable. Her country, her family had helped to cover up an event, dreadful and enduring, for the 10,000 inhabitants of the three villages who were dispersered into other areas of the West Bank or to refugee camps in Jordan where they and their descendents live today.
There has been no redress, no acknowlegement, no repair on the part of the Israeli government. Rather, it has worked assiduously to erase Palestinian history from the maps and minds of Israelis. That history includes the ethnic cleansing of over a million Palestinians and the destruction of 531 villages in 1948 and 1967.
There are certain things that once done, cannot be undone. This does not mean that ways of redress cannot be found by ordinary citizens. For example, Zochrot, (‘Remembering’ in Hebrew), an organization of Israeli citizens, Jewish and Palestinian, works to "commemorate, witness, acknowledge and repair ," to raise Israeli awareness of the two hidden disasters that have defined the course of Palestinian lives for sixty years.
Although the 4th Geneva Convention clearly states that ethnic cleansing in conquered land is forbidden, that settler colonies on occupied lands are illegal, and the U.N. has repeatedly called the occupation illegal, the governments of the United States, Canada, Europe and other states, in deed and in fact support the racist and apartheid-like actions of the Israeli government. Such is the hypocritical nature of realpolitic.
Our government is complicit in many ways in our support of a state that is discriminatory and racist. Despite the JNF’s role in the maintenance of an Apartheid state, and that it acts as an agent of a foreign country, the JNF, posing as an environmental organization, was granted charitable status in Canada years ago. A portion of our taxes supports the work of the JNF, thus implicating all Canadians in a gross injustice and contravention of international law.
Realpolitic does not allow us to expect any government to act in the name of justice and peace. Surely however, on the eve (December 2) of a JNF fundraising dinner in Toronto which seeks to raise $7.5 million to refurbush Canada Park, it is time for the citizens of Canada to demand that our government revoke the charitable status of the JNF. It is time to ask ourselves if we want our country to abet the crimes of Israel.
On 30 November, Freda received an email from the Ideas Editor at the Toronto Star, explaining that they would not be publishing the piece. It read as follows:
Ms Guttman: I was not planning to publish your submission. It is not so much that it is a "sensitive subject," as that the commentaries the Star receives on the Middle East have a certain zero-sum quality, with one side inevitably demonizing the other, each with its list of atrocities. If we ran your article, we would be compelled — in the name of fairness — to run something from the JNF, CJC or some such organization. The end result is a sterile exercise in mutual recrimination. (I have written similar notes to strong Zionists.) Further, our mandate is to emphasize local and national issues, and we generally avoid partisan comment on the internal political disputes of foreign countries.
On December 18, Linda wrote an email to Mr. Edwards formally protesting the decision not to publish the article. It read:
Dear Mr. Edwards,
I am writing in response to your email to Freda Guttman, dated November the 30th, in which you explained your reasons for not publishing the submission entitled “Breaking the Chains of Complicity” prepared by Freda Guttman, Leila Mouammar and myself.
I am surprised and quite dismayed by your response to our article for a number of reasons. Firstly, an op- ed opinion piece, by definition, is just that – an argued piece that advocates a clearly articulated subjective position, hence labeling the submission ‘partisan’ (to disqualify) is puzzling. More surprising, however, is the claim that the article cannot be published because it is a partisan piece about a ‘political dispute in a foreign country’. We have clearly stated that the article in question is about Canada Park which was built upon the ruins of three Palestinian destroyed villages, by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) through donations from Canadian citizens – hence the name ‘Canada Park’. The Park was built on land that
belongs to Palestinian refugees, and effectively conceals the war crimes perpetrated there – that is the ethnic cleansing of these villages in 1967 of their Palestinian inhabitants. Given that the JNF has charitable status here in Canada, whereby funds given by Canadian citizens to the organization are tax deductible, make us all complicit and perpetuate such efforts to cover up war crimes and crimes against
humanity. Hence this is not a foreign dispute.
Furthermore, we would have had no problem if you felt it was necessary to run an article by the JNF alongside ours. But let me just draw your attention to the logic underlying this argument and its notion of fairness. The position places conditions on which one can write about and openly discuss aspects of Palestinian realities – in this case, the racism and the ethnic cleansing Palestinians have endured. In the
name of ‘fairness’ such an argument in fact predicates that the voices of victims cannot be heard or can only be heard alongside the voices of their perpetrators. It not only presupposes and establishes a false moral equivalence, but it also effectively works to conceal the nature of this relationship, whereby one group structurally subordinates the other. I wonder Sir, if you received an article on violence against women whether you would argue that in the name of ‘fairness’ it must be accompanied by an article written by those who abuse them, or that an article on the experiences of African Americans should only allowed to be published alongside the voices of white supremacists?
In response to your characterization of submissions relating to the Middle East, I wish to underscore that the article we have submitted is not about recriminations or sub-zero equations. It establishes linkages between local, national and transnational processes in order to draw attention to violations of international
law, war crimes which have occurred and continue to occur and how we as Canadians are implicated in this. If such articles are kept out of mainstream media outlets in the name of ‘partisanship’ than the truths about these violations are further buried from view and silenced. Moreover, in the process you are also denying the right of Palestinian-Canadian individuals, such as myself, to freely express our opinions.
As a PhD Candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London, England, every time I return to Canada of late, I am increasingly disturbed by the steady rate at which critical voices and dissenting views are being silenced in North America, and spaces for the expression of such opinions with mainstream media outlets are being shut down. In these conditions it is invariable Palestinian, Arab
and Muslim voices which are the first to be targeted, stifled or suppressed, and alongside this, voices which criticize Israeli’s colonial suppression of the Palestinians are being silenced. In contrast to this worrying and dangerous trend, newspapers in London, such as the Guardian have been vigilant in maintaining a space for the free and open expression of opinion, including criticism and dissent.
Crucial issues pertaining to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, such
as the call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israeli institutions, have been
freely and openly debated in the Guardian. Similarly, in that newspaper, Palestinian
voices appear regularly, telling their own story without qualifications.
As a Palestinian-Canadian I would like to add that I take personal offense to your
email, it reminds me of the exclusion and racism I have endured growing up as a
Palestinian-Canadian. I wonder when will the historical reality and the injustices
that Palestinians have been subjected at the hands of the European Zionist movement
be considered ‘truths’ in North America? Will it come only once the indigenous Arab
population of Palestine has been decimated like the indigenous First Nations here in
Canada? Our narrative and historical experience stands on its own and should be
expressed without qualification. The vocalization of the realities of the forced
uprootment and ethnic cleansing which the Palestinians face and criticism of Israeli
government’s racist practices and its targeting of Palestinians should not be
silenced. This is not simply a question for Palestinians. People of conscience and
supporters of Palestinian struggle for their rights, including many Jewish
anti-Zionist individuals, whom stand alongside and support Palestinian
self-determination, all share these concerns. I strongly urge you to reconsider your
decision regarding the article we have submitted to the Star.
As far as I know, there was no response to Linda’s email. We had held out for publication in the Star because we wanted to reach a wide audience of Canadians, since the JNF’s charitable status not only means decreased tax revenues for all Canadians, but much more importantly constitutes the subsidization of war crimes.
We were perhaps naive to believe that the mainstream media would publish such a piece, though I can clearly recall a time when the Toronto Star in particular would have. In May 1998 for example, they published another editorial I wrote entitled, "Remembering Leila, Child of the Street" about a Palestinian refugee family in Lebanon which concluded by reminding people that in celebrations for Israel’s Independence day, families such as Leila’s would be mourning, awaiting fulfillment of their basic human right to return to the homes and villages they had left behind in war.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, there has been a perceptible narrowing of the permissible discursive frames for those writing on the subject of basic human rights within the pages of Canada’s mainstream media. We are left with a "neutral" (read: sterile and censored) mainstream media that avoids reporting uncomfortable facts about the most oppressed of peoples (those victims of ongoing colonialism – including for example, Canada’s own indigenous peoples) for fear of being accused of partisanship.
Thankfully, activists have been gaining more and more ground via the construction of alternative, interactive media spaces, the best example of which is Zmag. Indeed, my own new year’s resolution is not to waste any more time and energy on wooing the mainstream media. Focusing on increasing participation in the exchange of ideas and dreams in the spaces provided by communities like this one where there is no gag order is a key step towards breaking my own chains of complicity, and in contributing to the lifting of those of others, in the hope of lifting the chains of all.