On August 1st, I participated in a small tour through Canada Park lead by Eitan Bronstein, the Director of Zochrot [Remembering], an organization of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Canada Park is run by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and lies thirty minutes outside of Tel Aviv in Occupied Palestinian Territory of 1967- ie. the West Bank.

For hundreds of years, the land where Canada Park was built was home to the Latroun area villages of Imwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba, where thousands of Palestinian families lived. In 1967, tens of thousands of people were forcibly expelled from these villages by the Israeli military. Within a year after the expulsion, the military completely destroyed the villages including thousands of homes, schools, places of worship, and farmland. And just a few years later, Canada Park was established, “to conceal what happened,” in the words of Michal Katorza, in charge of signage for the JNF.

Eitan told us a story of an Israeli they met who served in the military at this site during the 1967 expulsion. This Israeli man said it was the ‘black year’ of his life. It had been his job to make sure that all the houses were empty before they destroyed them. He remembers entering one house where an elderly Palestinian man remained. The elderly man said, ‘for me to leave my home is like dying, so if you want to, destroy my home.’ The Israeli man told Zochrot, this was the moment when he understood what he was doing. He naively talked to his superior, saying they should stop, which was promptly rejected and he then obeyed his order to forcibly remove the elderly man from his home. The Israeli man said in front of a Zochrot tour that it was wrong to do what he did.

(photo: Displaced residents flee Latroun villages as soldiers look on. Yoseph Hochman)

In a testimony given by ‘Aysha ‘Ali Hammad who is originally from Yalyu, he said, “I recall my first visit back to my village in 1978 to what is now referred to as ‘Canada Park‘… I told my children, ‘This is the road to my father’s house, the road to the mosque. Here is where our house used to be.’ Then I burst into tears… It is all gone.”

On August 1st, we walked through areas of the park that have been forested and are rarely visited by park-users. Following signs that said “Roman Bath” in Hebrew (see photo) we found a Palestinian Muslim shrine- obvious by the architecture. Eitan said that the one piece of villages that Israeli courts do not give legal mandate to destroy is often the Mosques and other religious shrines. In this case, an excavation found a Roman bathhouse below the shrine, so now, all the signs in the park point to this bathhouse erasing the hundreds of years in between when Palestinians lived here. Next to the shrine is a cemetery with some Palestinian graves still in tact (see photo).

On a Zochrot tour of Canada Park a few years ago, they posted signs at the shrine and cemetary telling park-goers what they were. They soon got a call from the park saying the signs were illegal and had been removed. This turned into a public debate within the Israeli High Court creating in a lot of media about the issue and ultimately resulting in a mandate to the JNF to include Palestinian history in Canada Park signage. When the official signs were installed, they were soon vandalized and removed. Zochrot is currently fighting to get the signs back in place. (in this photo the part above talks about the Roman history and the part below (blackened out) is the part about the about the Palestinian villages).

In Canada Park there are commemorative plaques which bear the names of hundreds of Canadian donors to the JNF. In a JNF brochure it states that Canada Park is a “…a proud tribute to Canada and to the Canadian Jewish community whose vision and foresight helped transform a barren stretch of land into a major national recreational area for the people of Israel.” The commemorative plaques meanwhile, are hung on walls built from the stones of the houses from Umwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba. Included on these plaques is the name Martin Luther King, which almost certainly refers to the famous fighter for human rights- a donation made in his name after his death.

I spent one week working with Zochrot on the beginnings of a project to let these JNF donors know about the violent history of Canada Park which bears their names, with the goal of furthering a public debate about the on-going Palestinian Nakba. If you’re interested in supporting or getting involved with this project, please be in touch.

* The 1st, 2nd and 5th images and a lot of this information is drawn from: Where Villages Stood: Israel’s Continuing Violations of International Law in Occupied Latroun 1967-2007 by Al-Haq in December 2007