‘I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of trees on expropriated and stolen land': Former South African Ambassador to Israel rejects JNF trees planted in his name

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 22 Comments
Trailer for the film The Village Under the Forest.

Former South African Ambassador to Israel, Ismail Coovadia, has announced that he will be returning a certificate given to him informing him that 18 trees were planted in his honor by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The trees were planted in the “Ambassadors Forest” at the completion of Coovadia’s service in Israel last December. The “Ambassadors Forest” was inaugurated in December 2005 and sits on the demolished Bedouin village of al-Araqib.

In a letter to filmmakers Mark Kaplan and Heidi Grunebaum that was provided to Mondoweiss, Coovadia says planting the trees in his name without his knowledge “is nothing less than an offence to my dignity and integrity. I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of ’18 trees’, in my ‘honour’, on expropriated and stolen land. ” Kaplan and Grunebaum’s new film, The Village under the Forest, tells the story of  “South Africa Forest” which the JNF created on the ruins of the Palestinian village Lubya after it was destroyed during the Nakba.

Coovadia’s letter reads in full:

10 June 2013

Dear Mark Kaplan and Heidi Grunebaum,

Thank you ever so much for allowing me to have a preview of your aptly titled film “Village under the Forest”.

Needless to say, the forced removal by Israel of Lubyans from their place of abode bears all the hallmarks of Apartheid South Africa’s forced removals of the legitimate inhabitants of Sophiatown.

I have recently completed serving my term as the fifth Ambassador of democratic, non-racial South Africa to the State of Israel.

The racist actions of the Israeli parastatal, the Jewish National Fund, together with various other Israeli state institutions to forcibly remove the Palestinians and Bedouins from their legitimate homes is yet another repeat of the ongoing injustice meted out by the Israeli Defence Forces, etc…..

I have had the opportunity to visit both, the “South Africa Forest” and the “Ambassador’s Forest” in Israel where trees are reportedly planted in the name of South Africa. In regard to the latter case, my queries, to the Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, have gone un-answered for over a year.

Regrettably, my permission was not sought to plant a tree/s in my or the name of a South African Ambassador on usurped land, the rightful land of the Palestinians and Bedouins. I reserve the right to the usage of my name with or without my permission.

I have supported the struggle against Apartheid South Africa and now I cannot be a proponent of what I have witnessed in Israel, and that is, a replication of Apartheid!

The “Certificate” awarded to me by Mr. Rafael Barak, the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the backing of the Jewish National Fund, is nothing less than an offence to my dignity and integrity. I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of “18 trees”, in my “honour”, on expropriated and stolen land.

In view of this inhuman act against ordinary people, I shall be returning the “Certificate” to the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a humble request to remove the “18 trees…… planted… in my ‘honour'”.

Your awareness-raising film, hopefully, will also inspire other recipients to consider returning trees that were planted in their names.

I am pleased to be associated with the film “Village under the Forest”, a truly objective , honest and a far reaching story on the screen , that requires national and international viewing.

With all good wishes for successful showings of “Village under the Forest.”

Regards

Ismail Coovadia

The Village Under the Forest has already been creating waves in South Africa. Following the premier of a film at the Encounters International Documentary Festival, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced it will end all collaborations with the JNF. The West Cape News reports:

Commenting about the film, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said their collaborations with JNF had been “based on ignorance” and would not partner with an organisation alleged to be oppressing Palestinians and forcing them off their land.

Father Michael Deeb of the SACBC’s Justice and Peace department said they were “very concerned” about JNF’s alleged role in trying to erase the identity of Palestinians who lived in Lubya.

You can learn more about Lubya and the The Village Under the Forest here.

About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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22 Responses

  1. alfa
    June 14, 2013, 5:44 pm

    I wonder if the music is Gilad Azmon’s?

    • Frankie P
      June 16, 2013, 3:40 am

      @alfa,

      One listen to that quavering, internalized Arabic-sounding sax line brought me to the conclusion that it is, indeed, Gilad Atzmon. A visit to the production notes and then credits for the film’s website confirmed my suspicions. Original music: Gilad Atzmon and Desert Rose.

      FPM

  2. a blah chick
    June 14, 2013, 7:00 pm

    “Commenting about the film, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said their collaborations with JNF had been “based on ignorance…”

    Though I am happy to see them severing these connections I wonder how their collaborations could be “based on ignorance.” It’s not like the JNF hasn’t been around for decades.

    Better late than never I guess.

  3. john h
    June 14, 2013, 10:53 pm

    “Regrettably, my permission was not sought to plant a tree/s in my or the name of a South African Ambassador on usurped land, the rightful land of the Palestinians and Bedouins. I reserve the right to the usage of my name with or without my permission.

    I have supported the struggle against Apartheid South Africa and now I cannot be a proponent of what I have witnessed in Israel, and that is, a replication of Apartheid!

    The “Certificate” awarded to me by Mr. Rafael Barak, the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the backing of the Jewish National Fund, is nothing less than an offence to my dignity and integrity. I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of “18 trees”, in my “honour”, on expropriated and stolen land.”

    What else can we expect from such people, those who live by the axiom, “there is no other morality” than Zionism.

  4. chocopie
    June 14, 2013, 11:07 pm

    Nice trick, Israel, trying to implicate the whole world in your scheme and spread the blame around. Guilty conscience?

    If it were something they’re proud of, they wouldn’t hand out the “credit” so freely.

  5. ToivoS
    June 15, 2013, 12:15 am

    At this point every one must accept the JNF is an obvious Zionist front for ethnic domination. But I do remember those days when it had positive connotations among progressive Americans. Today it should be known as an integral component in the efforts to cleanse Palestinians from their land. It is obvious today that that is what they were doing from the very beginning, but their agenda was obscured behind the tremendous respect that Israel had once upon a time.

    I am sure that the JNF does not care in the least what I think about them, after all Israel has become one of the world’s leading nuclear powers and they can threaten anyone who objects. In any case more power to Ismail Coovadia for exposing another small story about their agenda.

  6. talknic
    June 15, 2013, 1:37 am

    The JNF and ILF buy ‘real estate’ claim it is ‘territory’ and sell to unwary buyers, including Israelis willing to be duped link to wp.me

  7. DICKERSON3870
    June 15, 2013, 3:34 am

    ● FACEBOOK: The Village Under The Forest
    Movie
    Unfolding as a personal meditation from the Jewish Diaspora, The Village Under The Forest explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under a purposefully cultivated forest plantation called South Africa Forest.
    162 likes · 151 talking about this
    TO LIKE – link to facebook.com

    ● TWITTER: Village Under Forest (VUFdoc) on Twitter
    Where greening is an act of obliteration… The Village Under The Forest documentary is directed by Emmy-winner Mark J Kaplan and written by Heidi Grunebaum
    South Africa/Palestine/Israel · villageunderforest.com
    45 TWEETS / 706 FOLLOWING / 92 FOLLOWERS
    TO FOLLOW – link to twitter.com

  8. Citizen
    June 15, 2013, 5:41 am

    The former ambassador says he worked with the JNF because he was ignorant. You think John Bolton would watch the film if somebody sent it to him? I mean after he had the package inspected for poison, of course.

  9. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    June 15, 2013, 8:11 am

    I’m kind of surprised this guy ever agreed to serve as ambassador to Israel in the first place, assuming he had a choice. Perhaps he didn’t realise quite how awful Zionism is, and just how strong are the parallels to apartheid, until he saw it with his own eyes?

    • just
      June 15, 2013, 9:56 am

      Maximus– I was thinking the same thing. Perhaps SA will just have to choose someone from their population who still ardently believes in apartheid, or just not appoint another one.
      (sadly, I am sure that they can find someone who can stomach it)

  10. Sycamores
    June 15, 2013, 10:00 am

    Ambassador Ismail Coovadia might want to consider going to The Olive Branch Club link to endtheoccupation.org and make a donation to plant an olive tree for a Palestinian family in honor of the JNF. lol!

  11. munro
    June 15, 2013, 11:15 am

    Sponsor a tree in Coovadia’s name in Ireland
    link to dunbrody.com

  12. ritzl
    June 15, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Setting aside for a second the fact that it is a completely unnatural act to grow trees in the [Negev] desert*, Good for Amb. Coovadia!

    *One mature tree uses the same amount of water as a Palestinian family of four (400l).

  13. Obsidian
    June 15, 2013, 2:50 pm

    ” Kaplan and Grunebaum’s new film, The Village under the Forest, tells the story of “South Africa Forest” which the JNF created on the ruins of the Palestinian village Lubya after it was destroyed during the Nakba.

    Not that it makes a bit of difference to the film makers, Lubya was a Arab Liberation Army held village during Israel’s War of Independence. Jewish and Arab soldiers died trying to control it and the Arabs lost that contest. The villagers had fled Lubya before the Jews seized the village, which hadn’t been completely destroyed till the 1960’s.

  14. piotr
    June 15, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Perhaps anyone can help me on that. I have found the following quote:

    In 1950, Sweden recognized Israel but relations remained frosty despite Israeli attempts to console Sweden such as the planting of a Bernadotte Forest by the JNF in Israel.

    This quote can be corroborated. However, I did not find any evidence that Bernadotte Forest actually exists. Perhaps it does but under another name? Or the planted trees withered? I would imagine that many diplomats would agree to plant trees there.

    PS. It is debatable if trees “use water”. In some cases they increase precipitation in the form of dew and actually add water to soil. It really depends on local conditions, species of trees and so on. Some accused JNF of using inappropriate pine species in forest projects, thus contributing to subsequent massive fires. In USA there are native pine forests in some areas and occasional massive fires are a part of the natural ecological cycle.

    • Shmuel
      June 15, 2013, 4:43 pm

      piotr,

      I did a quick search in Hebrew, and all I could come up with was a suggestion by Ben-Gurion (dated 17/8/49) to the JNF that such a forest be planted. It is quite possible that it was never planted.

      • piotr
        June 15, 2013, 5:16 pm

        In that case perhaps it would be a good idea to rename Lehi Forest: The Lehi forest is located in the Mishmar Ayyalon moshav, probably because three Lehi veterans (Shimshoni, Vered and Even-Tseva) settled in the moshav in its early days.

    • ritzl
      June 16, 2013, 1:06 am

      Hi piotr, The view from what was formerly al-Araqib: link to cdn1.electronicintifada.net

      The EI article that includes the pix: link to electronicintifada.net

  15. kma
    June 15, 2013, 11:23 pm

    seriously? who cares.
    I’m sure there’s something better to write about!
    god, if there were something better written about, I wouldn’t be commenting on this…

    • MHughes976
      June 16, 2013, 9:01 am

      This is ANC gesture politics, don’t you think? Interesting in a slightly disappointing way. The current SA regime has never led international opinion in support of justice for the Palestinians. Desmond Tutu speaks out and is of course, of course called an anti-Semite. I’m pretty sure that the friendly relations with Israel that were constructed in apartheid days continue quietly.
      The Ambassador’s protest comes very late and is at a very safe distance.

  16. Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 12:25 pm

    For what it’s worth, here the Wiki version of what happened to Lubya: link to en.wikipedia.org

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