‘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
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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.

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