When Ron Werner, head of the board for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Mountain States region, turned 50 this week he wanted to celebrate by planting 1,000 trees in Israel to commemorate his late dogs – Samson, Zach and Lucy. The problem is Werner planted the trees on top of a destroyed Palestinian village.
The dead dogs’ trees were rooted in Neot Kedumim, an Israeli bible park off of highway 443, a notorious settler-only road that runs between the West Bank and Tel Aviv. Neot Kedumim is located in the Ben Shemen Jewish National Fund forest on the western edge of the Green Line near Modi’in Ilit. But before there was the “bible themed” nature reserve and the greenery of Ben Shemen, known as “Israel’s lungs” there were five Palestinian village. According to Zochrot, the Palestinian villages of Jimzu, Dayr Abu Salama, al-Haditha, Khirbat al-Duhayriyya and Khirbat Zakariyya were all destroyed during nakba, and is the location for today’s Ben Shemen park.
If that weren’t bad enough, in a press release sent out by the JNF Werner goes on about how it’s important to remember the tragedies of the past. Of course he’s talking about his tragedy (both the dogs and the Holocaust–because, why not?), and not the one that befell the Palestinian people so that one day on the day of his birth he could embark on a sojourn to the holy land to till the earth, metaphorically making life after death in the memory of his dear animal companions. Here’s Werner followed by a friend from the trip, from the JNF release:
“It’s not by accident that we left Yad VaShem and went to plant trees. To learn about the death and tragedy that befell the Jewish people, then to walk out of that [museum] building and look out over a thriving, flourishing Jerusalem—it really drives home the importance of Israel. Then, to physically plant a tree in the ground and be part of that Israel, it’s like going from death to renewal.”
Werner and Hering’s friends were deeply moved. “Understanding that the Holocaust happened so recently in history was shocking to me,” said Vance Bray of Denver, who is not Jewish. “That something of this magnitude could have taken place with the knowledge of the world, including that of my own country, is hard to accept.”
I’ll add, I wouldn’t expect most people to know about the Palestinian villages that are rubble underneath nearly every JNF park. When Zochrot has surveyed daytrippers, around a quarter of them are aware they are on top of a destroyed Palestinian village. That’s not nothing. These aren’t well kept secrets. People know about 1948; Israelis know about 1948, but I don’t think American Jews do. I didn’t know about the Nakba until I was in college, and after I found out about it I felt deceived that this had been omitted from my Jewish education. It felt like Nakba denial, or it was Nakba denial. As to Werner, if he’s going through all of the showboating to make such an example of his trip and his wanting to remember the past, he really should have looked up what was in that park before there was a park.
Correction: This post incorrectly cited Neot Kedumim park as planted on top of the destroyed Palestinian village of Hudtha. Neot Kedumim is a site within the larger Ben Shemen Jewish National Fund park, which is planted on top of the destroyed Palestinian villages of Jimzu, Dayr Abu Salama, al-Haditha, Khirbat al-Duhayriyya and Khirbat Zakariyya.