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December 17, 2009

My story - Palestinian dispossession and suffering

Dr. Ismail Zayid

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I was born in 1933 in the Palestinian village of Beit Nuba, where I was brought up and lived happily with family and friends.

Dr. Ismail ZayidI was born in 1933 in the Palestinian village of Beit Nuba, where I was brought up and lived happily with family and friends.

Beit Nuba had existed for thousands of years, as historic records show, but Israeli wars of aggression and war crimes have made its recent history painful and tragic.

In May 1948, the Israeli army launched an attack to occupy the villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba, but failed to conquer them.

Elsewhere in Palestine, Zionist terrorist gangs and the Israeli army were committing massacres against predominantly unarmed Palestinian people and conducting their long-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing.

One day out of many during that conflict left painful sights in my life.

It was on July 10, 1948, that Israeli army troops, led by Yitzhak Rabin, occupied the Palestinian cities of Lydda and Ramleh.

Rabin and his officers proceeded to drive the 50,000–60,000 civilian inhabitants of these cities away from their homes in terror as low-flying airplanes flew over their heads, shooting the occasional person and forcing them to run.

The sight of the terror-stricken, hungry and thirsty men, women and children fleeing in terror under the hot midday summer sun approximately 25 kilometres to the village of Beit Nuba, was a sight that I, a 15-year-old boy, would never forget.

The inability of the Israeli army to conquer Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba brought about a brutal revenge 19 years later during Israel’s planned attack against its Arab neighbours on June 5, 1967.

On June 6, the three villages were occupied without a single shot being fired, and systematically dynamited and bulldozed on the direct orders of Yitzhak Rabin, then chief of staff of the Israeli army. The villagers, over 10,000, were expelled from their land.

In Beit Nuba, 18 were buried alive under the ruins of their homes because they were old or infirm and unable to move out before their homes were demolished.

One of them, Mohammad Ali Baker, was an uncle of my mother.

When our home was demolished, my uncle, who was old and arthritic, was slow to move out. The Israeli soldiers told him, while they were demolishing the western part of our home, that he would be buried alive if he did not move when they started demolishing the eastern part. He was hurriedly moved out.

The pain and suffering that my mother sustained was immense and continued to affect until her dying day.

My mother, brother, sisters and uncle were driven from our land and never allowed to return. I continue to bear that pain.

The destruction of these three villages was witnessed and described by the Israeli journalist Amos Kenan, a reserve soldier in the occupying force in Beit Nuba. He gave this account to the Israeli newspaper Ha'Olam Hazeh, which the censor prohibited from being published. It was sent to all members of the Knesset, and to the Israeli prime minister and defence minister, but no response was received.

“The unit commander told us that it had been decided to blow up three villages in our sector; they were Beit Nuba, Imwas and Yalu ... We were told to block the entrances of the villages and prevent inhabitants [from] returning .... The order was to shoot over their heads and tell them not to enter the village.

“Beit Nuba is built of fine quarry stones; some of the houses are magnificent. Every house is surrounded by an orchard, olive trees, apricots, vines and cypresses. They are well kept. Among the trees, there are carefully tended vegetable beds.

 “At noon the first bulldozer arrived and pulled down the first house at the edge of the village. Within 10 minutes the house was turned into rubble. The olive trees and cypresses were all uprooted. After the destruction of three houses, the first refugee column arrived from the direction of Ramallah. We did not fire in the air. There were old people who could hardly walk, murmuring old women, mothers carrying babies, small children. The children wept and asked for water. They all carried white flags.

“We told them to go to Beit Sira. They told us they had been driven out. They had been wandering like this for four days, without food, some dying on the road. They asked to return to their village ... Some had a goat, a lamb, a donkey or a camel. A father ground wheat by hand to feed his four children ... The children cried. Some of our soldiers started crying too.

We went to fetch the Arabs some water. We stopped a car with a major, two captains and a woman ... We asked the officers why these refugees were sent from one place to another and driven out of everywhere. They told us that this was good for them; they should go. ‘Moreover’, said the officers, ‘what do we care about the Arabs anyway?’

“We drove them out. They go on wandering like lost cattle. The weak die. Our unit was outraged. The refugees gnashed their teeth when they saw the bulldozers pull down the trees. None of us understood how Jews could behave like this. No one understood why these fellaheen [villagers] shouldn't be allowed to take blankets and some food.

“The chickens and doves were buried in the rubble. The fields were turned into wasteland in front of our eyes. The children who went crying on the road will be fedayeen in 19 years, in the next round. Thus we have lost the victory.” (From Israel Imperial News, March 1968.)

Uri Avnery, then a Knesset member, described the destruction of these villages as a definite war crime in direct violation of The Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949, to which

Israel is a signatory. Article 53 of the convention states: “ Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property, belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the state, or to other public authorities or social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited.”

It is now difficult to spot the ruins and the rubble. Today, on the site of the ruins of these three villages stands the infamy called “Canada Park,” built with tax-deductible Canadian dollars provided by the Canadian Jewish National Fund (JNF), a registered Canadian charity.

It was in 1973 that Bernard Bloomfield of Montreal, then President of the JNF of Canada, spearheaded a campaign among the Canadian Jewish community to raise $15 million to establish Canada Park to provide a picnic area accessible to Israelis from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

At the entrance, just off John Diefenbaker Parkway (opened by Diefenbaker himself in 1975), is a sign that reads: “Welcome to Canada Park in Ayalon Valley—a project of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”

The JNF, responsible for the upkeep of the park, has removed all signs of the villages and their inhabitants from the area.

It would seem that only the Canadian donors are worthy of being remembered; their names are engraved in the bronze plaques that cover an entire wall.

Interestingly, these donors are not directly informed that the park is built on the site of the demolished villages, including Imwas, the biblical village Emmaus where Jesus Christ first appeared after his Resurrection to meet with his Apostles.

The Director of the American JNF stated: “It is a delicate situation, and one cannot expect an institution [such as the Canadian JNF] which gathers money from abroad, to publicize the issue [of the demolition of these villages].” (“Canada Park: A Case Study,” by Ehud Meltz and Michal Selah, Kol Hair, Aug. 31, 1984.)

The glossy guidebook, published by the JNF of Canada, has an entire page devoted to the area’s history, including the biblical, Roman, Crusader and British periods, but has no mention of these villages or their destruction.

Another step in the obliteration of the villages from memory can be seen in their absence from Israeli maps.

As a new Canadian, my personal pain was compounded when I read on Dec. 4, 1978, in our local newspaper, The Halifax Herald, that Peter Herschorn, a prominent Halifax businessman and past chairman of the Atlantic branch of the JNF, was honored by the JNF for his humanitarian work and “choosing the right goodness” in his participation in the building of Canada Park.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, the Premier of N.S. and the Mayor of Halifax were in attendance and offered their greetings. I was mortified that political leaders in my new country, Canada, would consider the erection of recreation centres on the site of ruins of criminally demolished peaceful villages to be a humanitarian act.

When I was invited to come to Canada to teach at Dalhousie University Medical School, I accepted with enthusiasm, as I had a vision of Canada as a country of liberal values upholding human rights and international law.

However, the story of our government, allowing our tax dollars to be used to build the infamous Canada Park, a war crime, has been a source of torment and pain for me.

Over many years, I have written repeatedly, supported by some honourable politicians like Sen. Heath Macquarrie and Mr. R.A. Corbett, MP, to successive Revenue Canada Ministers, expressing my concerns, but I received only vague unhelpful answers.

It was in the midst of this that on Oct. 21, 1991 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Fifth Estate broadcast a documentary entitled “Park with no Peace.”

It deserves to be viewed and study by all:

In summary, I stand before you today, to express gratitude to The Canadian Museum for Human Rights for agreeing to listen to my story, which exposing the violation of my human rights as well as the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people who have been systematically expelled from their homeland, continue to live as refugees, and are denied the fundamental right of return to their homes, a right clearly stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and repeated UN resolutions.

As Israel continues to defy international law, we witness deafening silence from countries like Canada, which claims to uphold the UN Charter and universal human rights.

To compound that, I, as a Canadian citizen, feel the pain and shame of my country’s complicity in continuing to subsidize the war crime called Canada Park.

Dr. Ismail Zayid was born and grew up in Beit Nuba, Palestine, and went to school in Jerusalem. He received his medical education at the University of London, and was invited in 1972 to teach at Dalhousie University Medical School, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Retired in 1999 from his position as Professor of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University. He is the author of two books: "Palestine: A Stolen Heritage" and " Zionism: The Myth and the Reality."

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