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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 1991, Page 34

Canada Calling

"Canada Park" Built on Ruins of Palestinian Villages

By John Dirlik

Overlooking the fertile Ayalon Valley between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv sits Canada Park, a 7,500 acre recreational area covered with pine forests. It is bisected by a winding path the John Diefenbaker Parkway named after the former Canadian prime minister who inaugurated it. Canada Park is a source of pride for the Montreal and Toronto Jewish philanthropists who in 1972 donated more than $15 million to help build it. A brochure of the Jewish National Fund of Canada that undertook the project described it as a "tribute to Canada and to the Canadian Jewish community whose vision and foresight helped transform a barren stretch of land into a major recreational area."

But to Halifax resident Ismail Zayid, Canada Park is a travesty of justice, a blot on this country's record, and a source of seething anger. The park hailed as a humanitarian project and supported with tax exempt donations was built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of his birth, which was dynamited and leveled to the ground by Israeli forces following the Six Day War.

Dr. Zayid's story could be that of any one of the 14,000 inhabitants of Beit Nuba, Yalu and Imwas, the three demolished villages that once stood where Canada Park is now.

"My mother, sisters and an old uncle lived in their home there on the land which they and their forefathers had owned and cultivated for hundreds of years, " testified Dr. Zayid. "Israeli occupation took place and, except for my uncle who was immobile with long-standing arthritis, they were driven out for no good reason to Ramallah."

Israeli soldiers returned a few days later, according to Dr. Zayid. When his invalid uncle still refused to leave, "before his own eyes part of his house [was] blown up and he was told that this would happen to the remaining part on top of him if he stayed. In the same way the entire village was systematically blown up and later bulldozed."

Few Israeli officials deny that the three Palestinian villages were razed to the ground. Most choose instead to justify the action. Responding to an article on the destruction of villages that appeared in the Sunday Times of London as early as June 1968, the Israeli embassy in Britain insisted that "these villages suffered heavy damage during the June war and its immediate aftermath, when our troops engaged two Egyptian commando units which had established themselves there and continued fighting after the war."

Amos Kenan, an Israeli soldier present during the operation, has refuted the official Israeli claim that the area was a hotbed of Arab resistance: "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.... In the houses we found one wounded Egyptian commando officer, and some very old people. At noon the first bulldozers arrived.. . . "

Dr. Zayid, who was 34 years old when driven out of Beit Nuba, is convinced that the villages were destroyed by Israel as part of its long-standing campaign to "Judaize" the occupied territories and help forestall any eventual Israeli withdrawal. "The campaign right from the beginning was to claim that the villages never existed," says Zayid.

For years, Dr. Zayid has waged a one-man crusade to get the Canadian government to disassociate its name from what he refers to as "this infamy called `Canada Park. "` He has also tried to convince Ottawa to revoke the tax-exempt status of contributions to Canada Park, since at least part of it is located in the West Bank, which Canada considers territory illegally occupied by Israel. Dr. Zayid has written letters to editors and lobbied politicians with limited results. His file of correspondence with government officials is filled with vague responses and noncommittal pledges to "look into the matter."

Largely as a result of Dr. Zayid's efforts, there has been sporadic coverage of the issue in the mainstream media. This fall, the publicly funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is expected to air a documentary on the controversial park. Despite this increased interest, however, Dr. Zayid is not optimistic. "I have no confidence in the fairness of Canadian policy," he said.

Export Credits Offered to Israel

Canada has offered Israel an estimated $100 million in export credits to help it settle Soviet and Ethiopian Jewish refugees over the next five years. The offer was made through Canada's Export Development Corporation, a crown corporation that will lend money to Israel so it can buy prefab housing from Canadian manufacturers.

According to Canadian policy, which does not recognize Israeli control of the lands seized in 1967, the funds are not to be used in the occupied Palestinian territories. But Canadian-Arab groups say this restriction is meaningless, since it would simply free up Israeli funds to be deployed for illegal settlements. "Canada should not help Israel in any way unless it stops its settlement policy on the occupied territories," said Ian Watson of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. The PLO representative in Ottawa, Hasan Abdul Rahman, said he saw no justification for helping Israel commit immoral and illegal policies."

But officials of the Department of External Affairs defended the decision, saying it was "an attempt to be constructive." Said spokesman Rodney Moore, "It's a question of trying to help a country with whom we have close ties."

John Dirlik, a freelance writer from Montreal, Quebec, writes on Canadian and Mideast affairs.