On 30 March, Palestinians will celebrate the 35th anniversary of Land Day, commemorating the death of six Palestinian Arabs (five of whom were citizens of Israel) who actively resisted the decision of the Israeli Government in the 1970s to intensify the confiscation of Arab lands for settlements designated for “Jews” only.
Also in March, the 81st issue of PYALARA’s Youth Times was printed, featuring Raniya Atallah’s splendid investigative report on the development of the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, nine kilometers north of Ramallah with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean, project of national importance and the symbol of the Palestinian right to build.
On 8 February 2011, I published the summary of my research on Rawabi, and its acceptance of a large donation of pine trees from the Zionist charity the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
In my article I called on the developers of Rawabi – a project led by Bashar Masri, chairman of the board of the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, jointly owned by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Massar International – to replace the political-Zionist trees planted by the settler-colonial apartheid JNF on the site.
My call was heeded, and a response from Masri claimed that there was some confusion over the trees, explaining that pine trees near the city were actually in Area C, a zone under full Israeli control. He said that the JNF donation had come through the website, and that there had been a mistake. While he had previously refused to uproot the tree saplings, following the publication of my earlier article, he committed to in writing to replace the conifers with indigenous olive trees.
On Land Day, it seems an appropriate time to revisit that commitment. One that has not been met. In the area I revisited, the pine trees remain in place, with no evidence of an effort to remove them.
As the images above suggest, the Rawabi project is a substantial one.
It is difficult to imagine the delay is due to an inability to recruit a workforce to uproot the 3,000 saplings in 50 days.
Still, Bashar Masri has yet to do so, and I am afraid that so long as he, in his capacity of the developer of Rawabi, postpones carrying out his pledge, he regrettably remains in this respect a sub-contractor (Wakil, in Arabic) of the apartheid JNF.
As I explained in my earlier article, the JNF is an organization largely behind the “greenwashing” of the expulsion of Palestinians from their villages by planting trees (mainly conifers), over the lands of many of the some 500 Palestinian Arab villages ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army in the 1948-49 war (the Palestinian Nakba) as well as by developing recreational parks named after various local and international dignitaries and after various member states of the United Nations. The JNF also developed Canada Park, this time over the ruins of and over the lands of the three Latrun villages of ‘Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army in the 1967 war.
The mission of the political-Zionist apartheid JNF is the “redemption” of lands in “Eretz Israel,” including Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and beyond for Jewish settlement.
In accepting the donation of the JNF 3,000 saplings, Rawabi becomes complicit in the actions of the organization, particularly as cases go forward in the UK and Canada, seeking to have their charitable status revoked.
As Raniya Atallah’s splendid investigative reports suggests, the various legal and administrative measures passed for the project to go forward (save for the Presidential Decree 1 (2009) which sequestered private lands for the project) may point to irregularities if not to institutional and corporate corruption. But by the same token, the reluctance of some of the parties who claimed to have been injured by the process to take their case to court regrettably compromises their position.
As long as Rawabi is projected as a Palestinian achievement of national import, it is incumbent upon me as the Convener of the Fatah Revolutionary Council Committee on Resistance to the Settlements, the Apartheid Wall and the Ethnic Cleansing, to bring this issue to light and call those responsible to account. And in this connection, it is in order to repeat that as long as apartheid JNF political-Zionist trees are not uprooted from Rawabi, Bashar Masri remains a sub-contractor (Wakil) of the Settler-Colonial JNF.
Dr Uri Davis is Associate Professor at Al-Quds University at the Institute of Area Studies, Israel Studies Program, Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, University of Durham.