A Tree as a form of Theft.

‘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

by Adam Horowitz on 14 June 2013

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."


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 Village Under the Forest here:

About Adam Horowitz
Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of


All the the rest of the world On Palestinian Prisoners Day


In honor of Palestinian Prisoners Day, Addameer confirms that now is the time to hold the Occupation accountable for crimes against the prisoners and detainees, and launches a global campaign against administrative detention.

Occupied Ramallah, 17 April 2013 – On Palestinian Prisoners Day, Addameer reaffirms its commitment to freeing the Palestinian prisoners and detainees in the Occupation’s prisons.Addameer reaffirms that the prisoners’ cause is the cause of the Palestinian people as a whole. Their struggle is central to the liberation of Palestinian land and the return of its’ people. It represents the front line of peace and justice.

Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, there have been more than 750,000 arrests of Palestinians, a figure which represents 20% of the Palestinian population of the occupied lands (including the 1948 Territories, Gaza, and the West Bank), 40% of the male population, and 10,000 females.

Since the Second Intifada erupted in September 2000, Occupation forces have arrested 78,000 Palestinians, among them 950 women, over 9,000 children and more than 50 ministers and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members. Since 1967, Occupation forces have issued more than 50,000 administrative detention orders (both new orders and renewals), 23,000 of them after September 2000.

According to new data released in April 2013, Occupation forces are currently detaining 4,900 Palestinians, including 14 women, 236 children and 168 administrative detainees, including 8 PLC members. These figures include 183 Jerusalemites, 190 Palestinians from the 1948 Territories and 433 from the Gaza Strip. Approximately 530 of them have life sentences, and more than 77 have languished for more than 20 years behind bars. 25 of these prisoners have spent more than 25 years in prison and 105 were arrested before the Oslo Accords agreement in September 1993.

204 Palestinians have been martyred in the Occupation’s prisons, either as a result of torture, deliberate medical neglect, murder, or excessive beatings. Since 1 January 2011, five prisoners have been martyred in Israeli jails. 1 January 2011 coincides with the signing of an agreement between the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to decrease medical services provided by ICRC to sick prisoners as well as to decrease the ICRC’s financial contributions to medical services, thereby allowing the IPS to evade its mandate to provide treatment to prisoners and detainees in its custody.

Data from organizations that work on Palestinian prisoners’ issues indicates that more than 1,000 prisoners and detainees suffer from various diseases. Among them are 16 prisoners residing in Ramleh Prison Clinic permanently. 85 prisoners currently suffer from a variety of disabilities, 170 prisoners require urgent surgery, and 25 prisoners suffer from cancer.

Today the fight continues as 4 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike assume increasing medical risks that endanger their lives. Especially at risk is detainee Samer Issawi, who has been on partial hunger strike for more than 262 days in protest of his re-arrest under Article 186 of Military Order 1651. Joining him is Ayman Abu Daoud, who announced his hunger strike on 14 April 2013; he was re-arrested after gaining his freedom in the last prisoner exchange. Continuing his hunger strike is Younis Huroub, who is protesting the Occupation’s policy of administrative detention, as well as detainee Samer Al-Barq, who started his third hunger strike in protest of his continued administrative detention. All of their lives are in grave danger.

These facts lead us to conclude that the Occupation’s detention policies – especially administrative detention – represent one of many forms of continuous and systematic collective punishment practiced by the Occupation, as well as some of the most flagrant violations of the 4thGeneva Convention. These violations constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity in accordance with the Rome Statute,which founded the International Criminal Court.

Imprisonment is one of the many policies of the Occupation that aims toward the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, the suppression of their cultural identity and the violation of their political rights, all with the overarching goal of removing Palestinians from history once and for all.

Addameer believes that the political compromise resulting from the Oslo Accords in 1993, rather than ending the occupation, further consolidated the Occupation, which now rules the West Bank according to 1,7000 military orders that control every facet of Palestinian life. The Oslo Accords ensured that Palestinians live only under a very limited form of self-rule and failed to secure the release of the Palestinian prisoners from the Occupations’ jails. Most importantly, the Oslo Accords relinquished the Palestinian right to hold the occupying state accountable for the crimes it has committed.

Addameer believes that now is the right time to change course, ending this period of acquiescence and submission. It is time to stop using the prisoners’ issue as a motivation to return to the negotiation table, to move past the provision of legal aid to the prisoners and detainees and to re-focus on the right of prisoners to be freed immediately. It is time to hold the Occupation accountable in the International Criminal Court and in countries that respect the jurisdiction of international law. These efforts should take place in conjunction with serious work on boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the occupying state. Finally, it is time for a boycott of the Occupation’s military courts, especially administrative detention hearings.

Addameer calls on Palestinian legal and human rights organizations to:

Boycott the military courts, especially administrative detention hearings.
Intensify joint efforts to bring international legal action against the occupying state using the mechanisms provided by the United Nations and human rights commissions.
Improve joint efforts to expose the crimes of Israeli special forces in the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review Committees.
Engage in advocacy and serious efforts to boycott and divest from the occupying state, both within Palestine and internationally.
Establish an electronic database with images, video and written materials highlighting testimonies from victims of torture amongst the Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
Addameer makes the following recommendations for international organizations:

Addameer calls on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to work seriously on forcing the occupying state to respect its commitments based on its membership in the United Nations and its accession to the 4th Geneva Convention, as well as its ratification of human rights conventions.Addameer calls on Ban Ki Moon to ensure the application of these agreements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly in the cases of Palestinian detainees and prisoners. Addameer further calls on Ban Ki Moon to work seriously toward the release of all administrative detainees, children, sick prisoners, and Palestinian Legislative Council members currently in Israeli custody.
Addameer calls on the UN Human Rights Commission to force the occupying state to allow international investigative commissions access to prisons and to focus on the conditions faced by prisoners. Addameer further calls on the UN Human Rights Council to launch a serious investigation into the complaints brought by Palestinian detainees and prisoners, especially those related to the crimes committed by the special forces of the IPS.
Addameer calls on the International Committee of the Red Cross to carry out its mission to protect detainees in accordance with its international mandate to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners and detainees in accordance with international humanitarian law.
This Prisoners Day, Addameer is re-launching its international Stop Administrative Detention campaign in over 70 countries. The campaign includes demonstrations and actions in various cities throughout the world. Addameer has prepared fact sheets and detailed legal reports in more than 12 languages to assist in the dissemination of information about the Occupation’s practice of administrative detention.

(See Stop AD Website for more information.)

In honor of Prisoners Day, we say to our people and to our prisoners as our colleague Ayman Nasser, who was detained on 15 October 2012, once said:

“I support the prisoners, even if the cost is my freedom.”


Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

P. O. Box: 17338, Jerusalem

Tel:+972 (0)2 296 0446 / 297 0136

Fax: +972 (0)2 296 0447




From Al-Araqib to Susiya: Through the use of the "Round-Up" poisonous gas Israel employs against our forgotten people to ensure the land does not produce. A war crime in any language.


65 Years of Denial is a Form of Genocide

In a regal interview he gave the Israeli press on the eve of the state’s ” Independence Day,” Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel, said the following: “I remember how it all began. The whole state of Israel is a millimeter of the whole Middle East. A statistical error, barren and disappointing land, swamps in the north, desert in the south, two lakes, one dead and an overrated river. No natural resource apart from malaria. There was nothing here. And we now have the best agriculture in the world? This is a miracle: a land built by people” (Maariv, 14 April 2013).

Click to read more ...


Israeli Property Theft is Nothing New


Is the Custodian of Absentee Property Awaiting the Absentees?

Israeli Property Theft is Nothing New


cus·to·di·an (kəs-ˈtō-dē-ən) n.  1.  One who has charge of something: caretaker

–     The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition, 1973


The office of Ronen Baruch, the current Custodian of Absentee Property for Israel, is in an ancient Arab home at 8 Yoel Salomon Street in Jerusalem. A house of this type is not unusual in this part of Jerusalem, and this one has few markings to indicate its function.  Even its mail is delivered to the main building of the Ministry of Finance in another part of the city. 

Searching the Internet will not yield this information unless you read Hebrew, and even then not much else. Much more is available about the Mossad, but perhaps only because it is bigger and more interesting.  Information about the Custodian is not necessarily secret, just possibly of little interest to journalists.  However, it has no website and does not advertise its contact information.  It is almost as if Israel would prefer that no one knows it is there.

Despite this, the office plays a pivotal role in the existence of Israel.  Most Israelis live and work on land that was once in the charge of the Custodian of Absentee Property, an office created less than two months after the Israeli state and existing to this day as part of the Ministry of Finance.

Who or what is the Custodian of Absentee Property?

To many of the indigenous nations of North America, the European notion of land ownership was strange.  The role of humans was to be custodians of the land and for the land to be the custodian of its human inhabitants.  Similarly, the rulers of Makkah and Medina have historically referred to themselves as custodians, not owners, of the holy shrines.

Thus, when Israel created the Office of the Custodian of Absentee Property in July, 1948, to take charge of property belonging to refugees that fled or were expelled, was its intention for the custodian to be a steward and trustee for the property of these refugees while they were away?  Certainly, the title of the office implicitly acknowledges that the property belongs to the absentees, not the Custodian, which land registry documents in fact confirm.

Of course, land and the structures on it – some dating back a thousand years or more – were not the only property that came into the charge of the Custodian.  Many millions of dollars of gold, jewelry, antiques, cars and other items made their way into the inventory.  However, real estate was by far the most important and valuable.  The absentee owners were almost all Palestinian Arab refugees and exiles, both rich and poor.  A few were Jews, and their property was quickly returned to them.  Not so for the rest, except a tiny fraction that were able to prove that they had not fled at all.

How much of the territory within the 1949 ceasefire line did the absentees leave behind?  Prior to the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, some 6% of Mandate Palestine was Jewish property (Sami Hadawi, Village statistics: 1945).  Considering that Zionist forces seized 78% of Palestine, however, the proportion within those areas would have been closer to 8%, excluding Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  In addition, the remnant of the Palestinian Arab population that was not expelled retained some of their lands and homes, currently estimated to be less than 3% of the same areas.  Roughly half of the captured territory was state land of the government of Palestine, mostly the Naqab (Negev) desert.

It is likely that all the rest, roughly 39%, was declared absentee property, and placed under the control of the Custodian.  This figure agrees with an inventory made by the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) of 7,069,091 dunams. If the Custodian also took charge of state lands, the total would have been 89%.  This information has not been released, but a statement by Jacob Manor, the Custodian in 1980, to journalist Robert Fisk (Pity the Nation, p. 45) indicates that the higher figure may be more accurate.

Of course, Israel had no intention of respecting the legal records of land ownership.   The Absentee Property Law of 1950 made clear that the job of the Custodian was to “release” the property in its custody to other agencies, which would use the land without regard to the registered owners.

Thus, in effect, the Custodian of Absentee Property became Israel’s largest “fence” for stolen property.  Under the powers authorized by the Absentee Property Law, the Custodian “released” the land to the Israeli state, the Development Authority and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), with the combined lands (93% of the state of Israel) under the management of the Israel Land Administration (ILA).  The ILA thus became the largest recipient of stolen property in Israel, notwithstanding the international racketeers and blood diamond traffickers that have found a safe haven there.

Curiously, however, the ILA has until recently been prohibited from offering the land for sale, but rather to lease it to users, although in 2009 plans were made to begin granting title.  This policy was promoted in the 1950s allegedly as an enlightened socialist program of collective ownership borrowed from the institution of the kibbutz.  Was it instead a means of protecting individual Israeli citizens from the accusation of receiving stolen goods?  If so, it constitutes another implicit admission that the property legally belongs to expelled Palestinians and not to either the Israeli government or its citizens.

The Absentee Property Law is in fact contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Declaration of Human Rights, both of which were constituted less than two years earlier and to which Israel became a signatory.  This discrepancy came to light in the case of the Jerusalem residence of the Consul General of Belgium, which has been located since 1948 on absentee property known as the Villa Salameh.  In order to be in compliance with international law, Belgium elected to pay rent to the exiled Palestinian owners of the property rather than to any Israeli authority or to Israeli businessman David Sofer, who claims to have “bought” (leased) the property from the Israeli government since 2000.

Surprisingly, Israel has been one of the strongest proponents for the restoration of absentee property to its original owners or their rightful heirs.  One of the best examples of this is the HEART (Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce) Project, established in 2011 with more than $2.5 million per year funding from the Israeli government, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.  Its purpose is to seek restitution for Jewish property seized by the Nazi government in Germany.  Other victims of the Holocaust, such as Slavs, Poles, Romanies (Gypsies), disabled persons, non-Europeans, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others are apparently ineligible for this service, as well victims of the 1948 Israeli ethnic cleansing project known to Palestinians as the Nakba (catastrophe).

Although the extent of past Israeli property theft is well known to students of such matters, popular awareness is lagging.  Current activists are likely to consider the more recent thefts of Bedouin property in the Naqab (Negev), confiscation of Palestinian property in Jerusalem and West Bank land seizures, house demolitions and village eradications as the major problem without taking into account the much larger scale of earlier crimes.  They might be shocked to learn, for example, that the land stolen from Palestinian owners prior to the 1949 ceasefire is equal in size to more than the total area of the West Bank and Gaza combined.

The issue is sometimes raised when defining “Arab land” in the Palestinian context.  If, for example, “Arab land” is defined only as that which was seized in the June 1967 war, it disregards the enormous amount of property that was confiscated without compensation from “absentee” Palestinian refugees and exiles in 1947-49 and soon after.

Is the Custodian of Absentee Property awaiting the return of the absentees to reclaim their property?  In a sense probably so, though not with a sense of joy.  Rather, all who are responsible for the theft of the property and for the ethnic cleansing and other crimes committed in furtherance of that theft know that a day of reckoning always greets those who think they are above the law.

Dr. Paul Larudee is a human rights advocate and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea.  He was deported from India on 31st December, 2012.


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