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The Stephen Harper bird sanctuary in Israel
Why can Harper see the birds, but not any Palestinians?

LEFT: Prime Minister Harper and his wife look for birds at the newly named Stephen J. Harper Bird Sanctuary, in the Hula Valley in northern Israel.

RIGHT: Poor Palestinian Bedouins in their homes in the same valley before they were driven out by Jewish militias in 1948.

Is the Steven J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary just an environmental project?

On January 22, Mr. Harper visited the Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary that will be named after him. He saw lots of birds, but no Palestinians. There is a reason. There are not many Palestinians left in the Hula Valley.

In 1948 there were several small Palestinian villages eking out a poor living in the malaria infested marshy valley by fishing and weaving papyrus mats.

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the Hula Valley was cleared of its Bedouin inhabitants in 1948 through a military operation (before the declaration of Israeli independence) led by Israeli General Yigal Allon.

In Morris' account, the soldiers were ordered to attack villages in the area, and that "their inhabitants expelled and the[ir] houses blown up." An eyewitness quoted by Morris described the scene:
“House after house was bombed and torched, then matters proceeded towards the Jordan. All was bombed, the tents and huts were burned. All day there were explosions, and smoke and fire were visible.”

General Allon described the effect of psychological warfare on the Palestinian Arabs:
"The confidence of thousands of [Palestinian] Arabs of the Hula [Valley] was shaken . . . We had ONLY five days left . . . until 15 May [1948]. We regarded it as imperative to CLEANSE [of Palestinian Arabs] the interior of the Galilee and create JEWISH territorial continuity in the whole of the Upper Galilee.”

The confiscated land was allocated for the development of kibbutzim, but the reclamation was a failure and most of the valley has subsequently returned to its natural state. The Palestinian villagers have never been allowed to return to their land. They were permanently displaced without compensation.

It is on and around these ruins that The Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre will be built.

For more information, please refer to: The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947–1948, Benny Morris, 1989.

 

Peter Larson
Chair,
National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine
National Council on Canada Arab Relations

 

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