Dark history surrounds Israeli bird sanctuary to be named for Stephen Harper

Hundreds of millions of migratory birds pass through the Hula Valley each year. The Galilee region—of which the Hula is part—is also a key target of the Israeli state for increased Jewish settlement. Florian Seiffert/Flickr

Hundreds of millions of migratory birds pass through the Hula Valley each year. The Galilee region—of which the Hula is part—is also a key target of the Israeli state for “Judaization.” Florian Seiffert/Flickr

An Israeli bird sanctuary bearing the name of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be located in a region with a history of land confiscation and ethnic cleansing.

Josh Cooper, executive director of the Jewish National Fund’s Canadian branch, announced the JNF’s plan to create the bird sanctuary, along with the tally of a fundraising effort to that end, at the Negev charity gala Sunday in Toronto. Cooper described the campaign as the JNF of Canada’s most successful fundraising effort ever, CBC reports.

The JNF is the land-purchase and development arm of the World Zionist Organization. The WZO’s Settlement Division—part of the Israeli government’s executive branch—plans to “Judaize” Galilee by attracting 100,000 more Jewish settlers to the region, according to Haaretz. The reclamation of wetlands and establishment of the bird sanctuary are part of the JNF’s broader project of restoration of the Hula Valley, which dovetails with Israeli government plans to promote further Jewish settlement there.

Located in northern Galilee, the Hula Valley is the site of a 1948 campaign of expulsion—Operation Yiftach—targeting Palestinian and Bedouin villages, and subsequent expropriations of lands owned by Arab citizens of Israel.

Since the 1948 Israeli War of Independence (termed the Nakba—“catastrophe”—by Palestinians) members of the Knesset have often fretted over the Arab population of the Galilee, a potentially recalcitrant demographic. Over several decades, this angst has manifested itself in an array of state policies calculated to promote an influx of Jews into the area, while suppressing the expansion of Arab communities. The JNF has played a central role in parlaying Israel’s confiscation of Arab lands into settlements for Jewish newcomers. And under the JNF’s charter, the sale of JNF-owned territory to non-Jews is prohibited.

A policy of Judaization persists in both Galilee and the Negev Desert in Israel’s south, where Bedouin tribes have been repeatedly uprooted. Tensions between Israel and its non-Jewish inhabitants (many of whom are Israeli citizens) owe to the desire of the country’s high officials to maintain a state that is both Jewish (ethnocratic) and democratic. At times, as in the Galilee, the Negev, and the Ktzi’ot refugee detention centre, those objectives appear to conflict.

However, as his presence at the Negev gala and the naming of a wildlife reserve in his honour suggest, Harper is unwavering in his support of the zionist state, its past and present abuses of international law and human rights notwithstanding.

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