South Africa’s Ambassador to Israel, Ismail Coovadia, has rejected a ‘gift’ from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ‘gift’ came in the form of a certificate [click to view] indicating that 18 trees be planted in honour of the South African Ambassador and came with the backing of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move by Coovadia is set to add to the already tense relations between Pretoria and Tel Aviv. In a hard hitting letter, Coovadia explains the reasoning for his actions:
“Regrettably, my permission was not sought [by the JNF nor the Israeli Government] to plant trees in my or the name of the South African Ambassador on usurped land, the rightful land of the Palestinians and Bedouins. I reserve the right to the usage of my name…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.”
A recently released documentary, Village Under the Forest, by Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Mark Kaplan and Cape Town based Jewish scholar, Heidi Grunebaum features the JNF’s role in building the South Africa Forest over the Palestinian village of Lubya, which was destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948. JNF is celebrated by Israel and its supporters for its forest building work, but criticised by human rights activists and experts for its involvement in Israeli oppression and ethnic-cleansing of indigenous Palestinian people, specifically the construction of forests on Israeli-destroyed Palestinian villages.