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Issue 150

No Man's Land by Razan Al-Salah: Text
by Dana Qaddah

To understand the significance of Canada Park, one must know something of its geographic history. The park is located in the area of land stretching west of the holy city of Jerusalem, overlooked by Latrun’s historic forts, castles, and monasteries, deeming it a critical line not only for transportation, but for offence and defence. Latrun alternated between Arab and Zionist control until the British Mandate expired on May 14, 1948 and the State of Israel was declared the following day, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” when around 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. Battles over control of several areas of Palestine broke out, and Jordan-controlled Latrun was an especially heavy site of conflict. In 1949, after repeated and failed attempts by Israel to invade Latrun, armistice lines were drawn and it was included within the Green Line—Israel’s international border adjacent to the West Bank, otherwise known as “no man’s land.” Consequently, Arab residents were exiled from Latrun to the eastern neighbouring villages of Imwas, Yalo, and Bayt Nouba. Less than 20 years later, in 1967, the SixDay War led to the complete capture of Latrun—as well as Imwas, Yalo, and Bayt Nouba—by Israeli forces, as part of plans to develop the “Jerusalem corridor.” After their populations were driven out to Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank, and their villages demolished, “no man’s land” was rendered “public land” by Israel, transforming its legal status from international to national control. The area was subsequently handed over to the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

  • Source images from Palestine Remembered, “Welcome to ‘Imwas,” accessed October 8, 2021, www.palestineremembered.com/al-Ramla/Imwas/index.html#Pictures

Established in 1901, the JNF is a state-sanctioned organization propagating environmental narratives as a means to annex land, erase Palestinian geographical history, and expand Zionist settlement while refusing Arab tenancy. A beacon of eco-colonialism and discrimination, the JNF’s reforestation program deems confiscated land mistreated and needing rehabilitation. They shroud emptied villages in fast-growing pine trees and evergreens—non-indigenous to the region’s ecology—engineering a European landscape, effectively erasing traces of people and obstructing their ability to return home. Most recently in August 2021, a wildfire tore through areas of Jerusalem, revealing the legacy of centuries-old terraces built by Palestinian farmers, cloaked in Scots pine, a European species of pine tree, planted by the JNF after the Nakba. This strategy has been exercised on the ruins of some 400 villages in Palestine; Latrun, Imwas, Yalo, and Bayt Nouba fell victim to the same fate in 1969 when the JNF established Canada Park on areas from which thousands of people were expelled. The park encompasses the ruins of Imwas and Yalo; Beit Nouba was buried by the Mevo Horon settlement, and a major highway was established along Latrun, which now hosts two settlements, the “Oasis of Peace” and the “Jesus Brotherhood,” as well as an Israeli military museum and memorial site.

During an action in protest of the Port of Vancouver allowing Israeli shipping company ZIM to dock in May 2021, a bystander confronted activists by asking how protesting in Canada will do anything for Palestine. Canada Park—a symbol of the ongoing fraternal relationship between Canada and Israel—was largely funded by the Canadian faction of the JNF, an organization with Canadian charitable status which continues to raise $10 million annually in tax-deductible donations toward the establishment and maintenance of settlements in Israel. In 1975, former prime minister John Diefenbaker visited the park to inaugurate the John Diefenbaker Parkway, a section of the 700-hectare park with one million new trees, as well as sites for camping and picnics. In 2007, JNF Canada had raised $7 million toward restoring the park and further concealing Palestinian history with plaques acknowledging Canadian donors like the City of Ottawa and the Toronto Police Department.

Replete with springs, hiking trails, orchards, and archaeological sites from the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, the park is a historical attraction for tourists who are not made aware that the land’s most recent history included the wilful destruction of 1,500 Palestinian homes. Annually, hundreds of thousands of visitors capture and share photographs that detail many narratives of the land, though decisively not the most recent one.

In No Man’s Land, Razan Al-Salah has gathered visual material depicting such tourist activity, landmarks, and military processions, in an ironic display of the Israeli “joie de vivre” which floods online search engines. In another spread, Al-Salah reminds us of the 2007 procession along the fences of Canada Park commemorating 40 years since the expulsion of Palestinians from Latrun and its domino effect which was ultimately interrupted by Israeli military force. Adjacent to this page is a visualization of the erasure of Imwas over time with sourced images which were captured from one location, years apart.

Al-Salah sees Canada Park as the pinnacle of a colonial PR success story, the engineering of a consumable landscape also demonstrating the link between national parks and the nation-state project. No Man’s Land refuses the very partition of Palestine for the establishment of a nation-state, from the activities of Israel and the JNF to Canada’s complacency regarding the expansion of Israeli settlement in Palestine—not to mention Canada’s own history of establishing green zones through the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous people within its own borders.

By alluding to the commons of digital space as an extension of the physical, Al-Salah invites readers to participate in challenging the normalization of erasure by counterflooding websites with Zochrot Organization’s images of the procession to Latrun.

The Artist Project is supported in part by Partners in Art.

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