High Court petition on Canada Park
By: Zochrot
05/2005

[Excerpts translated from the Hebrew:]

The following is a Petition for a conditional order according to which the honorable High Court is asked to instruct Respondents 1 – 2 to give reason, at their wish, why they should not grant the first Petitioner permission to post signs in the area of Park Canada designating that until the year 1967 the two Palestinian villages of Yalu and Imwas existed at the site, in the style and wording set out in Section 21 of this Petition.

I. Introduction and the Parties to the Petition

1. The matter of this Petition in the request of the Petitioner to post signs in the area of Canada Park which will complete the historical information provided to visitors to the place and will indicate that besides the Roman, Jewish, Crusader, Hellenistic, and Mamluk settlement of the place there was also, on some of the territory which is today used by the park, Palestinian Arab settlements that flourished until the war in 1967.

2. The Petitioner is a registered non-governmental organization which goals include "advancing open public dialogue on diverse histories." The Petitioner is involved, among others, in research and education to commemorate the villages that existed on the land of the country before the wars in 1948 and in 1967.

3. Respondent 1 is the Military Commander in Judea and Samaria, which holds all administrative and ruling authorities for the territory relevant to this Petition – the areas of Park Canada relating to the matter at hand.

4. Respondent 2, the Office of Planning, is the body responsible for planning activities in the area and holds (through the Regional Committee and the Supreme Planning Committee) authority to provide permission for building and development of the territory in the area.

5. Respondent 3, the Jewish National Fund, to the best knowledge of the Petitioner, manages Canada Park and as far as is known is responsible for positing signs in the area. It is included in this Petition for reasons of caution only and because of its connection to the site, and because the Petitioner believes that the respondent has interest in the issue that is the subject of the Petition.

II. Factual Background

6. Three Arab-Palestinian villages existed east of Latrun. Two of them, Imwas and Yalu, were located in the area that was occupied in 1967 and on which Canada Park was established, managed today by Respondent 3. The park was founded after the occupation of the said area and the migration of its residents to refugee camps in the West Bank, and is used until today as an area for tourism and leisure.

7. The journalist Amos Keinan, who served in the area as a soldier, wrote a report on the suffering of the refugees who were uprooted from their homes in the days following the war. Approximately two years ago he submitted a copy of the report to the Director of the Petitioner, Mr. Eitan Bronstein.

A copy of the report written by Mr. Keinan is attached hereto as Appendix A.

8. Since the establishment of the park Respondent 3 has posted many signs which inform visitors as to the archeological findings in the area, as well as signs relating to the history of human settlement in the area. These signs describe the ancient Jewish history of the area and tell the story of the Byzantine era and the beginning of the Muslim era. Visitors to the area do not receive a single piece of information regarding the existence of two Palestinian villages that teemed with life in the area of the park during the last century until the year 1967.

9. Thus, for example, in the park there is a sign directing visitors' attention to the Roman "Bathhouse," but this sign ignores the fact that this bathhouse is located beneath an ancient and holy Muslim structure, in the heart of the cemetery of the village of Imwas. Visitors may only guess as to who these graves belong to, and there is no mention of the important Muslim figure Abu Obeida Ibn a-Jrah to whom the site is attributed. Another sign addresses the name of Yalu, but this is attributed to the observation post of a crusader fortress by that name. The conspicuous remains of the villages do not attain any mention in the sign.

10. On 22.6.2003 Mr. Eitan Bronstein, Director of the Petitioner, turned in the name of the Petitioner to Respondent 3 with the request that the respondent post signs designating that until 1967 two Palestinian villages existed in the area. A copy of this letter, dated 22.6.2003, is attached hereto and marked as Appendix B.

11. On 24.8.2003 Ms. Liora Tsoref, advisor to the chairman of the directorate of Respondent 3, responded to Mr. Bronstein's letter. Ms. Tsoref explained, in the name of Respondent 3, that:

"Unfortunately the JNF does not see itself as addressing issues that have political significance and thus we suggest that you turn to official bodies relevant to the matter."

A copy of the letter by Ms. Tsoref, dated 24.8.2003, is attached hereto and marked as Appendix C.

12. Pursuant to the response of Respondent 3, on 9.9.2003 the Petitioner turned, this time through its undersigned legal representative, to the Office of Planning of the Civil Administration and repeated its request, with a commitment to bear all expenses for the posting of the said sign.

13. Since no response was received from Respondent 2, the undersigned sent a reminder on 19.10.2003 in which the planning bodies in the administration were asked a second time to address the request. The correspondence of the Petitioner dated 9.9.2003 and 19.10.2003 are attached hereto and marked as Appendices D and E, respectively.

14. After a number of months passed and Respondent 2 did not respond to the request, on 29.4.2004 the undersigned turned in the name of the Petitioner for a third time to the Office of Planning, with a copy of the correspondence also sent to the legal counsel of the Civil Administration.

A copy of this third letter is attached hereto and marked Appendix F.

15. On 4.5.2004 Major Ehud Brosh, assistant to the legal counsel of the Civil Administration, dispatched a letter to the undersigned in which he promised in the name of the legal counsel that "due to the time that has passed since your first letter an effort with be made to provide a speedy response."

16. On 16.8.2004 Major Brosh dispatched a letter to the undersigned which stated that the subject had been transferred for examination by the Ministry of Justice and on 21.9.2004 Major Brosh sent an additional letter which stated that "following a discussion that took place on the matter at the Ministry of Justice, a number of factual questions arose requiring additional examination." Major Brosh noted that for the purpose of providing an "orderly" response to the request, he would require 30 additional days.

A copy of the letters of Major Brosh dated 4.5.2004, 16.8.2004, and 21.9.2004, are attached hereto and marked as Appendices 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

17. As two and a half months passed without receipt of an "orderly" or any other response, the undersigned dispatched an additional letter to the legal counsel and to Major Brosh asking for their immediate and final response to the request to post commemorative signs.

18. A copy of the letter dated 3.11.2004 is attached hereto and marked Appendix H.

19. Following this letter a number of telephone conversations were conducted between the undersigned and Mr. Brosh in which it was stated to the undersigned that according to the advice of the Ministry of Justice it was decided to permit the Petitioner's request. Major Brosh asked the undersigned to see that the requested wording of the commemorative signs would be forwarded to the administration and to the office of the Director of General Planning, Mr. Shlomo Moskovitch.

20. In a conversation conducted by the undersigned with Mr. Moskovitch the undersigned was asked that in addition to the wording a map of a particular scale would be sent marking the points at which the administration was asked to approve the posting of the signs.

21. On 3.2.2005 the wording and the maps were sent to Mr. Moskovitch. The administration was asked permit the posting of two signs, one at the cemetery of the village of Imwas and the second at the village of Yalu. The wording that was requested for the two signs are as follows:

At the cemetery of the village of Imwas:

Imwas was an ancient Palestinian village. The settlement in the area began during the Canaanite period. The village was destroyed in the 1967 war (the Six Day War) when the IDF took control of the area, at which time 2,000 people lived in the village. The refugees have live since then in Jordan and the Ramallah area. In the village were two schools, two mosques and a number of flowing wells. The large structure at the cemetery is attributed to Abu-Obeida Ibn al-Jrah, a major warrior among the first Muslims. It was built on a bathhouse from the Roman period.

Village of Yalu:

A Palestinian village that existed, like Imwas and Beit Nuba (located about 2 km northeast), until the 1967 war (the Six Day War), and was destroyed when the IDF took control of the area. In 1967 1,700 lived in the village. It had two schools and a mosque. In the Canaanite period the place was called "Yalum," meaning "tile," and in the Roman period "Elus."

A copy of the letter sent by the undersigned to Mr. Moskovitch, dated 3.2.2005, is attached hereto as Appendix I.

22. Since no response was received after 6 weeks, the undersigned turned another time to Mr. Moskovitch with a request to understand why the matter was not addressed. A copy of the letter was sent also to Major Brosh. The letter of the undersigned, dated 15.3.2005, is attached hereto and marked Appendix J.

23. Following these events the undersigned held a number of telephone conversations with the deputy to Major Brosh, Captain Ronit Levin, who confirmed that in principle the request of the Petitioner had been accepted but that for undisclosed reasons no progress had been made on the matter. Captain Levin asked the undersigned to wait a number of additional weeks.

24. In a number of additional conversations with the office of Major Brosh it was explained to the undersigned that the administration was evaluating the option of posting signs on behalf of the Respondents in the wording that they would choose but ultimately this promise was not fulfilled and no sign was posted by the administration.

25. Because almost two years have passed since the initial request, the Petitioner has come to understand that there is no intention of carrying out the promise made in conversations with Major Brosh and for which the people of the Petitioner had waited so long.

26. Thus, after the Respondent gave an affirmative response to the Petitioner, the promise was breached and permission to post the requested commemorative signs was not given. Thus the present Petition.

III. The Legal Argument

...

IV. Extreme Unreasonableness

33. The purpose of the historical signage in Canada Park, as of the historical signage at any site, is to provide visitors with information about the past of a place and to advance values such as knowledge about the land and its heritage.

34. As said, the signage in the park includes diverse information abut the history of the site in different periods of human settlement, excluding reference to the Arab-Palestinian settlement of the place in the past centuries.

35. The selective exclusion of segments of local history is an unreasonable decision of an extreme nature which hinders these same abovementioned values and which embody the basic rationale for historical signage advanced by every planning body in the world. With due caution, owing to the absence of an expressed justification for the decision, it may also be argued that there is suspicion that the refusal derives from motivations that are essentially political in nature and which purpose are to prevent visitors to the place from becoming familiar with the Arab past of the area which teemed with Palestinian life until the war.

36. The decision not to grant permission also violates the freedom of expression of the Petitioner and of the displaced people of the villages for whom the Petitioner acts as a mouthpiece on this matter, and who desire that the portrayal of the site's past will be complete and will not exclude its Arab elements.

37. In addition, the decision also violates the right to equality of the Palestinian residents of the place, whose national history is discriminated against, while the history of the Jewish residents of the area receives maximal expression in the signs of the site.

38. In this context reference may be made to the High Court of Justice case 4112/99, Adallah Legal Center v. Municipality of Tel Aviv – Jaffa, 603 (2) 2002, regarding the requirement of local authorities to post road signs also in the Arab language. In this case the Honorable Court found that the decision not to post signs that include information in Arabic violated a number of basic values of the local authority including, among others, the right to language.

39. The Honorable President, Judge Barak, reasoned that violation of an individual's right to language is a serious infringement on one's identity, personhood, and dignity. The Honorable President Barak made the following statements regarding binding changes which are relevant to the matter at hand:

"An individual's language is part of his personhood. It is the tool by which he thinks, it is a tool by which he relates to others... Language was created by human beings, and its purpose is to serve as a means of connection between one individual and another... But language is not only a means of communication or thought. Language determines the meaning of thought... Thus language is central to human existence, to human development and human dignity."

40. The Petitioner claims that these statements on the right to language are fitting and appropriate to the question standing before us on the matter of the exclusion of the collective history of the Palestinian citizens of the area. History, too, is part of the socio-cultural nature of human beings, and as such it is a central component of a person's identity and dignity.

41. As noted by the Hon. President Barak in the Adallah case, "language acquires special importance when regarding the matter of the language of a minority group. Indeed, language reflects culture and tradition. It is an expression of social pluralism." This is the case in the matter of the collective history of a sector or of a nation, particularly one under occupation.

42. The history of an individual is a central part of his personal identity and the history of a group is central to collective identity. The erasure of a nation's past is the erasure of its present and harms its future, and none know this better than the Jewish nation which diligently preserves its historical roots in the place it views as its biblical homeland.

43. For these reasons of the violation of the principle of equality, of freedom of expression, and of dignity... the Petitioner claims that the decision not to permit the posting of the requested signs is flawed by extreme unreasonableness.

44. The Petitioner claims that the abovementioned considerations were not taken into account and therefore the decision not to post the signs was not carried out in adequate parity between these interests and the interests of others (if indeed such interests exists).

45. This is further evident in examining the source of the authority of the Military Commander, which derives from laws of war... These position the Military Commander as the trustee and manager of the area on behalf of protected citizens (including those residents of the area who are not citizens of the occupying power; see Section 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the matter of the protection of the civil population in time of war). The considerations, therefore, to which the Military Commander must adhere, are the considerations of the wellbeing of protect citizens and the security of the occupying power. This alone and no more. Any other consideration undermines the basic obligation of the Military Commander set out in regulation 43 of The Hague Regulations "to restore public life and security" to the occupied area. Other considerations, if so, may be deemed extraneous...

V. Invalid Considerations

46. In addition... the suspicion arises that the justification for the decision is of a political nature which purpose is to emphasize the Jewish past of the site through exclusion of its Arab-Palestinian past, and if so this consideration may be considered extraneous and invalid, and is sufficient to nullify the decision.

47. The Military Commander holds administrative authorities over the occupied area (through which Respondent 2 has received planning authorities), and although these may be at times wide-ranging, they do not make the Military Commander the Minister of History and do not permit the Military Commander to prefer one historical narrative over another.

48. Furthermore, the political consideration, if indeed it exists, violates the values and the aims of the Military Commander, whose authority to post historical signs is intended to advance knowledge of history of the land. The Military Commander's political consideration relates to different aims (for example, advancing the exclusive right of the Jewish nation over the land), and thus these impair the accurate and reliable documentation of the past for which authority was granted. This consideration turns the Military Commander into a political commissar who dictates history and subjects it to political concerns. 

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