OPINION: Canada Park wasn’t stolen from the Palestinians

Canada Park preserves the area’s natural and historic character, including remnants from the Hasmonean and Second Temple periods. FILE PHOTO

In light of some serious misconceptions in Mira Sucharov’s column (“Is it time to have a debate about the JNF?”), according to which the land on which the Jewish National Fund-administered Canada Park is located was illegally stolen from Palestinians in contravention of the Geneva Convention, the following points need to be made.

The land, including the former Arab villages that existed in what is now Canada Park, was never part of any Palestinian state or entity. No such entity has ever existed, and hence the land could not have been “stolen” from a non-existent entity that neither owned nor occupied it. 

During the 1948-49 War of Independence, in which, as is widely known, Israel defended itself from a combined attack by neighbouring and local Arab forces, the area in question, including the villages that were located there, together with units of the Jordanian army, played an active and strategic role in blocking the route to Jerusalem and in attacking and bombarding both Jerusalem itself and convoys driving to and from Jerusalem. 

In the 1949 Jordan-Israel armistice agreement, which terminated the hostilities but left the issue of “territorial settlements or boundary lines” open for future peace negotiations, the Latrun area, including what is now Canada Park, was determined as “No-Man’s Land” and a demilitarized zone between the forward lines of the forces, with strict limitations on any military presence or activity therein, and remained so until the 1967 Six Day War. 

The armistice demarcation line has never been considered to be a border and has never been so designated by United Nations agencies or governments, including Canada.

During the course of the Six Day War, in which Jordan, despite Israeli pleas not to do so, attacked Israel, the area fell under Israel’s control and administration, together with the other West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria. In light of its strategic location commanding the main route to Jerusalem and the vital security implications involved, and in accordance with Israel’s rights pursuant to the rules of armed conflict, the area was declared by Israel to be a closed military area under strict military control, and the presence of the few civilians who remained after the majority had chosen to leave was prohibited. 

Since then, as part of its ongoing administration of the area, Israel has undertaken to observe the relevant norms of international humanitarian law, pending a final peace agreement and ultimate disposition of the territory. Any claims that Israel has annexed the area are without any basis. By the same token, any Palestinian claims that this area is part of a Palestinian state is utterly wrong.

This area, together with all other areas that fell under Israel’s control in 1967, are the subject of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation process pursuant to the 1993-95 Oslo accords signed by the Palestinian leadership and Israel, and endorsed and witnessed by the major powers and regional and international organizations.

Therefore the legal status of the area  –  including the area in which Canada Park is located – is pending negotiation. It cannot be denominated as “Palestinian territory,” since the Palestinians themselves are committed to negotiating the permanent status of the area with Israel. It is therefore governed by the special regime agreed upon by the Palestinians and Israel under the Oslo accords.

In this framework, the Palestinians have agreed that Israel continues to maintain full territorial control and jurisdiction over “Area C,” in which Canada Park is located, subject to the outcome of the negotiations on permanent status of the territory. Negotiations will presumably cover the fate of the area in question.

As such, any claim that Israel’s administration of Canada Park is in violation of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention has no basis in fact or law, since the convention is not applicable. 

The area of Canada Park contains remnants of Jewish Hasmonean and Second Temple presence, including burial caves and ritual baths, as well as of Roman and Crusader antiquities from later periods. Clearly, once the negotiations on the permanent status of the areas are resumed, such historic considerations will be part and parcel of the respective claims of the parties.

Maintaining the area as a park in which its natural and historic character, integrity and heritage are preserved and protected, falls squarely within the requirements of international humanitarian law and cannot in any way be described as a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Therefore any claim that Canada Park is in any way a violation of international law has no absolutely legal basis and is an utter misconception. 

Alan Baker served as the legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s ambassador to Canada (2004-08). He participated in all the negotiations between Israel and its neighbours on the drafting of the various peace treaties and other agreements. He is currently director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.