An Interview with Dr. Ismail Zayid, President of the Canada Palestine Association

Angie Tibbs

August 14, 2006

Israelís ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from 1947 to the present has caused monumental devastation to the exiled, those hundreds of thousands who were forced from their homes and never allowed to return. Dr. Ismail Zayidís family suffered this unspeakable horror in 1967 when their village of Beit Nuba was erased from the face of the earth by Israeli bulldozers.

Angie: In June 1967, Yitzhak Rabin ordered the ethnic cleansing of three Palestinian villages, Beit Nuba, Imwas (Emmaus), and Yalu. The residents were ordered to leave; some were murdered. The villages were dynamited and destroyed by bulldozers, then, as now, a favourite tool of Israeli war crimes. You were working as Director of Pathology at Main Hospital in Amman, Jordan at the time, but your family was still residing in their village of Beit Nuba. What happened?

Dr. Zayid: On Monday, June 5, 1967, we heard on the radio of Israeli invasion of the Sinai in Egypt. Conflicting reports as to the war process were received. On June 6, we heard that the war was involving attacks on the West Bank, which was under Jordanian army control. Besides political concerns, my anxiety was enormously heightened by my concerns for my family - mother, brother, sisters and uncle - who were at our home in our village, Beit Nuba, in what is called The Latrun Salient, which is very close to the Armistice line of 1949 with Israel. It was this area that the Israelis attempted to conquer in April and May 1948, but were repulsed and defeated initially by the local villagers, including myself, defending their villages, and later by the Jordanian army after May 15, 1948.

It was Thursday, June 8. I was in my office, having spent the last three days, virtually sleepless, agonising about the happenings during those three days and the well-being of my mother and the rest of our family in our village, Beit Nuba, and the accounts of thousands of our Palestinian people driven out from their homes.

It was afternoon on Thursday when my brother, Ali, 31 years old, was ushered into my office crying his eyes out and virtually speechless. It was a picture I will never forget and no words can describe it justly. I asked if my mother, sister and the rest of the family are all right, and he said that they have just arrived in Amman. We rushed down town and as I hugged my mother, 59 years old, I was crying loudly as she was. I greeted, in a similar vein, my sister Karimah, 17 years old, my sister Aishah, 40 years old, and my uncle Hussein, 65 years old.

These minutes seemed like a generation and in the midst of crying, I noticed my mother was so distraught and exhausted. She wailed that those criminals, the Israelis, destroyed everything for us and may Allah punish them. It took some time before I could get a coherent story from her and the rest of the family about what happened to them.

Angie: What did your mother tell you? The shock and horror they were experiencing at that time must have been tremendous.

Dr. Zayid: She said it was in the early hours of Tuesday, June 6. There was noise of vehicles and loud noise from what sounded like Jewish soldiers and some "firing", as she described it. Jewish soldiers were roaming the streets of the village and soon after sunrise the soldiers marched into the courtyard of our house shrieking in Arabic "out, out!" Explosions could be heard in the village. My uncle, who is arthritic, was slow in moving from the room in the east part of our house. The soldiers dynamited and blew up the western part of our house, and my mother started again wailing as she related this. The soldiers threatened my uncle that the same will be done to the rest of the house, whether he stayed in or moved. He managed to struggle, and they were pushed out and told to go to Beit Sira, a village north of our village, placed about three kilometres on the way to Ramallah.

My mother and the rest of the family ran out, taking nothing with them, and they struggled, together with other members of the village, men women and children, crying, heading to Beit Sira, sweating in the heat and thirsty. She said when they got to Beit Sira, a few men walked back to the village to see if they can go back and see what is happening.

Angie: What, if anything, did they see?

Dr. Zayid: They came back having seen the village being systematically dynamited and bulldozers by more Israeli troops arriving to complete the job.

Angie: Ah, yes. The ever present bulldozer! Then as now a "must have" for Israeli atrocities!

Dr. Zayid: They related that some 18 elderly and disabled people, who were unable to move out, were buried under the rubble of their homes. These included an uncle of my mother, Mohammad Ali Bakr. A middle-aged relative of my mother, Lutfi, was shot in cold blood. Everyone was in turmoil. Some were looking for missing members of their families, and the wailing never stopped. The soldiers followed them ordering them to move and go to [King] Hussein. Thirsty and hungry, in the hot sun, they reached by the evening the village of Beit Our, six kilometres from Beit Sira.

My mother and family, as well as others from Beit Nuba, settled for the night under the olive trees at the periphery of Beit Our. Some were able to get water and bread from the local village. Early in the morning they continued their crawl towards Ramallah, another 15 kilometres from Beit Our. My mother kept crying as she was telling me this and stating that she kept wondering that she would rather go back and wished she would rather die in her home.

They stayed in the open under the trees near Ramallah, exhausted and virtually sleepless, and in the early hours of Thursday morning, they were told they would be bussed to the Allenby Bridge on the Jordan River. They arrived around 9 a.m. at the Bridge, which was already demolished by the Israelis three days earlier, and struggled to cross amidst massive crowds including men, women, and children in pain and agony. My mother cried then and said as she crossed the Bridge she cried and said there goes not only Beit Nuba but also Palestine; we shall never see it again. After waiting for hours, hungry, thirsty and distraught, they were bussed to Amman, an hour bus journey from the Bridge.

Angie:So your family, and the other families in the villages, lost everything, arriving only with the clothes on their backs. Did your family remain in Amman?

Dr. Zayid: My mother passed away, in Amman in 1976, denied the right to return to her home, and after having lived nine years in exile, tormented by pain and suffering.

Angie: Did all of the refugees move to Jordan? If not, where?

Dr. Zayid: The villagers of Beit Nuba, who were expelled, settled largely across the Jordan River in Amman, Jordan. Some settled in Beitunia village, near Ramallah and a few are settled in land they owned in the neighbouring village of Beit Liqya.

Angie: When we remember Beit Nuba and the surrounding villages that were ethnically cleansed in June of 1967, itís difficult not to remember simultaneously Canadaís role in subsidizing the abomination known as Canada Park on the ruins of Imwas and Yalu. Tell me as briefly as you can about Canada Park, the events that led up to it and those which followed.

Dr. Zayid: In 1975, the Canadian Jewish National Fund [JNF], as a registered Canadian charitable society, started a campaign of collecting tax-deductible dollars from Canadians to build the infamy that was called Canada Park, at the site of the villages of Imwas and Yalu.

On Dec. 4, 1978, I read in the Halifax daily, "The Chronicle Herald", that Peter Herschorn, a past regional chairman of the JNF and the co-owner of the Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax, was honoured by the JNF, at what was called the Negev Testimonial Dinner at the same hotel, for "choosing the right goodness to participate" in building Canada Park. The dinner was attended by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the Premier of Nova Scotia and the Mayor of Halifax. I wrote to them expressing my shock that they would participate in this honouring process for this action, which is a war crime

I was mortified to read this outrageous bestiality describing the complicity in this war crime as humane work.

I have, since then, written to many Ministers of Revenue Canada and other politicians expressing concern that the JNF be allowed to function as a registered charity and use our tax-deductible dollars for building this infamy, Canada Park, insulting Canada's good name in an activity that is clearly a war crime. After repeated correspondence, all I received are vague statements, while the JNF continues its illegal activities.

Alas, I am frustrated and disappointed that our government continues to allow its good name to be besmirched in this brutal and inhumane action, while our politicians continue to brag about Canada upholding the UN Charter and international law.

Angie: Canada, becoming a stranger to even those who live here, is changing and not necessarily for the better. Certainly any moral high road it had achieved on the international stage is quickly dissipating. Tell me about coming to Canada. When did that happen and why?

Dr. Zayid: I had been teaching at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, University of London, England. In the summer of 1972, I received, out of the blue, a letter from the Head of the Department of Pathology, Dalhousie University, Professor David Janigan, inviting me to come to teach at Dalhousie University Medical School, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This initiated an interesting experience. I was not sure where Halifax, Nova Scotia was! I knew it was in Canada, and I knew that Canada has a cold climate, and I did not like cold climates! We were living in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England. We sat on the floor and looked at the world atlas to locate Halifax, Nova Scotia. I learnt in geography in elementary school that latitude determines the climate. In the atlas, we found that Halifax, Nova Scotia was at a latitude close to the border of Spain and France. I thought London is fine. This is even better! Professor Janigan phoned me two weeks later asking; " Are you coming? When will you come?" I said I would like to come and look at the place for myself and for you to see who I am. He said, "we know all about you. Just come".

Angie:(Grinning) Were you ever in for a surprise! Thinking that Halifax in any way resembled Spain!

Dr. Zayid: I arrived, alone, leaving family behind, on December 14, 1972, early evening. Professor Janigan picked me up at the Halifax Airport to take me to the Lord Nelson Hotel to stay. On the way I saw on the side of the streets of Halifax piles of greyish white stuff and asked what was that? He said that is just the winter season. In the morning he came to pick me up to go to the Victoria General Hospital [later re-named Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre]. He said: "I am afraid you have to come with me first to the shoe store." I said: What for? He said you need boots; you can't walk in shoes like these here! We did that, and I proceeded to take my position as an Associate Professor, Department of Pathology.

It was freezing, 20 degrees Centigrade below zero. I phoned, around Xmas time, my wife, who was still in England, and said: "This place is far too cold. I donít think I can stick it". She said: "That is too bad; I sold the house and the car, and we are on our way". She arrived two weeks later with our five children, aged 1 to 10 years old. However, we came to love Halifax and Nova Scotia. We found the people very nice and the province attractive, and we remained here ever since, for thirty-four years, declining offers to go and work in other parts of Canada or the USA.

My decision to come to Canada was based on a belief that Canada was a friendly liberal society, with a reputation for support of human rights.

Angie:Have you returned to where Beit Nuba once flourished as a village? If so, what was your reaction?

Dr. Zayid: I am afraid the Israeli government has refused to allow me to return to the Occupied Territories, let alone visit the site of Beit Nuba, my birth place and where I grew and was brought up.

In 1978, I met Mr. Mahmoud Habieh, the Director of the Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem, which is the main tertiary care hospital in the West Bank. He said that they do not have any person of my specialty, in Surgical Pathology, in the entire West Bank and Gaza, and desperately needed my services as a specialist physician. He asked if I would be willing to give up my position at Dalhousie University and go to serve at Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem. I said I would certainly love to do that, in the service of my people. Applications were completed and submitted to the Israeli government, but my offer was rejected, and I was denied the right to go there.

As to Beit Nuba, as I related earlier, it was systematically dynamited and bulldozed in June, 1967, and erased from the face of the earth. Today, its site is barricaded and fenced. The few families from Beit Nuba, who live in nearby villages are not allowed to get near their village or pick the fruit of the trees they planted. They are harassed and beaten up if they attempt to get nearby. Alien Jewish settlers live on our land.

Angie: What is your reaction, and the reaction of the Palestinian Associations in Canada, to Canada's refusal to give aid to the Palestinian people following the overwhelmingly decisive victory by Hamas?

Dr. Zayid: Our reaction to the statements and policies effected by the Canadian government, as enunciated by Messrs Harper and MacKay, was a great disappointment but no surprise.

I wrote to both Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister MacKay pointing out that their policies stand against the often-declared stand that Canada claims to uphold in support of human rights and international law. They were, in essence, denying the innocent millions of Palestinians the elemental principles of human rights, and causing starvation and disease, in punishment for freely electing their representatives. Thus, our Canadian government was again submitting its policies to the diktats of the US and Israel.

Angie: I was angry and disbelieving to hear Peter MacKay demanding that Hamas recognize Israel but there was no mention of Israel recognizing the Palestinian people, their rights and freedoms. What was your reaction to this stunning piece of mendacity by MacKay?

Dr. Zayid: In my letter to Mr. MacKay, dated March 29, 2006, I pointed out that the call for the new Palestinian government to recognise the state of Israel is the height of hypocrisy and double standards.

I wrote (in part): "We have been led to believe, Mr. MacKay, that Canada is proud to uphold the UN Charter and international law. If this is so, you should be calling on Israel to comply with all UN resolutions related to this conflict and terminate completely and unconditionally its illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory, that has been allowed to stand for 39 years, in defiance of international law and repeated Security Council resolutions. "

Angie: Canada, to our shame, had a larger role to play in the creation of Israel, and to our further shame, our governments have continued to support its ongoing terrorism against the Palestinian people. Tell us about that.

Dr. Zayid: I stated in my first paragraph answering your question that our governmentís policies were a great disappointment but no surprise. The expression of 'no surprise' emanates from our familiarity with Canada's long-standing policy of bias in favour of Israel, against the Palestinian people

Canada became, in 1947, directly involved, and played a major role in, the tragedy that befell the Palestinian people. The major figures at the time were Lester Pearson, then Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and Mr. Justice Ivan C. Rand, an ardent Zionist supporter.

In April 1947, Britain, the Mandatory Power over Palestine, referred the issue to the UN. Pearson headed the Canadian delegation to a special session of the UN General Assembly [UNGA] to discuss the matter. Pearson was elected chairman of the Assembly's First Committee, and thus Canada became a major player in this issue. In May 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine [UNSCOP], was created and Canada was one of the eleven members of the Committee.

The Canadian representative on UNSCOP was Justice Rand, a known Zionist supporter. The Partition Plan was formulated, with direct pressure by Pearson and Rand. Canada was a member of the Majority Report by the Committee, opposing the Minority Report which was more balanced. The Majority Report, was passed by the UNGA , in UNGA Resolution #181, on Nov. 29,1947. This resolution apportioned 56% of Palestine for a Jewish state and 42% for an Arab state, and 2% for Jerusalem, as an International zone. It is worthy of note here to state that the Jews in Palestine, many recent and illegal immigrants, in 1947, constituted 31% of the population and owned 5.6% of the land. The Palestinians, needless to say, rejected this unfair resolution.

Lester Pearson played a prominent role in effecting the passage of this plan, and for which he was dubbed by Canadian Zionists as "the Balfour of Canada". In the struggle to secure acceptance of the partition plan, his influence had been of importance ... it was perhaps decisive." [1] In the 1948 war, Canada supplied Israel with arms, planes and capital.

Angie:I wasnít aware that we had arms, planes, and capital to spare!

Dr. Zayid: In response to the war of aggression that Israel conducted on Oct. 29,1956, in collusion with UK and France, Pearson played a significant role in the formulation of the UN Emergency Force [UNEF] to send a peace-keeping force to the area. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this.

Angie:Curious how we hear plenty about his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his introduction of peacekeeping yet very little about his collusion in the partition of Palestine.

Dr. Zayid: However, his motives were not opposition to aggression but merely to keep the balance between his NATO allies; namely, the US, on one hand, and the UK and France, on the other. Interestingly, the resolution sponsored by the US and adopted by the UN, calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces, was opposed by five states - Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and Israel - while Canada abstained. Pearson appeared to be sympathetic with the invading powers, declaring on Nov. 29, 1956: " I do not for one minute criticize the motives of the governments of the UK and France . . . I may have thought their intervention was unwise, but I do not criticise their purposes."

Angie:Do you have any additional examples of Canadaís support of Israel in its earlier years?

Dr. Zayid: In the weeks preceding the Israeli war of aggression in June 1967, Israeli planes flew over Damascus and shot down Syrian planes. General Odd Bull, head of UN Truce Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO) reported this to Security Council for action. The Canadian delegate, George Ignatieff, was president of the Security Council, but he did not call a meeting of the Council. Canada, in May, voted against Egypt and criticised UN Secretary General, U Thant, for agreeing to Egypt's request for withdrawal of UNEF in Sinai. Canada also offered arms and planes for Israel in that war.

Angie:In recent years Canada has openly sided with Israel either by its voting at the UN or by abstaining. I donít know how the rest of Canada feels, but I am horrified and ashamed that my country would support Israeli terrorism.

Dr. Zayid: Canada's role and UN voting record in relation to the Middle East conflict has always been, and remains to this day, biased in favour of Israel.

This has been largely ascribed to the role of the Zionist lobby in Canada. Charles Lynch, a prominent Canadian columnist, noted several important factors tending to influence Canada. The first is the pro-Israel lobby; the second is the propaganda supporting the Israeli position. This is clearly evident now with Israel Asper's media empire of 141 newspapers across Canada and Global TV, as reflected in the opinions expressed in The National Post, amongst other papers, where criticism of Israel is not tolerated. The bias is evident also in The Globe & Mail.

The political bias in favour of Israel is clearly evident amongst our politicians, in their policies and UN voting record. Let me list few examples out of scores that can be documented:

On Nov. 30, 2005, Canada refused to support a UN resolution condemning Israeli occupation of Arab lands, joining ranks with US, Israel, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuata, unlike the rest of the world.

Angie: Yes, I learned about it not from the Canadian media, but from a friend in San Francisco who sent me a copy of an article re same that had appeared in Haíaretz.

Dr. Zayid: Prime Minister Paul Martin, on Nov. 2004, stated before the Canadian Jewish Advocacy Group for Israel: "Nothing will shake Canada's commitment to Israel". I wrote and asked him: "Do we understand you correctly that nothing Israel does or atrocities and war crimes it commits, and is committing, will shake Canada's commitment to Israel?"

Angie: And did he answer you?

Dr. Zayid: No, I received no answer. In Dec. 2005, Prime Minister Martin stated in Toronto, before a Jewish advocacy group: , "Israel's values are Canadian values."

Angie:Yes, I remember reading about that and asking aloud in disbelief just what "values" Israel has in common with Canada. I wasnít aware that we were out and about committing war crimes, carrying out ethnic cleansing, demolishing homes and orchards, assassinating men, women, and children with impunity. He never did explain what those "values" were. It was clearly a huge piece of political fiction.

Dr. Zayid: Is that believable when Israel is in defiance of international law and violation of virtually every article of the Fourth Geneva Convention? These violations are interpreted by international law as war crimes.

The recent statements and actions by Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, and Mr. Peter MacKay in cutting aid to the newly democratically-elected Palestinian government, bringing starvation and denial of health care to millions of innocent Palestinian men, women and children, are a reflection of a continuing policy.

There is a lot more but this is a mere small sample.

Angie: What is the feeling of ordinary Canadians to this despicable act by the minority government in cutting aid to the Palestinian people? What, if anything, have you been hearing from the Canadian street?

Dr. Zayid: I am afraid I have not heard directly any significant reaction from the Canadian street, besides a few letters to the media, mainly critical of this Harper government policy. I was disappointed that the Canadian public response was rather muted, in the face of this inhumane and biased policy.

Angie:Since beginning this interview, Dr. Zayid, we have seen ongoing war crimes committed daily by Israeli forces in Gaza and the rest of Israeli-occupied Palestine. Those war crimes, to our horror, have now spread to Lebanon as Israeli terrorists kill men, women, and children with impunity, destroy its infrastructure, and lie about it with impunity. What does the international community have to do, and why isnít it doing its duty to protect the people of Lebanon and Israeli-occupied Palestine? And how can the ordinary citizens of the world make a difference once and for all time?

Dr. Zayid: The Israeli war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza are part and parcel of the continuing Zionist agenda of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland and the Lebanese from South Lebanon. The campaign in Lebanon is an attempt to achieve some of the longstanding Zionist designs on Lebanon which were first formulated in the submission of the World Zionist Organisation to the Versailles Peace Conference in Paris in 1919. These designs are confirmed in the statement I recently circulated, entitled: "Zionist designs on Lebanon: Setting the Record Straight on Israel's Involvement in Lebanon", which I include here. [2]

The international community should, of course, bring an immediate cessation of the Israeli attacks and demand, and enforce, complete withdrawal of all Israel forces from all occupied Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory, and take Israel to International Criminal Court for the war crimes it has committed.

The UN Human Rights Council, led by former Canadian Supreme Court Judge, Louise Arbour, condemned Israel on Aug. 11, 2006, for "massive bombardment of Lebanese civilian populations", and said it would send a commission to investigate possible war crimes.

However, the international community led, and intimidated, by Bush and his lackeys, Blair and Harper, amongst others, would tell you that Israel is acting in 'self defence'. This outrageous claim is in total disregard to the facts on the ground and the longstanding history of Israeli attacks in Palestine and Lebanon, killing thousands, demolishing thousands of homes and holding thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, mostly without charge or trial.

This same fable of 'self defence' was incredibly used by George Bush who said: "Israel has to defend itself" when the Israeli army was laying waste to the Jenin refugee camp, murdering hundreds, in April 2002.

The ordinary citizens of the world are systematically disinformed by their politicians and media. They need to be told the facts in the hope they will force their governments to comply with international law as they falsely claim to uphold.

Angie: Thank you so much for your time and patience, Dr. Zayid. I truly appreciate it.


[1] Canada in World Affairs from UN to NATO, from 1946-1949, [Toronto 1959], p. 147

[2] Zionist Designs on Lebanon: Setting the Record Straight on Israel's Involvement in Lebanon by Dr. Ismail Zayid