News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday February 17th 2019

Documentary sparks anti-Israeli sentiment


The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference may severe collaborations with the Jewish National Fund following the premier of a film at the Encounters International Documentary Festival which criticizes Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The documentary “Under The Village Forest” at the festival screening in Cape Town and Johannesburg reveals alleged ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the Israelis.

The film explores, amongst other themes, the role of Israeli-parastatal, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), in its involvement in building a forest over the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya.

Commenting about the film, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said their collaborations with JNF had been “based on ignorance” and would not partner with an organisation alleged to be oppressing Palestinians and forcing them off their land.

Father Michael Deeb of the SACBC’s Justice and Peace department said they were “very concerned” about JNF’s alleged role in trying to erase the identity of Palestinians who lived in Lubya.

Ilana Shapiro, a member of lobby group STOP JNF, said they fully supported the film and would organise several screenings across the country in the coming months.

She said they would also be approaching the Department of International Relation and Cooperation (Dirco) to get clarity on why the JNF could name contentious tree plantation the ‘South African Forest’.

Anti-Israel lobby group Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS South Africa) “warmly welcomed” the premiere of the film.

In a statement it said “We encourage members of the media and public to seriously consider this must-watch documentary film.”

Narrator and writer of the film which was directed by Mark Kaplan, Heidi Grunebaum, visited the South Africa Forest on a pro-Israeli youth programme in the mid-1980s.

But when she discovered the ruined Palestinian village of Lubya beneath the forest, she says “it felt like the rug being pulled out from under my feet”.

“I knew I’d been there before, but I’d had absolutely no understanding or ability to imagine then that my trees were erasing the presence of people who had lived there and been forcibly removed…the quiet violence of using trees to hide something felt like a deception.”

But JNF board member Isla Selesman rebutted the film’s narrative, saying when the Jews arrived in Israel, they were refugees fleeing the holocaust.

He said it was a “state of war” and the Palestinians left the village of their own accord and others were free to stay on.

She said Israel believed in a two-state solution and peaceful co-existence with Palestine.

The JNF operated as a charity in South Africa and has come under increasing protests by BDS South Africa for its role in the Israeli displacement, forced removals and oppression of Palestinians.

Recently, after months of nationwide protests, South Africa’s largest toy retailer Reggies terminated its charity relationship with the JNF. – Francis Hweshe



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7 Responses to “Documentary sparks anti-Israeli sentiment”

  1. Dear Francis Hweshe,

    Thank you for your article and your coverage of the public response generated by our film, “The Village Under the Forest”.

    However, the sensationalist headline of the article is misleading and not at all in keeping with the tone and approach of our film. The film adopts a reflective tone rather than an angry or polemical one as it searches for an ethical position. In this, the headline does not correspond with the mood of the film and would promote antipathy rather than understanding.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Warm regards,
    Heidi Grunebaum
    (Writer and narrator of “The Village Under the Forest”)

  2. admin says:

    Dear Heidi.
    Please not that the article was not about the film, but about reaction to it. The fact that there is a strong reaction, so much so that the Catholic Bishop’s Conference is revisiting their relationship with the Jewish National Fund, is in indication of the strength of the documentary.
    After all, the aim of a documentary is surely to educate, and thus get people to rethink their positions or attitudes to certain issues.
    May you have full houses at Encounters.
    Steve Kretzmann,
    West Cape News


    Jewish National Fund of SA refutes false claims of new documentary

    The Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF) has been accused of participating in a deliberate attempt to obliterate Palestinian history in Israel. These historically baseless and sensationalistic claims have been made by the recently released documentary film “The Village under the Forest”.

    The reality is that the agricultural village of Lubya, far from being razed to the ground to make way for a forest, had been deserted for 18 years before the forest was planted in 1964. The village was subject to the Land Reparations Act and after being abandoned en masse by its residents in 1948, with no subsequent claims made for it, it was then, after the passing of the requisite amount of time, earmarked for the JNF forest. There was never any sinister and under-handed plot to destroy the historical evidence of a Palestinian Arab presence. In fact, it is the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states which over the decades have been guilty of obliterating evidence of the millennia-old Jewish presence in Israel.

    Throughout the world, new settlements are routinely established on the remains of old ones. This is particularly true of Israel, a tiny country where the archaeological record reveals layers upon layer of previous civilisations that were established and supplanted over a period of more than five thousand years. Across the length and breadth of Israel, one will find archaeological remains of ancient Jewish communities, testifying to a Jewish presence in the land that long preceded the Arab invasion.

    The South African Jewish community, in the mould of the JNF world-wide, funded the establishment of this forest as part of a 110-year long environmental campaign aimed at land reclamation, greening and development in the historic Jewish homeland. The JNF eschews the policy of displacing people. The destruction of homes and the eviction of residents has never been a part of the JNF policy and its projects are always carried out under the direction of the Israel Land Administration, on land that is owned by the State of Israel or owned by the Keren Kayemet Leisrael – Jewish National Fund in accordance with the law.

    Through its work, over 260 million trees have been planted and a network of water reservoirs as well as hundreds megawatts of renewable solar power created. These projects work across the spectrum to benefit both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel. This, and not the politically-charged smears levelled at it by anti-Israel agitators, is the true legacy of the JNF.

  4. […] African Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced it will end all collaborations with the JNF. The West Cape News reports: Commenting about the film, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) […]

  5. Gideon78 says:

    Maybe this can show the real truth and refutes all claims of this documentary.

    One would get the impression that the forest was created in 1948 once Israel was established…yet after a little research one sees that the forest was created in the 1960’s.

    Just goes to show how far people are willing to go to make the Jews look bad…while turning a blind eye to the facts that are available in black and white and from the horse’s mouth

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