Wet and bedraggled, we sit down to a great cycling lunch across the road from Canada Park. Walnut bread was involved. Pretty perfect.
It was an exhausting couple of hours swooping up and down the hills on our heavy mountain bikes, and we gave a woop of excitement and achievement on arriving at the gigantic sign marking the entrance to the Jewish National Fund’s Canada Park. Hang on! We shouldn’t be excited, we remind ourselves. This sign, this park, is part of an elaborate game of make-believe. Pretending to live in a different world; a world in which Palestinians never existed.
As we walk around the park, guided by the wonderful Umar, who works at Zochrot and has a great treasure trove of maps and information to explain the site, the dynamics of this game become clearer. The range of techniques employed by Israel and the JNF to vanish the Palestinian presence from this land; the towering fir trees, the selective historical narratives, the winding paths .
A sign points to a Roman bath – a building which was used by the villagers of Imwas for hundreds of years – but is portrayed as an archeological structure from Roman times. Another sign, accompanying an amazing panoramic view, marks all of the Israeli towns, settlements, and Kibbutz in sight, whilst determinedly ignoring the fact that there are numerous Palestinian villages in our sight line too. Information signs tell you what they want you to see and, simply, effectively, the landscape is distorted.
Imwas was the scene of fierce fighting in 1948, but ultimately the Jewish forces were unable to occupy it. It is among a handful of Palestinian villages which managed to successfully defend itself.
That brave fighting bought the villagers just 19 more years on their land.
In June 1967, the residents of Imwas were surprised to hear Israeli soldiers shouting at them to evacuate in the middle of the night. Many took just a few belongings, believing that they would be able to return in the coming days. Others hid out nearby, but were soon rounded up by the Israeli military and herded on to trucks, bound for Ramallah and Jordon.
With the Palestinians out of the way, the next step was to prevent their return, and ultimately deny their existence. Cue dynamite and bulldozers.
Within two weeks of the forced evacuation of the villagers from Imwas, their homes, school, post-office, and mosque had been blown up and razed to the ground.
Five years later, the Jewish National Fund was opening the gates of Canada Park on their land.
And 48 years on, here we are. Here, standing drenched in the pouring rain hearing the stories of Imwas. Witnessing how the Jewish National Fund has transformed a village into a forest. Watching awkward trees cover up a story that can never be truly erased. The memory of Imwas burns through this seemingly idyllic park – the injustice of this place will be remembered. You cannot remove every stone, and every single one that remains stands in testament to the village that was.