How Israel used a Dutchman’s bravery to cover up its crimes

Erik Ader with a new plaque dedicated to his father, Bas, in the West Bank village of Farata. (Haitham Khatib/Plant een Olijfboom)

Erik Ader has no memory of his father.

When Erik was a baby, Nazi forces tortured and executed his father, Bas. That was 72 years ago this month.

Bas Ader had been a clergyman and a resistance fighter in the Netherlands when it was under Nazi occupation. He has been credited with saving the lives of more than 200 Dutch Jews.

As a tribute to Bas, the Jewish National Fund planted more than 1,000 pine trees in the Hebron district of Palestine. Decades later, Erik learned that the forest had been planted over the ruins of Bayt Nattif, a village destroyed by Zionist forces during the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Erik, a retired diplomat, felt that he needed to protest against how his father’s brave deeds had been used to conceal the mass displacement of Palestinians. He did so by recently donating trees to Farata, a Palestinian village under Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

I spoke to Erik Ader earlier this week.

Adri Nieuwhof: You donated 1,100 olive trees to Palestinian farmers in Farata to honor your father. How did your plan came about?

Erik Ader: As a young man, my father cycled all the way from Holland to Jerusalem in 1937. Almost 30 years later, I went to Israel to visit my father’s commemoration stone near the forest that the JNF planted in his name and to visit some of the people my father had saved.

I decided to go there hitchhiking, taking the example from my father who had also come over land. I traveled through Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The trip opened my eyes that the Zionist medal had a flip side.

I came across Palestinian refugees living in camps, people who 19 years before had been living a normal life in their own country. They were expelled and refused their right of return.

When I revisited the commemoration stone for my father in 2005, I saw big olive trees in scattered places on the terrain.

I asked in the nearby kibbutz if they knew what had been there before. They didn’t and they didn’t care either. The JNF could also not answer my question or was not willing to answer.

Zochrot, an Israeli group, told me that the Bas Ader Forest was not planted to make the desert bloom but to cover the Palestinian village of Bayt Natiff. It has been nagging me ever since.

During my visit to the region in 2010, I learned about settlers who had torched olive groves and other orchards near Farata. I saw the torched fields. A man from the village took me there with his four-year-old son. It struck me that after a while his son started to whine, pulling his father back, clinging to his father’s legs to hold him back out of fear of the settlers. It brought home to me how much impact the settlers have on the environment in which Palestinian children are growing up.

I decided to donate 1,100 olive trees to Farata via the international Olive Tree Campaign. I saw the situation in the occupied West Bank where settlers continue with impunity to terrorize Palestinian villagers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, I saw the scam of the JNF abusing my father’s name to cover up human rights abuses.

AN: How would you respond to people who say that your father may not have had a problem with the JNF forest?

EA: I never knew my father. He was executed 16 days after I was born. I know the man from what was passed on to me and written about him. I know him probably better than most people.

I am quite sure that he would have been shocked. He stood up and put his life on the line for human rights, defending human rights, and to see his name tied to violations of human rights, I don’t think he would have been very pleased.

AN: Is it true that the commemoration stone for your father was vandalized shortly before your visit?

EA: The stone was, indeed, vandalized, it was broken. A few days before the planting of the olive trees, Zochrot had visited the JNF forest planted in my father’s name on top of Bayt Natiff. The stone was then intact. Shortly after Zochrot announced my visit to Bayt Natiff, the stone was broken.

I was appalled by this act. We don’t know who did it, but there is a chance that people who are not happy about my exposure of the acts of the JNF, a Zionist organization par excellence, were involved. But at the same time, given the fact that my father would have been very unhappy to see his name tied to this cover-up, maybe it is not so bad that the stone is not there any longer.

AN: What are your main objections to the Jewish National Fund?

EA: The first problem is basically Israel’s problem that, in violation of international law, the [Palestinian] refugees are denied the right of return. Israel has long been denying their existence. It claimed that the country was empty.

The JNF has helped to project that image in their fundraising campaigns. The JNF is also complicit in erasing the history of the Palestinians in Palestine, the part that is now Israel, by covering it, by eradicating it.

A possibility for peaceful resolution based on justice requires that the history should be acknowledged. Israel is not acknowledging the wrongs that it did. The JNF is complicit in trying to eradicate traces of an earlier existence and the very fact that there ever was a Nakba.

I also think it is shameful that the JNF has campaigns to raise funds from ignorant people, who don’t know any better than to believe the claims that it is a sort of environmental issue, benefiting everybody, to make the desert bloom. The issue is a totally different one.

AN: Many people are concerned about Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian rights. What can they do?

EA: One of the things people can do is to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel is bent on delegitimizing the BDS movement and some European governments go along with that. Fortunately, not my government.

What is wrong with boycotting a country that is violating international law? What is wrong with divesting from companies that benefit from the continuing occupation and violation of human rights? What is wrong with calling for sanctions on violations of international law? I don’t see what is wrong with calling for BDS. I think it is about the only thing left to make sure that Israel will change its behavior.

AN: Israel has intensified its efforts to silence organizations and individuals who defend the rights of Palestinians. What is your message to them?

EA: My message is: don’t be silenced, don’t be bullied, don’t be intimidated. My message would be: try to get as many facts as you can, be well informed. Don’t be open to propaganda from whichever side. Spread the facts, they speak for themselves.

When you look at the facts in the present-day context, there is only one option left: to support the BDS movement. I hope, that as a grassroots movement, it will gain so much strength that it cannot be ignored by governments and ultimately cannot be ignored by Israel itself.

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sympathy for all moderate Jews that are horrified at Zionist Israel's behaviour

please support #BDS

and do what we can to change and remove zionist ideology

is it too late for Israel retreat to 1948 borders and allow Palestinians to return and live in peaceful coexistance as two sovereign states?

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So very well said and the voice of reason .What is so hard to understand ,when a nation contravenes international law , as evidenced by what is ongoing in Palestine,BDS must not be trivialized but should be encouraged by any civilized nation .

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I participated in the visit to Bayt Nattif organized by Zochrot on November 18, and heard Erik Ader speak movingly about how his father's memory was misused by the JNF. We were fortunate in being accompanied by a family member of one of the village's displaced families, the only one who could access this location inside Israel, since the other's lived mainly in refugee camps and elsewhere in the West Bank and beyond. This man and his family, however, live in Shuafat camp, a part of the expanded Jerusalem. My point is that Bayt Nattif is not in the Hebron area (i.e., the southern West Bank), as stated in the above article, but is in fact inside the borders of Israel and is one of approximately 600 Palestinian villages destroyed in the months before, during, and in the years following the 1948 war leading to the creation of the state of Israel, their inhabitants scattered, often beyond the borders of the state, and prevented from returning. Zochrot's mandate is to educate the Israeli Jewish public regarding the Naqba - the catastrophe that the creation of Israel brought upon the Palestinian inhabitants of what became the state. They are doing a wonderful job, leading visits to these villages, planting signposts reminding people of their names and places, producing pamphlets on many of these - in Hebrew and Arabic. More information at www.zochrot.org .

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Adri Nieuwhof

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Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh