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Arabs Rise for Rights

Palestinian Expulsions Mapped in Hebrew

Readings in Hebrew at a centre in Tel Aviv tell Israelis about the Nakba. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

TEL AVIV, Apr 18 2013 (IPS) - Fireworks went off over the Tel Aviv skyline this week as thousands of flag-waving Israelis marked the 65th anniversary of their country’s founding. At the same time, a smaller group of Israeli activists explored the other, most often ignored, side to their country’s creation: the forced displaced of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Israeli group Zochrot (‘Remembering’ in Hebrew) unveiled the first Hebrew-language map on this year’s Israeli Independence Day, detailing hundreds of Palestinian villages that were destroyed in historic Palestine from the beginning of the Zionist movement until the war of 1967.

The map also includes Jewish and Syrian villages that were destroyed, dating as far back as the late 1800s.

Each former village and town is marked with a dot – red, blue, yellow, pink, purple or green – to indicate its type, and when and how its residents were displaced. The names of the Israeli communities that were built over the Palestinian ones are also marked.

“It’s about time, no?” said Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein, laughingly, about why the organisation decided to create a Nakba map in Hebrew.

“For us, it’s very important not only to show the destruction, but to show it as the background of what’s happening today. It’s crucial to acknowledge that where we live today is close to that (former Palestinian) town, or village, or so on,” Bronstein told IPS.

The Palestinian Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic) refers to the 750,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled or who fled from their homes and villages before and during the foundation of the state of Israel in 1947-48.

Israeli forces depopulated and destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages during this time, and in the years that followed. Palestinian refugees have been barred from returning to their homes ever since; today, Palestinians constitute the largest refugee population in the world, and many still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Fifty-two-year-old Hanna Farah is originally from the Palestinian village Kufr Bir’im, not far from the Lebanese border in the Galilee region of northern Israel. His family was forcibly displaced in 1948, and he grew up as an internally displaced refugee in his mother’s village Jesh, also in the Galilee.

“Always I am from Kufr Birim – always and forever,” Farah, who now lives in Jaffa, told IPS at the Nakba map launch event. He said he hoped having a Nakba map in Hebrew would finally open Israelis’ eyes to their history, and help them acknowledge the Nakba.

“When they go to the park and have a BBQ, they are sitting on the stones of Palestinian houses. Maybe this (map) will be a little bit of an electric shock,” Farah said. “Most of them cover their eyes. They don’t want to look because it’s uncomfortable for them. Maybe now they would be open to see the real problem and discuss it on a real level.”

Israeli activist Rivka Vitenberg stressed the importance of discussing the Nakba, especially in a society where only the Israeli narrative is taught in schools, and the Palestinian experience is all but ignored.

“When I grew up here, all the time the teachers said that we have only one state and the Arabs have 22 states. When I started to know about the Palestinian point of view, I saw it wasn’t exactly like this. There were people living here,” Vitenberg told IPS.

“I want people to remember the Nakba. It’s a very important part of history. We have to know it.”

In February, a study by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land found that both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks present “unilateral national narratives”, and historical events – such as the Palestinian Nakba, or, as it is known to most Israelis, the state’s war of independence – are “selectively presented to reinforce each community’s national narrative.”

Still, according to Eitan Bronstein at Zochrot, there has been a gradual shift in Israeli society towards discussing the Nakba more openly, thanks in part to the increased visibility of Palestinian refugees’ demand to return home, and Israeli government efforts to suppress the Nakba.

In 2011, Israel passed a controversial law – known as the Nakba Law – that barred institutions receiving state funding from hosting events to commemorate the Nakba. An original, eventually scrapped, version of the law would have made marking the Nakba a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

“If it would be ten years ago, people would tell us, what’s this? They didn’t know what’s the word (Nakba). Today, for sure, more people are open to know it,” Bronstein said.

“We are going to distribute (the map) to university teachers, high school teachers, headmasters, libraries, journalists… I really hope that it will open more places for discussion.” (END)

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  • lightweaver1213

    I am very distressed by this article and what it is doing to the opinion I have long held for the nation of Israel. The issue of the Nakba disturbs me – a criminal offense? Here is what I as a Christian read in this article: Israeli forces depopulated and destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages during this time, and in the years that followed. Palestinian refugees have been barred from returning to their homes ever since; today, Palestinians constitute the largest refugee population in the world, and many still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. While I may have been aware of some groups of people (Israeli) being relocated, I had no idea about the villages being destroyed (>500), and then disallowing Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes even to today. What the Jewish nation has done to Palestinians in this respect is no different than what the Syrian people are going through to now, most being refugees in neighboring countries.

    It is a terrible crime when you take away the rights of others to have a place to call their own and to have the right to peace and of quiet enjoyment. The Palestinian people have been robbed of this. Israel has left quite a bitter taste in the mouths of Christians, Palestinians, and Arabs, to the extent that their opinions of the Jewish nation known as Israel is one with a history of falsehoods, one who takes land by thievery and one who causes continued injustice towards other religious groups and ethnic peoples.

    Why don’t the Jewish people honor the word of God? Why do they continue to be disobedient to El Elohim Adonai? We begin to wonder if they seriously know what they’re doing, i.e., keeping sercurity over Gaza, then abandoning it without letting anyone in Gaza know, the constant bickering over the West Bank land, the continued picayune complaining over Gaza and Hamas, perpetuating a wound of contempt towards the Palestinian nation, etc.
    And then we have to coddle Israel to reassure them we are allies and will be there should the occasion deem it necessary. Most of us just want to throw our hands up in the air because we feel we don’t know what Israel wants because of double-mindedness on important humanitarian issues. No one, and I mean no one will ever forget the Holocaust and the taking of 6 million lives, and what the Jewish people went through, but that does not give anyone (including Israel) the right to cause that same injustice to other groups simply because they believe differently or are of a similar yet different ethnic group.

  • jgarbuz

    Obviously no concern for the 856,000 Jews pushed out of the Arab countries after 1948, and the four or more times the amount of properties lost by Jews pushed out of the Muslim countries. The 856,000 Jews, 2/3rds of whom were absorbed into tiny Israel has “disappeared” from the discussion of “refugees” because of their rapid absorption into the very tiny Jewish state. But 21 Arab countries covering 3 million square miles refuse to give citizenship rights after 65 years to the descendents of the 1948 refugees, in order to use them as a weapon against Israel. This is shameful.

  • jgarbuz

    Another fact is that today there are 5 times as many Arabs living in what was Mandatory Palestine than there was in 1947! An estimated 1.2 million Arabs lived west of the Jordan river in 1947. Today nearly 6 million live in the same area! By contrast, 99% of the Jews who once lived in Arab countries ARE GONE! Just as 99% of the Jews who once lived in Poland are gone. But 6 million Arabs live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza today compared to only 1.2 million in 1947!

  • wordscanhelp

    The displaced Jews have a point and need to take that up with the govt in the Maghreb. Has little to do with the Palestinians. They also need to hold accountable the elements of the Jewish underground who placed bombs in, for example, Iraq and blamed it on the Arabs, in order to get Iraqi Jews to leave. The Palestinians have nothing to do with the Holocaust either – you are talking apples and oranges. There are huge Jewish communities in the United States, and many other parts of the world. The Roma in Europe are still being persecuted, so are Kurds and Berbers, the latter extremely ancient people. Should we take European land to give them a homeland? What about the many, many ancient groups in Africa that are about to lose their languages and ancestral lands, they deserve to get our weapons, billions and Un Support, even thought they are not occupying by coercion a subject people and therefore more morally worthy of our support.

  • wordscanhelp

    One of the problematic aspects is that the construction of the state of Israel by displacing Palestinians caused many Arab govts to retaliate against their Jewish populations by expelling them. This I first read in a study by and Arab-speaking Iraqi Jew, before anyone calls me anti-Semitic, and she was roundly abused by other Jews for not towing the line and instead exploring the truth. This is also documented. It is not the whole picture, but part of it.

  • wordscanhelp

    This is the really positive stuff that comes out of Israelis and Palestinians working together, something that the militants in both societies do not want. I like that this study also includes Jewish villages since the 1800’s, and challenges the opposing national narratives of both societies. Israelis need to know why the Palestinians are fighting for their lives, and not buy into the racist line that they are savages and lesser beings. The Palestinians are also learning more about the Holocaust and the scarring of a collective psyche, even though many commentators (including Jewish) have been pointing out how the Holocaust is being used cynically in an agenda of land-grabbing and profit-making.

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