How Nakba villages sunk into Israeli landscape

Noga Kadman’s landmark book, Erased from Space and Consciousness (Hebrew, November Books, 2008), tracks a key element of the history of the Nakba: The absorption of the remains of over 400 Palestinian villages scattered across historic Palestine into the Israeli geographical and emotional landscape. She shares with us two excerpts from the book: The introduction, describing the work she’s done to track the process; and a part from Chapter Five of the book, listing quotes from the memoirs and journals books of the Jewish communities planted near or on top depopulated Palestinian villages – often within days or weeks of the original inhabitants’ departure. Some of these Israelis appear to be more honest about the facts and moral aspects of the Nakba then their descendants 63 years on. An article based on this chapter is due to appear in an upcoming compilation of article to be published by the Van Leer Institute; the book itself is currently looking for an English publisher.

How Nakba villages sunk into Israeli landscape
Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman)

Travelling in Israel, it’s almost impossible to avoid piles of stones, ruins, remnants of walls and structures overgrown with almond fig and trees, rolling terraces crumbling with disuse, and long hedges of prickly cactuses. These integral parts of the Israeli landscape are all that remains of Arab communities that existed before the war of 1948.

After the war, the new State of Israel contained over 400 depopulated villages and 11 cities emptied of all or most of their Arab residents. Israel prevented these residents, who escaped or were expelled across the border from returning home, making the majority of Palestinians refugees.

Most of the villages were demolished by Israel either during the war or in its aftermath; many of them today are but scant remains, and many more still were razed to the ground, with no trace remaining in the landscape. Israel confiscated the vast lands of the villages and the belongings left by the refugees in their flight. The new state established new Jewish communities on confiscated land, and granted old ones extensive tracts of lands. The depopulated Arab cities and dozens of depopulated villages were inhabited with Jews, many of them refugees in their own right, survivors of the war in Europe or exiles from Arab countries. The state of Israel, then, was largely built and grown upon Palestinian lands and the ruins of their villages and cities.

Growing up in Jerusalem, I was taken on many a tour with my school or youth movement to Lifta, the partly ruined depopulated Arab village near the entrance to the city; a spring is still bubbling among the ruined homes, pushing water into a small pool. The visits left me with the vague impression that Lifta is ancient, a ruin that has always been like this – desolated, slightly mysterious, beautiful and in some way intimidating, with its silence and the norrow paths winding among the heavy-set houses and walls.

Later on, I had spent several years working for B’tselem, the Israeli human rights information centre. My work was documenting violations of human rights of Palestinians in territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This work exposed me to knowledge about the conflict that never penetrated to me before. I understood that many of the residents of the territories, who suffer today the constrictions of the Israeli military rule, have lost their entire world in 1948; that the Palestinians in Lebanon are not just another ethnic group in this divided country, but also refugees who had lived here until Israel triumphed the war of 1948; that Lifta is not just a picturesque ruin of antiquity but a home taken from people, from families, from children. These realizations made me want to gain a greater understanding of the roots of the present hardship.

In the many walks and journeys I undertook across Israel over the years, all the while gaining deeper and deeper awareness of the history of the land and its two peoples, I came across these ruins time after time: On an anemone-sprinkled hill over the Valley of Elah, on a mountain ridge above the Kisalon stream, by a steep path snaking down to the Tavor river. By then, I could already try to imagine how lively the place must’ve been but a few short decades ago: The hubbub of the daily life, full with voices and color, the children, the housework, the livestock, the water rising from the well – replaced today by emptiness and silence. And there’s no reminder or commemoration of the world that was lost and how it ended. This troubling contrast formed the impetus for the present work.

This book is about Israel’s coping with the preceding layer of its existence, a layer which it eradicated and on which it had been built. It examines Israeli discourse on the depopulated Palestinian villages and looks at what place they occupy in Israeli consciousness, after being demolished and erased from plain view. This discourse is expressed in many different forms; the book will focus on those representing the Israelis’ most ordinary, everyday encounter with the memory of the villages, with their representations and with their physical remains: Using place names, utilizing a map, travelling round the country and living in rural communities. The first three examine the shaping of Israeli consciousness by the authorities who mediate between Israelis citizens and the villages; the fourth, inhabiting agricultural communities, is described as first-hand encounter between the two.[1]

The research in the book is based on variety of sources, including official documents, maps, earlier works and excursions I made to the sites of 230 villages between November 2006 and May 2007. There are several estimates of the complete number of village depopulated in 1948; I chose to use the list of 418 villages comprised by Walid Khalidi in his extensive work All that Remains, (Khalidi 1992), due to the criteria of permanent buildings that he employs. Khalidi’s book is the end result of years of cooperation by three Palestinian research institutes in Israel, the West Bank and the United States. They based their work on official British data, comparing maps and information from different sources and carrying out extensive field work in the early 1990’s. Their list features almost no information on Bedouin communities and grounds in the south, from which Khalidi said some 98,000 people were uprooted in 1948 (ibid: 582). Consequently, the present book also overlooks these areas in the Israeli discourse.

Using the sources listed above in conjunction with the atlases by Salman Abu Sitta (2004, 2007), I have located all 418 villages and placed them on up-to-date maps of the country, comparing their locations to the present-day geographical and population layout. The appendixes contain a map of the 418 villages with basic information about each one.

The book focuses on Palestinian villages and doesn’t look in depth at the Israeli policy and discourse regarding the depopulated Palestinian cities.[2] This focus is further constrained to the Israeli discourse regarding the villages themselves, not regarding the refugee problem and the possibility of their return, although the influence of the latter is indisputable. Also largely excluded are the villages depopulated and razed after the war of 1967 – overwhelmingly in the Golan Heights and three near Latrun in the West Bank.[3]

The first chapter presents the processes that resulted in the hundreds of depopulated villages within Israel: The course of the war in 1948, the reasons and circumstances of the uprooting of masses of Arab residents and the Israeli decision to prohibit their return. The chapter also lists the way in which Israel factually and legally took possession over the lands, villages and property of the refugees; the deliberate destruction of many villages and the setting up of Jewish communities on the lands and some of the actual village sites; finally, the present-days remains of the villages are described.

Israeli actions regarding the villages and their population are interpreted in the second chapter as a product of the Zionist ideology that has driven the pre-state Jewish Yishuv and still drives the state of Israel today. The chapter includes an overview of theory on the creation and fortification of national identity, focusing on time and space as expressions of identity and the as stage of national conflict. In the context of Israeli-Zionist nationalism, there follows a description of the influence of the basic value of Judaization of the land on the construction of Israeli space, including the eradication of depopulated Arab villages from the landscape and the construction of a selective collective memory that stresses Jewish past in the land and sidelines hundreds of years of Arab life. Ignoring and suppressing Arabness is presented as an Israeli victory in another arena, made possible through the military conquest of the land by Israel and the exiling of most of its Arab residents beyond its borders.

The symbolic representation of the villages is explored in chapter three, through examining the official process of naming the village sites and their presentation on official maps. Using the archive of the Government Names Committee, I have examined whether village sites were given official names, how many were given their original names as officials, and what characteristics are shared by the new names given to villages’ sites. I have also reviewed trail maps of the Survey of Israel to investigate which of the villages’ sites and names feature on official, up-to-date maps in current use in Israel.

In order to examine the Israeli encounter with the physical remains of the villages – the visible tip of an iceberg (Falah, 1996: 268) – chapters four and five focus on villages sites whose built up areas are accessible and visible to the general Israeli public. Such villages today are mostly located either within touristic sites and resorts (182 villages) or within Jewish-Israeli communities (108 villages). The Israeli discourse on these villages was analyzed through texts written by official bodies that hold the relevant areas. Chapter four uses an extensive overview of signposts and publications by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) to inquire whether these organizations inform the public of the ruined villages in the nature reserve and tourist resort they are charged with, and what is the content and extent of the information provided. Chapter five looks at written references made by 25 kibbutzim and moshavim set up over or alongside village ruins – references both to the village itself and to the fact of the communities’ existence on top of villages whose residents were dispossessed and made into refugees.

The text is replete with specific examples and is accompanied by photographs taken at sites of ruined villages, to illustrate the various phenomena described in the book. The concluding chapter includes a summary of the findings, their analysis within the theoretical context, observation of the first inklings of alternative discourse in Israel and a discussion of all the above.

The Judaization of the space and memory is manifest in a pattern of marginalizing the Palestinian depopulated villages in every aspect of Israeli discourse examined in this research: The erasing of most of the villages’ names and the Hebraization of a majority of the rest; the elimination of many villages from the map and the blurring of the identity of those that appear on it; JNF’s and NPA’s disregard of the majority of the villages and the suppression of the identity, history and circumstances of depopulation of those that are still mentioned by the organizations; the acceptance of the dispossession of Palestinian villages through establishment of Jewish communities on their sites or lands, while minimizing the interaction with their history, the circumstances of their depopulation, and the question of the moral aspect of using their homes and properties.

Like many other national conflicts, one of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s most poignant expressions is the utter unwillingness of either side to listen to the other’s perception of the disputed territory and version of the history of the conflict, to understand the distress and the losses suffered by the other, and to accept responsibility for complicity in causing them. Without all of the above there can be no reconciliation, and therefore no realistic, comprehensive and long-term resolution of a national conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been shaped, to a great extent, by the events of 1948, in which the Palestinians lost most of their country while the Jews used the same land to establish their nation state. Examining the Israeli approach to the Arab villages depopulated in 1948 is, therefore, of importance that goes beyond the subject matter itself, because if can serve as an indicator of the Israeli readiness to achieve a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

Moral qualms on the ruins (excerpts form Chapter 5).

Dr Ronnie Kochavi-Nehab foun  in her 2006 research that kibbutz anniverssary books “almost never express moral qualms subversive of the accepted Zionist narrative.” She explains this by the gap “between the stated ideology of the kibbutzim on equality, brotherhood of nations, and democratic humanism on the one hand, and the reality forced upon the kibbutz by Israeli society on the other.” She also believes that the issue is silenced in the anniverssary books since it’s controversial and therefore inappropriate for such a celebratory occasion. The publications I reviewed include personal texts expressing deep misgivings and ambivalence on settling into homes of refugees, alongside texts that ignore the matter entirely.

In this context there is a considerable difference between the writings of the kibbutzim and the moshavim: Writings by some of the kibbutzim discuss moral dilemmas about living in a depopulated village, while such dilemma is completely absent from the writing of the moshavim. The kibbutzim were ideological communities with socialist positions, and their members often discussed questions of values, justice, equality and morality; By contrast, the moshavim, as a rule, were not characterized by socialist ideologies and did not engage as groups in wide-ranging social questions. What’s more, kibbutzim would often discuss such questions in writing, and in general produced more literature than the moshavim.

Publications produced by moshavim built on depopulated villages don’t express any reservations about living in homes quite recently inhabited by other people, or moral questions about living in a village whose residents were dispossessed and turned into refugees. However, in books published by the Moshavim Movement some moshav members expressed uneasiness about living in such homes. An immigrant couple from Yugoslavia, who lived in “a spacious home of stone” allocated to it by a moshav set up in a depopulated village, complained (Rubin, 1959: 490).

We can’t live in this home. Night after night we feel like the previous owner is standing by the window. We want our own home, built with our own hands, even if it’s just a shack.

Another moshav member explained (ibid: 382):

The settler would feel toward the abandoned village the same as a man would feel about a used garment, which is never loved by any man of self respect, no matter how fine the cloth may be.

A Moshavim Movement activist reported on a visit to the home of an Eastern European immigrant living in an “abandoned village” in western Galilee (Gila’d, 1950: 142)

[…] I asked him how he feels in this spacious Arab house allocated to him in this village. He replied: You touched upon a painful problem. This is actually what burdens me here. The flat here may be spacious, but what can I do about not feeling in it as if it was my own. I would rather live in a more modest place but one I’ve built with my own hands. You see, this house is foreign to me. I will always feel in it like an unwanted guest […]

These uncomfortable feeling, however, was never explained by guilt or moral misgivings.

Kibbutz writings do describe the difficult emotions of the kibbutz members at the sight of the depopulated village. A member of kibbutz Kabri recalled a trip in the Galilee on the eve of the war of 1948, and how stones were thrown at her family near the village of al-Kabri. Two years later she settled in the kibbutz set up by the village site. In a kibbutz newsletter 50 years later she recalled:

I found myself in the exact same place […] in the village of Kabri. The same place, but without a living soul. The village looked as if it has just been abandoned. It was a hard feeling… but we were promised we’ll be settled on a beautiful place upon a hill with a view to the sea. You can’t see any sea from the village […][1]

A member of Yiron wrote in a journal issued by the kibbutz on the anniverssary of its founding:

When we reached the place where Yiron was to be set up […] – the Arab village cast a gloom on me. It was a place that one could see was abandoned not so long ago, and many houses displayed signs of looting.[2]

A book discussing the first years of the kibbutz had one member of Kabri expressing feelings of sorrow and empathy with the demolition ofal-Kabri and the displacement of its villagers (Kabri, 1994: 12):

When you see what happened to the Arab village of Kabri, that stood where it did for hundreds of years, and was a home to people and children and here it stands devastated and desolate and all its residents scattered all over, your heart aches and you feel how nakedly tragic this is […]. Destroyed houses with slanting roofs, here and there pieces of furniture that somehow wasn’t smashed. Your heart aches.

Before setting up Kabri, its members lived in kibbutz Beit Ha’arava, established in 1939 near the Dead Sea. The kibbutz was evacuated in 1948, as it was in a territory retained by Jordan after the war, and its members were acknowledged as refugees by UNRWA – just like the Palestinian refugees. In their newsletters, the Kabri members often spoke of their displacement from their original kibbutz, and the pain an distress it caused. However, no written comparison is known to have been made with the plight of the villagers of al-Kabri. An implied comparison can be found in a book on the founding of the kibbutz (ibid: 13):

[…] pangs in the heart, when you would come across a toy or simple women jewelry, and feel that here human dreams were vanquished and you recalled what you yourself have left behind.

The author acknowledges the loss of the villagers of al-Kabri, but does not link it to the establishment of the kibbutz on part of the village site and does not express any pangs of conscience or moral dilemmas.

In some kibbutzim, members took note of the contradiction between their universal ideology and the act of settling upon property taken from refugees. The dilemma is only expressed by founding members of the kibbutz; they appear in writings of the time, reflecting questions that concerned members then, or in later writings, as recollections by veterans about the early days. Nearly nothing is said on that matter by the second and third generations of the kibbutzim, neither in response to the story of the veterans nor as expressions of their own feelings and thoughts about the depopulated village on which they live.

In a memoirs collection published by kibbutz Karmiya on its 35th anniversary, one of the members wrote that among the Hashomer Hatzai’r affiliated kibbutz members there were “pretty harsh arguments” about the members arresting “infiltrators” for the IDF – an activity that involved shooting at the refugees and sometimes even killing them. “This didn’t always sit well with our political outlook at the time” (Karmiya, 1985: 25). However, in the same publication some members recalled their feelings about settling upon the depopulated village ofHiribya, and all but one voiced complete acceptance of the situation (see below); only one of them expressed some emotional difficulty (ibid: 15):

Emotionally there weren’t at first problems about the Arabs, then, when we went out to guard, infiltrators came in who had been villagers there, and we had a problem about it – we basically dispossessed them.

The members of kibbutz Yiron maintained a universal socialist ideology they often discussed in their newsletters; in the very first issue, they spoke of themselves as “breathing mountain air, carrying forth freedom and justice for man and working our land”.[3] In an article titled “Death in Saliha – Life in Yiron”, published in the second issue of the kibbutz newsletter in late 1949, one member brought up the clash between that ideology and the brutal act of the depopulation of Saliha:

The facts are that men, women, old people and babies were murdered, villages were destroyed and burned, without justification […]. There will only be atonement when those guilty of murder will be judged and when the houses and the lands of the people of Saliha will be returned to them […] but who but us, sitting upon skulls and ruins and eating from the “abandoned land”, who like us knows that none of this will ever come to pass? And how can Yiron be a memorial to all its dead, who fought each other and died by each other’s hand? What a contradiction! What a horrific clash! Can Yiron be much of a comfort to man and world when hundreds of its residents are in exile? […] We, who “uphold the brotherhood of nations and a faith in man’, we will be silent and will try to find atonement for that great crime,,in ourselves?  As if a community can atone for its crime by building a palace on the land of Naboth the Jezreelite! Is this what we call rising above all national, racial and religious barriers?[4]

This was a lonely voice confronting the issue in the kibbutz writings, and no further debate ensued in the next issues of the newsletter.

Unlike all other communities covered in this research, the members of Sasa have given considerable time in their writings to the moral questions arising from building their kibbutz on the depopulated village of S’as’a. They discussed it and expressed their feelings and opinions on the matter on several occasions. In some cases – in early as well as late publications – they brought up what they saw as an fundamental contradiction between their ideology of building a new and just society and its implementation upon the site of a depopulate village (Sasa, 1951: 17-18):

I’m thinking of the deserted village of Sasa, which we entered so proudly and energetically this morning and the lives of the Arabs, who lived here. I wandered through some of the hovels, looked at the overturned jugs, grain, books, baby shoes, and smelt the smell of destruction […]. Are we also destroying, pillaging, being cruel, […], with our ideals and our refusal to stoop to the worlds’ rottenness?”

And elsewhere (Sasa, 1984):

Living in an Arab village, in homes of people who had left in an awful hurry, a short time before we arrived. […] Here we were, American Jewish pioneers, come to help build a new homeland and create a new society […]. We were bred on American fair play, and Hashomer Hatsa’ir bi-nationalism, living in harmony with our Arab brothers. It was bad enough living in the village were you could almost feel their presence, where part of their possessions were left behind, with their store rooms filled with last seasons’ crop. […]If all this wasn’t enough to destroy our ideological balloon, there was a problem of what to do with the mosque […].

Further elaboration on the mosque dilemma indicates the misgivings that split the members of the kibbutz (ibid):

The issue divided us into 2 camps. A basic view of one side […] was “everything of value we acquired that was found in the village, should be sold. Everything we kept should be paid for and all the money should be sent to some Arab refugee fund”. This view, I felt, was in contradiction of us being here. Another expression in the same direction came from another person, […] stated he would post himself in the mosque, preventing it from being destroyed. […] For me the choice was between leaving Sasa or remaining. […] It was nothing new to us we had been living in what was previously an Arab village, so why the hesitation now? People forget about the practiced and get carried with ideological trends.

In a Passover Haggadah prepared in Sasa the kibbutz dedicated the section on the bitter herb, which traditionally speaks of the pain endured by the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, to the pain of displacement endured by the residents of Arab S’as’a, and Sasa’s moral qualms (Sasa, 1949: 29):

Our herb is a very bitter one and even if we should succeed in removing all other physical traces of it, its taste will linger. Once there was an Arab village here. […] The fields we tend today were tended by others one year ago. […] And when we came, the desolation of their lives cried to us through the ruins they left behind […]. What gives us the right to reap the fruits of trees we have not planted, to take shelter in houses we have not built, to till the soil preserved by the sweat of foreign hands? On what moral grounds shall we stand when we take ourselves to court?

Eventually, even members who did have moral qualms about living on the village site remained in the kibbutz. Their publications list a variety of justifications for this choice. One argument raised by kibbutz Sasa in favor of staying on the site of a depopulated village of Sa’sa’ draws on the lessons learned by the members from the Holocaust: “[…] for those who died in camps and in battles bequeath to us our lives here” (ibid: 33).

As a rule, new communities comprised of Holocaust survivors write in great detail about the catastrophe they endured in Europe and the new life they were determined to create in Israel. The members of kibbutz Megiddo, set up in part on site of the village of al-Lajjun by partisans and holocaust survivors from Poland and Hungary, wrote (Megiddo, 1989):

We, the reaming survivors of ghettos and concentration camps, fighters for the dignity of nation and man, forest fighters and partisans, come here today to build a home.

In the foundation scroll of kibbutz Netzer Sereni, set up near the site of the village of Bir Salim by survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, it said in June 1950 (Netzer Sereni, 1973: 22):

In this place we begin building a permanent spot for our group. A kibbutz of the remainders of the destroyed European Jewry is striking root in the homeland, a sapling of the cut down trunk has been planted. […] Great is the suffering that we suffered, and our aspiration was to come to rest in our forefathers’ land.

The references to the Holocaust in this and other cases was not done in the context of settling in an Arab village; however, these words seem to imply that for those people, who lost all they had not too long ago, were concentrating entirely on overcoming the horror of the past by participating in a group of pioneers building a new home and a new homeland, and were not available to empathize with those who lost their home and land as a result.

Members of kibbutz Karmiya justified their settling on the site of Hiribya by evoking the choice the Arabs allegedly made to escape from the village and to abandon it (Karmiya, 1985: 7):

I didn’t feel like I was stealing from others, I didn’t feel any guilt at all… anyone who had lived in the kibbutz area abandoned his home and fled, there’s hardly anything left here – maybe shacks and huts but no belongings left at all.

[…] there were homes here, Arabs huts actually. It didn’t bother me, they ran and it was their fault, they listened to the Mufti and I don’t pity them. (ibid: 15)…they told us that the Arabs who were here were asked whether they want to stay, and they preferred to leave… this is what we were told. It was in the 1950’s (ibid: 23)

… I didn’t feel like I took something that belonged to the Arabs. They ran away, and they fought us […] we felt at peace with our location and with the kibbutz, but we knew we were living on an Arab village (ibid: 28).

The bombings and airborne machine gun fire from IDF airplanes of the village of Hiribya (Morris, 1991: 292) are not mentioned in the Karmiya residents’ version of what took place in their area in 1948. Here is how one Megiddo founder justified his easy conscience about the displacement of the residents of a-Lajjun and the establishment of the kibbutz on the same site, while avoiding mentioning the attack on the village and the detonation of 27 of its homes by the Haganah (Khalidi, 1992: 336):

[…] No one expelled the residents here […] the residents of Lajjun were looking for a quieter place and moved over only 6 kilometers from here, to Umm al-Fahm  […] When we came here there wasn’t a single living soul here. The Jewish National Fund bought the lands, which were in a dire state.”[5]

After presenting the “tragedy” of the depopulation of al-Kabri (above), the same Kabri member justified what had happened by the violence used by some of the villagers in 1948, and concluded the situation was the inevitable result of war (Kabri, 1994: 12):

In most wars everyone pay the price, with both life and property. It has always been the case. We have paid the price of the War of Liberation, like everyone else, with both. […] In fact the village was left by its residents after a murderous assault by the locals on the convoy trying to break through the siege on kibbutz Yehiam, a siege laid by the villagers on the road from Nahariya. Maybe some of the villagers didn’t support the deed or didn’t take an active part in it, but ‘when the fire begins to burn it burns everything, damp and dry’ […]

The members of Sasa, having described the loss suffered by the villagers of S’as’a and the moral questions raised for the kibbutz, concluded they needed to choose whether to stay in Sasa or leave. They decided to stay; one member of Sasa wrote (Sasa, 1951: 18):

We have moved into Sasa; it is ours; we are responsible for our acts […]. But do we have an alternative, can we step aside, refuse to be morally sullied by Sasa and demand some other section of our homeland on which to build our homes? I do not think so.

Later on, the members of Sasa explained their decision to stay (ibid: 21):

We are not responsible for this cruel and forced contradiction; we would prefer to disown it if we could; we bear no hatred towards the Arab workers and peasants. But we have been forced into a position where we must fight for our lives and the lives of our people, and today life is largely determined by frontiers, and frontiers must be defended no matter what the price. We do not have the right to shunt this physical and moral and political responsibility off on others.

Eventually the S’as’a mosque was detonated by the IDF, and the members retroactively justified both this act and their decision to remain (ibid):

The detonation of the mosque has had its effect on us. […] Most of us agree now that it had to be done […]. It would have been a useless gesture to preserve this symbol of a population which showed itself to be, when one views the thing factually and unsentimentally, our hardened enemies whom we have no intention of permitting to return.

The dominant Zionist ideology, which sees Judaizing the land as an incontrovertible goal and reject any alternative – like the bi-national arrangement espoused by political movement to which the kibbutz was affiliated – was taken up wholesale by the members of Sasa and overruled all their doubts and qualms. When talking of a “sacrifice” they spoke of the moral sacrifice they were being called to make, ignoring the heavy price the Palestinians were forced to pay for a cause which was not their own.

Susan Slyomovic (1998: 57-58) lists other justifications – which she called typical justifications employed to justify Zionism – brought by the residents of Ein Hod for settling in a depopulated Arab village: Casting contemporary Jews as descendants of historical, Biblical Jews; claims that the country was empty or abandoned by the Arabs who lived here, and awaited its repopulation; alluding to the shared fate of Jews and Palestinians – Jews being refugees from Europe and the Arab world. She also found the Ein Hod residents using “rewritings of history” to mistakenly conclude the Arabs were as recent arrivals as Israeli Jews, and no more authentic or local than the latter. The Jewish residents of Ein Hod also stressed their right to live there by presenting the Arabs of Ayn Hawd as descendants of Biblical Jews converted to Islam, as descendants of crusaders or as recent immigrants from other parts of the Arab world.

Along their presentation of the decision to stay in Sasa and their justifications for that, the members of the kibbutz also offered some ways to cope with the moral dilemma that came with the decision.  […] One of the authors suggested covering the ruins with trees (Sasa, 1951: 21):

The whole appearance of the village has undergone a transformation. It’s now a mass of ruins, and yet most of us agree it’s better this way […]. Bring now the bulldozers and let’s plant trees!”

The kibbutz Haggadah calls for idealist universal activity against evil (Sasa, 1949: 33):

Oh my brothers, of all the strains and shades of mankind […], we cry out to all of you: this is our pain, this is our burden – our hands are unclean […]. Let us join together and tear away our shame, let us build a new world where ruined villages will not stand in mute protest against the sky!

Another writer expressed the universal ideology, stressing it included the Arab residents of the land (Sasa, 1951: 18):

The kibbutz that we build at Sasa will be dedicated not only to the renaissance of our own people but to mankind and the future of mankind […]. This includes our Arab neighbors.

Another recent and exceptional case in which a Jewish community has shown empathy with the refugees of the village on the lands of which it stands, voiced reservations against demolishing its remains and willingness to discuss alternatives, is that of moshav Ya’ad, standing on the lands of the village of Mi’ar in the lower Galilee. The founders of Ya’ad built it in 1974 near the remains of the village. In 2002, a plan was approved to expand the community by building a new neighborhood on the location of the remains of the village and its graveyard. Several members of the moshav filed in July 2003 objections to the plan to the district planning and construction committee, alongside objections by Zochrot organization and the village refugees, who live in other villages nearby. The Ya’ad members’ objection said, among other things, that “building on the ruins of the village and next to its graveyard as a unilateral move is a hard-hearted act that ignores the pain of the other, the catastrophe he experienced and his need for remembrance.” The Jewish National Fund, too, filed an objection to the plan, because of a public forest way running through the area where the new neighborhood was to be built. In February 2004, the committee decided to partly accept the objections and reduce the construction in the area near the village graveyard. As a result of negotiations with the exiled villagers, the Ya’ad residents gave up several more houses, in exchange for the villagers withdrawing their appeal against the committee decision, a process that would have delayed new construction in Ya’ad for years. As part of this process, a relationship was established between some Ya’ad residents and the villagers of Mi’ar, and the joint group is now preparing a shared plan to restore the cemetery and place an explanatory sign there.

[1] Kibbutz Kabri journal no.1325, 29 April 1998.

[2] Kibbutz Yiron journal no.1408, 19 February 1999.

[3] Kibbutz Yiron journal no.1, 22 July 1949.

[4] Kibbutz Yiron journal no.2, December 1949.

[5] Kibbutz Megiddo, Home Court, Megiddo pages no.79, 14 April 2000.

Chapter 5:

[1] One other aspect of the Israeli discourse on the depopulated villages is that of the arts, which will not be discussed here. See Rogni, 2006, on poetry; Tamir, 1995, on painting.

[2] See Golan , 2001; Goren, 2006; Hassan, 2005; Rotbard, 2005; Weiss, 2007.

[3] On the demolition of villages in the territories occupied in 1967, see Shai, 2002, 166-169; A report on the destruction of Imwas, Bayt Nuba and Yalu submitted by Amos Kenan to members of the Knesset and published in Yedioth Ahronoth, 20 June 1967; Zochrot, 2007: Remembering Imwas, Yalu and Bayt Nuba, On Zochrot’s activity to signpost the depopulated villages of 1967 see page 130.