Since its founding, Israel has systematically erased hundreds of Palestinian villages from the map. But Palestinians were never the only victims. This is the story of the Mizrahi communities erased before and after Israel’s founding.
By Eitan Bronstein Aparicio
It is well known that since the early days of Zionist immigration to Palestine, the Israeli establishment and its various branches have destroyed hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian villages and towns, which were deemed enemies of the state. The new “Colonial Destruction” map, published by De-Colonizer, an alternative research center on Palestine/Israel, includes the Jewish Mizrahi communities — around half of them Yemenite — which were destroyed by the Zionist authorities before Israel’s founding and by the Israeli state after 1948.
The term “destru(A)ction” refers to communities that were pushed out against their will — often through physical violence, and always with the help of legal and economic violence. Other towns and neighborhoods, such as the Mahlul and Nordia neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, or the Neve Amal ma’abara in Herzliya, were also destroyed, although its residents were eventually offered compensation.
On the other hand, there were Israeli communities that were demolished despite the will of the residents — in the Sinai Peninsula, for instance — though these demolitions went against the grain of Israel’s colonial expansion, as they occurred in the framework of a peace agreement with Egypt, and thus are not included in the map. The destruction of these communities can be viewed as a form of de-colonization.
The destruction of these Jewish communities should not come to us as a surprise, especially when considering the way in which the Zionist establishment has always viewed and treated those from the East, be they Jewish, Muslim, or Christian — all of them Arab.
Remember the names
Since Israel’s founding, there has been a hierarchy of oppression. Palestinians endure the most discrimination, yet Jewish Mizrahim, who enjoy the privileges of being Jewish, are discriminated against by Ashkenazim. In the early days of Zionist immigration to Palestine, the discriminatory attitude by the Ashkenazi elite toward Mizrahim was openly racist — the Zionist establishment was Ashkenazi-European, and worked to protect the interests of the state’s founding fathers. They worked diligently in those years, and after the state’s founding, they enshrined those same mechanisms in order to ensure their supremacy.
These are the names of the 12 Jewish Mizrahi communities and neighborhoods that the state or the pre-state Zionist establishment destroyed: the Yemenite colony in Ben Shemen, the Yemenite community in the Sea of Galilee, Tohelet, the Kfar Saba ma’abara, Yamin Moshe, Mamila, Manshiyye, Summayl, Kfar Shalem, Givat Amal, Ha’argazim neighborhood, Emek Ha’teimanim in Ein Kerem. Two of them were demolished years before the state was established, while the remaining 10 were destroyed after 1948. Some of them are still facing the threat of demolition. Most of these communities were established on top of Palestinian villages depopulated during the 1948 War.
The difference between the treatment of Ashkenazi Jews and the Mizrahim who settled in recently-emptied Palestinian homes is clear. While the Ashkenazim in West Jerusalem and the kibbutzim were granted ownership over the stolen homes, Mizrahim were denied that very same privilege.
A clear example of the state’s discriminatory policies can be found in the story of Tohelet. Yemenite Jews who settled in the homes of the Palestinian village al-Safiriyya were forcible removed, while members belonging to Chabad, who had strong political backing, were able to remain and expand at the expense of Tohelet.
Another example is Givat Amal. Menashe Kalif — who was forcibly removed from his home in 2015 so that it could be demolished — described how his parents were asked by the state to take over the homes of the Arabs of Al-Jammasin al-Gharbi, in order to prevent their return. The land was bought by tycoons who are now attempting to evict the Mizrahi residents without fair compensation.
After years of right-wing rule by Likud, we can no longer only talk about Mapai — the party that historically discriminated against non-Ashkenazim — as the perpetrator of anti-Mizrahi racism. The Israeli regime, including the pre-state establishment, created the structural, socio-economic conditions that eventually led to the destruction of neighborhoods such as Givat Amal and Kfar Shalem. The condescension toward disenfranchised Mizrahim has become an essential, legal, and economic tenet of the Israeli state, regardless of which political party rules.
Between refugees and new immigrants
The infrastructure of the Palestinian villages settled by Mizrahim was neglected. This was done to force the Mizrahim to agree to evacuate the villages, so that new neighborhoods could be built to bring in massive profits for the state and real estate moguls. At once, the residents who were brought in to live in Palestinian homes were deemed a nuisance invaders. The racism inherent in this process was never openly on display, as it was in the years leading up to Israel’s establishment — but the ethnic identity of its victims is clear: they are all Mizrahim.
A prime example of this racism can be found in the Carmel news log from the 60s, which describes the Tel Aviv municipality’s attempt to remove the Jewish residents of Manshiyye, Jaffa’s most northern neighborhood, whose Palestinian residents were expelled in 1948. The following is a transcript of one of the logs, taken from Anat Even’s film “Yizkor L’Mansiyye”:
This is Manshiyye in Tel Aviv. Over 3,000 families have been evicted from the area in order to allow changes to be made. Although some of the residents have remained for now, construction has already begun. For years, these homes have become piles of ruins… yet people still live among them. It is true that some of the immigrants in Manshiyye refuse to leave as a means of applying pressure… This is the face of Manshiyye, whose few residents and their children refuse to recognize the fact that, according to the official map, the place has been erased and no longer exists. Manshiyye is a breeding grounds for agitation, feelings of discrimination, and Pantherism.
The treatment of Mizrahim is very different from that of Palestinians who used to live in those very same homes. The uprooted Palestinians have no legal redress. The Absentee Property Law, along with a set of other laws passed in the first years of the state, turned Palestinians into a class that lacked all protection under the new regime. Jews who were uprooted from Lifta — a Palestinian village near Jerusalem whose original inhabitants were evacuated in 1948 — were granted compensation from the state. Meanwhile, the Palestinian refugees of the village, some of whom live in Jerusalem, face a brick wall when it comes to their property rights.
In an article published in 2014 by Roni Harel in the Israeli business newspaper Calcalist, Osi Tajer, one of the Jewish evictees of Summayl in central Tel Aviv, gives a surprising response when asked whether he will accept an apartment in the new building — which is to be built on the site of his demolished home — as compensation:
“Nothing, I want to give it to the Arabs as a gift.”
“And where will you live?” asks the reporter.
“I’ll live with them.”
Tajer’s ambitions to live alongside the Palestinians who will return is a reminder of the period before and during the early days of Zionism, in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in this country. Zionism did not view this shared living in a positive light, and succeeded in putting an end to it. The destruction of Mizrahi communities is an expansion of this tendency.
Eitan Bronstein Aparicio is the co-director and co-founder of De-Colonizer, and the founder of Zochrot. This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.