“I am sure one day I will return to Saffuriya,” Ameen Muhammad Ali says of a Palestinian village only two kilometres outside Nazareth that Israel destroyed during the Nakba in 1948. He pauses, then chuckles as he injects a note of realism: “If not me, then my son – and if not my son, then my grandson.” Unlike the majority of refugees from the 1948 war, 81-year-old Abu Arab lives near his former village, in a neighbourhood of Nazareth whose residents are all refugees from Saffuriya or their descendants.
Nakba / Destroyed Villages
Details of the biggest massacre committed by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war have finally surfaced, decades after the documentation was locked away. Israel is still trying to silence its army’s new generation of whistleblowers, even in an age of 24-hour news and social media. But Israel must face facts: the days when such systematic brutality could be kept under wraps are now over.
Palestinian leaders in Israel have warned that they suspect the Israeli government is behind recent efforts to trick the families of refugees from the 1948 war into signing away the rights to their lands. Experts say Israel has been working to pressure families into selling their lands for decades as a way to undermine a Palestinian right of return, one of the key demands in any peace agreement.
An Israeli government plan to build hundreds of homes for the country’s Druze population faces stiff opposition after it was revealed that the new community would be located on the lands of Palestinian refugees. The town, due to be built west of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, would be the first new community for members of Israel’s Palestinian minority since the state’s founding 68 years ago.
A rarely told story of the 1948 war that founded Israel concerns Nazareth’s survival. It is the only Palestinian city in what is today Israel that was not ethnically cleansed during the year-long fighting. Nazareth was not only an anomaly; it was a mistake. The reason Nazareth survived is because of the actions of one individual: Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian Jew.
There are few clues today at the site of the single worst massacre committed by the Israeli army during the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. For Israelis, the area is known as Dor, a popular beach resort south of Haifa. But in May, some 300 activists met in the resort’s car park in an attempt to end the long-enforced silence about Tantura in Israelis’ collective memory.
Israel’s supreme court is to decide next week whether Dahmash village is wiped off the map. For decades officials have refused to recognise its 70 homes, just 20 minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv. Arafat Ismail said that while industrial parks, shopping malls and estates of luxury villas had sprung up all around them, Dahmash’s residents had been treated like “illegal squatters”. What distinguishes Dahmash from the communities around it is that it is Arab, an unwelcome relic from a time when the country was called Palestine.
The first-ever “truth commission” in Israel will feature confessions from veteran Israeli fighters of the 1948 war that they perpetrated war crimes as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The event is the culmination of more than decade of antagonistic confrontations between a small group of activists called Zochrot, the Hebrew word for Remembering, and the Israeli authorities and much of the Jewish public.
For 66 years Israel’s founding generation has lived with a guilty secret, one it successfully concealed from the generations that followed. Forests were planted to hide war crimes. School textbooks mythologised Israel’s creation. The army was blindly venerated. But while Israeli Jews tried to enjoy guilt-free street parties last week, news reports focused on the Nakba marches held by the fifth of the population who Palestinians.
Palestinians were due to stage marches to commemorate Thursday the loss of their homeland 66 years ago – an event they call the Nakba, or “Catastrophe” – a little more than a week after Israeli Jews celebrated the anniversary of the Jewish state’s birth. But for many Israelis, it is becoming ever harder to mark their Independence Day without confronting the fact that Israel’s establishment created a new set of victims.
Israel’s right-wing government and its supporters stand accused of stoking an atmosphere of increasing intimidation and intolerance in schools and among groups working for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government has also come under particular fire for its efforts to police the school curriculum to remove references to the Nakba and play down the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who comprise a fifth of the population.
A dream long nurtured by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians made refugees during the establishment of the state of Israel has become a concrete reality at a small makeshift camp atop a windswept hill. A dozen young men have set up the camp at a site in the Upper Galilee from which their grandparents were expelled more than six decades ago. Today, all that remains of the village of Iqrit, close to Israel’s border with Lebanon, is a Catholic church on the hill’s brow. But in 1948, the village was home to 600 Christian Palestinians.
The discovery of a rare aerial photo of Jerusalem in the 1930s, taken by a Zeppelin, has provided the long-sought after proof that when Israel occupied the Old City in 1967 it secretly destroyed an important mosque that dated from the time of Saladin close to the al-Aqsa mosque. The destruction of the Sheikh Eid mosque – in an area widely considered to be the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – revives questions about Israel’s continuing abuse of Islamic holy places under its control.
On a rocky slope dropping steeply away from the busy main road at the entrance to West Jerusalem is to be found a scattering of ancient stone houses, empty and clinging precariously to terraces hewn from the hillside centuries ago. Although most Israeli drivers barely notice the buildings, the small ghost town of Lifta — neglected for the past six decades — is at the centre of a legal battle fuelling nationalist sentiments on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Government officials warned Israeli teachers last week not to cooperate with a civic group that seeks to educate Israelis about how the Palestinians view the loss of their homeland and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Israel’s education ministry issued the advisory after Zochrot – a Jewish group that seeks to raise awareness among Israeli Jews of the events of 1948, referred to as the “nakba” by Palestinians – organised a workshop for primary school teachers.
Despite the loss of their village, the 4,500 Palestinian refugees from Saffuriya and their descendants have clung to one hope: that the Jewish newcomers could not buy their land, only lease it temporarily from the state. According to international law, Israel holds the property of more than four million Palestinian refugees in custodianship, until a final peace deal determines whether they will be allowed back or compensated for their loss. But last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, forced through a revolutionary land reform.
Thousands of road signs are the latest front in Israel’s battle to erase Arab heritage from much of the Holy Land, according to critics in both Israel and the wider Arab world. Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced this week that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardised”, converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew name. Currently, road signs include the place name as it is traditionally rendered in all three languages.
Canada’s chief diplomat in Israel has been honoured at an Israeli public park – built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law – as one of the donors who helped establish the park on the ruins of three Palestinian villages. Jon Allen, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, is among several hundred Canadian Jews who have been commemorated at a dedication site. A plaque bearing Mr Allen’s name is attached to a stone wall constructed from the rubble of Palestinian homes razed by the Israeli army.
Visitors to Canada Park, a few kilometres north-west of Jerusalem, enjoy its spectacular panaromas, woodland paths, mountain-bike trails, caves and idyllic picnic areas. A series of signs describe the historical significance of the landscape, as well as that of a handful of ancient buildings, in terms of their Biblical, Roman, Hellenic and Ottoman pasts. Few, if any, visitors take notice of the stone blocks that litter sections of the park. But Eitan Bronstein, director of Zochrot, is committed to educating Israelis and foreign visitors about the park’s hidden past – its Palestinian history.
Among the images of Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations to be found on the internet is a photograph of CNN reporter Ben Wedeman being kicked firmly on the behind as he tries to run from the boot of an armed policeman. All around him, as other photographs reveal, journalists are fleeing for safety, families are being charged by mounted police, and parents can be seen grabbing toddlers as clouds of tear gas engulf them. The stragglers are shown with bloodied faces after a beating with police batons.
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