Supplanting Palestinian Memory

Palestinians share one common experience with North and South American Native Indians, with Australian Aborigines, and with New Zealand Ma’oris. They all have been subjected to settler colonialism.

Settler colonialism, usually technologically and militarily more advanced, is based on the erasure of already existent people, their culture and their memory, and substituting it with new foreign national entity that builds new culture, new history and new memory. To do this, settler colonialists have to get rid of the native people, their physical evidence, their history and their memory. They have to wipe off their existence from the world collective memory.

In the case of Palestinians, the name of their country has already been wiped off the map. If you look for Palestine on any modern map you will not find it. Palestine had been wiped off the map and replaced by Zionist Israel.

The plan of wiping Palestine off the map originated within the First Zionist Congress in 1897, when a programme for the colonization of Palestine by Zionist settlers was approved to pave the way for the establishment of an exclusive Jewish state in the heart of the Arab World.

Britain, the super colonial power at the time, adopted the programme, which started to materialize with Balfour Declaration in 1917 when the British government promised to use “its best endeavours to facilitate the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

This decision was taken regardless of the Palestinian’s national aspiration and without asking them whether they wanted to give their country away to strangers or not. Palestinians were dehumanized and disregarded, their existence was not even acknowledged, hence came the Zionist slogan “Land without people for people without land”.

To establish a Jewish settler-colonization in Palestine, Zionists needed land, people (settlers), and economy. They started to acquire land, and to encourage Jewish immigration and settlements and building a segregated economy. This process continued from 1918 to 1948 when the state of Israel was declared on usurped Palestinian land.

Although Jews were then a minority comprising only 30% of the population and possess a mere 6% of the land, still they announced the establishment of the state of Israel. Subsequently Arabs declared war on Israel. Hearing this, one would imagine that Arab countries had amassed huge well equipped armies to attack Israel. The fact was that most of the Arab countries at that time were still either under occupation or had just come out of it and had poor resources. Arab countries were able to amass only 23 thousand troops while Israel had 93 thousand well equipped troops. Israel was receiving heavy arms from Europe through communist Czechoslovakia (through Zatic military base). The defeat of the Arab armies thus was clear and inevitable.

As a result of this war Israel occupied 78% of Palestine, about 75 hundred thousand Palestinians (two thirds of population) were kicked out of their homes and made refugees, and more than 400 Palestinian villages were completely razed off the ground.

Occupying most of Palestine ushers the first phase of establishing the Zionist colonial settler entity. Setting up the base was accomplished. The second phase is to get rid of the people.

In his book Birth of Palestinian Refugee Problem, Israeli historian Benny Morris quoted Yousef Weitz, the director of the Jewish National Fund’s Land Department, from his diary as saying:

It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both people (Palestinians and Jews) … the only solution is a Land of Israel, at least a western Land of Israel without Arabs. There is no room here for compromise … There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries … Not one village must be left, nor one Bedouin tribe.

In his book Dispossed- the Ordeal of the Palestinians (1982), the Israeli writer David Gilmour states that expulsion was the most common method used to make people leave their homes by force. Terrorism and the use of propaganda to spread fear of terrorism were the most grotesque. Here are some eyewitness accounts of such method. A Palestinian woman from “Safsaf” describes what happened in her village when Israeli troops occupied the village:

“As we lined up, a few Jewish soldiers ordered four girls to accompany them to carry water for the soldiers. Instead they took them to our empty house and raped them. About seventy of our men were blindfolded and shot to death, one after the other, in front of us.”

Many similar atrocities were perpetrated at several places and are well documented. Let us look at an alternative viewpoint from an Israeli soldier, who himself described the actions of his fellow Israeli troops:

They killed some eighty to one hundred Arabs, women and children … Another soldier boasted that he raped an Arab woman and then shot her. Another Arab woman with a day-old baby was employed in cleaning jobs in the yard … She worked for one or two days and then was shot with her baby. … Cultured and well mannered commanders who are considered good fellows … have turned into low murderers, and this happened not in the storm of the battle and blind passion, but because of a system of expulsion and annihilation. The less Arabs remain, the better.

The second phase of settler colonialism is the erasure of natives’ physical evidence. I would like to emphasize here that wiping off Palestinian villages was a pre-meditated scheme planned and partially implemented long before the establishment of the state of Israel.

Zionists started by buying Ottoman’s feudal properties from absentee rich families and kicking out by force the Palestinian farmers, who lived on and cared for the land for hundreds of years. One such example was the property of “Sarsaq” family consisting of 240 thousand Donums of land in Haifa Valley and “Marj Ibn Amer” valley with 23 Palestinian farm towns on the land. In 1921 the “Sarsaq” land was acquired by the National Jewish Fund, who forcefully kicked out 8 thousand Palestinian farmers and leveled 21 out of their 23 villages. Some of the razed Palestinian villages were Jinjar, Sufsafa, Tel Alfarr, Jalod, Alfulah, Al-Affula, Tel el-‘Adas, Jeeda, Tel al-Shummam, Quamoon, Jibata, Khuneifus, Al-Harithia, and Al-Harbaj.

They also acquired similar properties in Hula Valley and Beesan Valley, where they razed 70 other Palestinian farm villages and evacuated their inhabitants.

Many Palestinian villages, which survived destruction during 1948 war, were later erased (wiped off) after the war. Records of the Association of Archeological Survey, housed in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, show that a plan to wipe off Palestinian villages was implemented jointly by the Israeli Lands Administration and the Jewish National Fund in 1965, and was carried on for several years. The plan intended to wipe off all traces of Palestinian villages in order to destroy any hope for the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

The Israeli Association of Archaeological Survey was established in 1964 to issue permits for the destruction of Palestinian villages. By 1967 this association had approved the wiping off of about 100 villages inside 1948-occupied Palestine (Israel). After 1967 the Association turned its attention to destroying Palestinian villages in West Bank and Golan heights. On December 2006 Roni Bar-On, Israeli Interior Minister declared his ministry’s approval on a plan to demolish more than 42,000 homes of Palestinian Bedouins in Negev Desert. This plan will wipe off 45 Palestinian villages housing more than 86,000 Palestinian Bedouins, who in 1958 were evacuated out of their land and confined to a piece of land in the desert known as the Triangle. Although paying taxes to Israeli government like any other town, these 45 villages were not recognized by the Israeli government, and received no civil services at all.

The destruction of Palestinian history, culture, and wiping off their memory, continued by changing names of Palestinian towns and villages, and replacing them with Jewish names. Moshe Dyan, a previous Israeli Defense Minister, said in a lecture he gave at the Technion University in Haifa in March 19th 1969:

we came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, a Jewish state; instead of the Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You even do not know the names of those villages, and I do not blame you because these villages no longer exist. There is no single Jewish settlement that was not established on the place of a former Arab Village. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul, Kibbutz Gv’at in the place of Jibta, Kibbutz Sared in the place of Huneifis, and Yehushua in the place of Tel al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population. (Haaretz, April 4th, 1969)

The policy of wiping off Palestinian names and replacing them with Jewish names was adopted by first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion since the establishment of Israel in 1948 when he established a special committee from historians, geographers, geologists and Torah experts, whose task was to wipe off the Canaanite and Palestinian Arabic names and substitute them with Jewish names. So Tel Rabi’ became Tel Aviv, Um Rashrash became Eilat, Shu’fat became Nevi Yachob, Beit Jala became Gilo, Za’tara became Tabbuch, Beisan became Beit Shean, Qualandia became Atarot, Beit Mahseer became Beit Me’er, Artof became Hartuv, and so on.

So, not only did they erase the indigenous peoples’ memory, they have sub-planted a new memory in its place.

Israel is intent on destroying all Palestinian and Islamic cultural city landmarks. Religious places and buildings, especially Muslim mosques, were destroyed, neglected to collapse, or turned into museums, art galleries, pups, clubs, senior citizens shelters, and stables for farm animals.

Muslim Palestinians were not allowed to renovate or build new mosques. Renovation and strengthening the bases of Al-Aqsa mosque for example was hindered by Jerusalem municipality. Building permits were withheld, and building materials were not allowed to pass through Jerusalem old gates to the mosque. The ancient Islamic Council building and its adjacent Islamic “Ma’man Allah” cemetery in West Jerusalem are important historic and cultural Palestinian landmarks. The Israeli government is destroying the internals of the Islamic Council building to build western-style apartments, and digging up the cemetery to build a Jewish Museum of Tolerance on its place. It is so ironic and hilarious to destroy someone’s historical place to build a museum of tolerance!

After the Jewish Holocaust the whole world cried “never again”. Yet the same victims of the Holocaust, and their descendant, are now perpetrating a similar Holocaust against the Palestinians. It is true that Palestinians are not being gassed, yet their children are targeted daily by Israeli snipers, their civilians are routinely murdered by Israeli artilleries and air raids, their homes are destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, their land is being usurped by Israeli settlers, their natural resources are exploited and abused by the Israeli government, and their economy is being choked by restrictions and sieges. Palestinians are imprisoned within a high wall snaking through and around their cities. They are being starved to death. If this is not another Holocaust I don’t know what is. All this is happening while the world is watching silently. The international slogan “never again” had thus become an empty cry.

Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala and now living in the US. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Elias.

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  1. AJ Nasreddin said on November 26th, 2007 at 9:58am #

    “After the Jewish Holocaust the whole world cried “never again”. ”

    Dr. Elias, this is a myth. The Jews stood up and said “Never again!” That was about themselves – modern Zionist history (and let’s include the last American decade) has shown that this is BS for the rest of us.

    Apart from remaking history in Palestine, they do it pretty much all over the region. I have friend in Irbid who is an expect in his local history. After Jordan signed the peace (or is it “piece” ) agreement, a few long lost stones and tablets appreaded supporting evidence of past Jewish kingdoms!