Where do I stand on Palestinian land?

May 15 is Nakba Day, the anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. An ethnic cleansing that was an integral part of establishing a Zionist state on Palestinian land.

It’s easy to live your whole life on colonised land and not think of the history that lead you to be there. Part of the colonial project is creating a culture where members of the colonizing group never have to think of how they are implicated in colonisation.

This is something I wrote about the colonial history of the village I grew up in—a history I never thought about when I lived there. It’s from issue #2 of Not Afraid of Ruins zine, which you can download here.

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When I visited Al Walaja, the locals took us to see what they reckon is the oldest olive tree in all of Palestine. Olive trees live for centuries—there are olive trees in Palestine that are estimated to be 3000 years old.

I never really thought about the trees around me before—olive, citrus, pine and palm trees. I never thought about how old they were, and who planted them where they are, and who used to stand under them the same way I do.

When I was a kid I lived in Kfar Netter, a small moshav[1] (village) near Natanya, in the Hof HaSharon region of Israel. We had a six dunam[2] property full of citrus and other fruit trees, excellent for climbing. It was an awesome place to be a kid. Right in front of our house was a ginormous olive tree, as big as the one I saw in Walaja. In summer it was the centre of my family’s social life. My parents put a table and chairs under the tree and strung a lamp from the branches, and when they had guests round for dinner we’d eat under that olive tree.

I never thought about how long that tree had been there or who had planted it, and why there was one lone olive tree growing in the middle of a citrus grove. I never thought about what had been on that land before the village. I knew about the Nakba, and that Israel was built on Palestinian land. But somehow I assumed that the places I grew up in were always the way they are, that that land had been empty until the village was settled by Zionists. I thought, like most colonisers, that it was Terra Nullius.

Well here’s a history lesson for you and me:

Kfar Netter was founded on 26 June 1939, by students from the Mikveh Yisrael agricultural school. The moshav was named after the school’s founder, a French Jew named Karl Netter. It was part of the ‘Khoma U’migdal’ (tower and stockade) movement. Khoma U’migdal was a settlement tactic used by Zionists during the ‘Arab Revolt’ of 1936–9, when Palestinians revolted against mass Zionist settlement in Palestine (remember, this is before the state of Israel was founded, when Palestine was under British Mandate). The idea was to build lots of Zionist settlements that would be able to defend themselves in rural areas—hence the tower and the stockade. That way Zionist control of land was maximised.

That’s the history I learned from the village’s official website. Then I did some research on the Palestine Remembered database, which keeps a record of each Palestinian community ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and since. Here’s what I learned:

Back when Kfar Netter was established, the land it’s on was part of the Tulkarem district of Palestine. That land belonged to the village of Ghabat Kafr Sur, 16 kilometres southwest of the district centre. It wasn’t a very big village. In 1931 the combined population of Ghabat Kafr Sur and the neighbouring villages of Bayyarat Hannun and Arab al-Balawina was 559. By 1945 the population of Ghabat Kafr Sur was 740, and that includes the Zionist settlements of Kfar Netter, Beit Yehoshua and Tel Yitz’hak. Even before the state of Israel was established, most of the village’s land was owned by Jews. After the state was established in 1948, the Palestinian inhabitants were completely ethnically cleansed. Today they and their descendents are scattered around the world. All that’s left of the village are three houses.

It’s funny how colonisation becomes so much more personal when you start thinking about the history of the places you spent your life in. Suddenly it’s far less abstract. What if I met someone whose parents or grandparents were ethnically cleansed from Ghabat Kafr Sur? What would I say to them?


[1] Well, not exactly a village. A moshav is a particular kind of Zionist agricultural settlement.

[2] 1 dunam = 1,000 square metres, or 0.1 hectares

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One response to “Where do I stand on Palestinian land?

  1. Vandalism and theft of land and property of Kafr Bir’im by Kibbutz Bar’am continued over a period of several years and included destruction of wells. The use of stones from the village houses for the pavement of the kibbutz’ main street in 1952, and the uprooting of olive trees from village land. Moreover, Kibbutz Baram did not remain the only Jewish settlement which would swallow the land of Kafr Bir’im. In 1958, Moshav Dovev, an agricultural co-operative, was established on the land northwest of the village. Other parts of the village land were exploited by Kibbutz Sa’sa set up on land of the depopulated Palestinian village of Sa’sa.

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