When I was seven, my parents took me on a day trip to Ein Hod, an artists’ village near Haifa. I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever been. We walked through galleries, studios, and workshops, and I even got to make some prints of my own.
Years later, when I was an adult, my mother told me the true story of Ein Hod. It had been a Palestinian village – Ein Houd. In 1945 the village occupied 12,605 dunams (1,260.5 hectares) of land and had a population of around 700. In May 1948 Ein Houd was invaded by the newly-established Israeli Defense Force and its inhabitants were ethnically-cleansed. In the early 1950s the village’s buildings were settled by Israeli artists who renamed it Ein Hod. Most of Ein Houd’s Palestinian residents ended up refugees in the West Bank, but a group of 35 villagers stayed in the area and re-established Ein Houd near its original site. In 2005, after 57 years of struggle, the state of Israel finally recognized the village and allowed it to join the electricity grid.
Haifa-born Palestinian novelist Salman Natour, who died this week, wrote about Ein Houd in his book The Chronicle of the Wrinkled-Face Sheikh:
The village of Ayn Houd was transformed into a Jewish artists’ colony known as Ein Hod. In the old days, there was a grand mosque whose spire rose high above the ground. In the artists’ colony the mosque had been converted into a highbrow restaurant. At the entrance stood a female host who catered to the artists’ needs, and to those of their respectable guests.
A few years ago, an old Sheikh arrived at the artists’ colony from Siris, a village located in the Jenin district. He headed to a house, inhabited by an artist who had immigrated from Europe or America. The artist’s wife opened the door and was startled at first, seeing the strange keffiyeh-wearing man staring back at her. The man was silent as a stone, as he had never seen a half-naked woman opening the door of a house. The woman recovered quickly and gently invited the man inside. She summoned her husband, the artist, who was also apprehensive when he saw the keffiyeh and the thick mustache of the visitor. But the artist also recovered quickly, particularly after he saw the smile spreading across the visitor’s face.
‘What brings you here?’ he asked.
The Arab man answered without hesitation: ‘I was born here. This is my home.’
‘This is your home?’ The artist’s voice expressed great amazement. ‘What do you mean? Tell me. What happened?’
The guest seated himself on a comfortable armchair and told his story from beginning to end. The artist served him a cup of coffee. He even offered him a glass of whisky. He sat next to him and begged to hear the details. The artist believed every word.
The Arab man went back to his village in the West Bank. The artist, however, was seized by guilt, sadness and irritability. He decided to leave the house and moved to another. But the ghosts kept pursuing him to the new home. Every day he woke up expecting another Arab man to visit the house where he had been born. The nightmares and ghosts never vanished.
Ein Hod encapsulates my relationship with the country I was born to. There are so many things I love about Israeli culture. But all of them, every last one, are built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. And none of them, no matter how brilliant, vibrant, and amazing, can ever, ever make up for the ethnic cleansing on which this culture and society is built.
The nightmares and ghosts will never vanish. Not until Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and live freely and without fear.