Tag Archives: Nakba

Nightmares and ghosts

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.

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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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