The village of Lifta was established by the Canaanites some 2000 years ago and until 1948 it remained a vibrant, wealthy community. As recounted in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, on December 28 of that year members of the Stern Gang, a Zionist terrorist organization, entered the village and open fired on a coffee shop killing six and wounding several others. This event, along with a similar attack on a bus nearby prompted the exodus from Lifta, marking it as one of the first villages in Palestine to be ethnically cleansed during the Nakba. The Haganah, noting the efficiency of that kind of terrorism, adopted similar techniques in other areas of present day Israel. In the end, these militias destroyed more than 530 villages. About 13,000 Palestinians were killed and more than 750,000 were expelled from their homes.
On a recent trip to Palestine/Israel, I visited Lifta. The core of the village remains almost in its entirety, with dozens of original houses and a landscape, which, unlike other destroyed villages, has not been covered with Jewish National Fund (JNF) forests. Behind all this beauty lie all the elements of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: the refugee problem, the demand for the right of return, basic human rights and denial of memory for it is against Israeli law to officially commemorate the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe).
Described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe as “the quintessential Zionist colonist, Yossef Weitz, the first director of the JNF, declared: “It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples…if the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us…The only solution is a Land of Israel…without…Arabs. There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps the Palestinian Arabs of Bethlehem, Nazareth and old Jerusalem. No village must be left, not one tribe.”
And so, as instruments of concealment, the Jewish National Fund planted millions of trees on the sites of the destroyed Palestinian villages. With forests sprouting up where towns once stood, those who had been expelled would have nothing to return to. And to outsiders beholding the strangely Alpine landscape of northern Israel, in particular, it seemed as though the Palestinians had never existed. And that was the impression the Jewish National Fund hoped to create. The practice that David Ben Gurion and other prominent Zionists referred to as “redeeming the land” was, in fact, the ultimate form of green washing.
Unlike the majority of refugees from the 1948 war, 81 year old Abu Arab lives near his former village. He is an Israeli citizen but he has no more right to return to his village than do his relatives in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. In Israeli legal parlance, he is classified as a “present absentee,” present in Israel but absent from his property.
Organizations like Zochrot (“remembering” in Hebrew) and other Israeli NGOs have been fairly successful over the past few years in raising awareness of the Nakba. Thanks to their effort the destruction of hundreds of villages and resulting refugees have become part and parcel of the current Israeli discourse. That said, its mere presence in Jewish Israeli discourse still does not mean broad acknowledgement of and accountability for the Nakba. The gap is largely due to the continued adherence of Jewish Israeli society to colonial concepts and practices and to the Zionist narrative of “a land without people for a people without land.”
These and similar stories can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, now in its third edition.
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