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Feb 3, 2016

Facing a Harsh Winter in Palestine

Those of us living in Washington, DC, New York, and other cities on the East Coast of the United States have just experienced a momentous storm, with some areas receiving well over two feet of snow. We worried about the possibility of losing electricity, on which heat and kitchen appliances depend. We complained about the lack of immediate municipal services charged with cleaning our roads. We stocked up on food and essentials to wait out the storm in our well-insulated homes.

Such anxieties pale next to the harsh reality of winter in Palestine.  A recent article about Palestinian schoolteachers up for a global teaching award showed a photograph of one of their classrooms: the teacher and all the children in this West Bank school were wearing their coats and jackets inside. This is perhaps because many of these schools are not heated well, if at all, making the harsh winter cold a constant reality, both indoors and outdoors.

In the Gaza Strip, the situation is quite dire. This winter, Israel has drastically reduced gas supplies to Gaza. More than 20 percent of households there have no access to gas, and many hospitals and schools are in the same situation. Electricity has been cut from 8-10 hours to 4-8 hours/day. The result is a population denied adequate heat, the ability to cook and run greenhouses for growing their food, and many of the basic needs of daily life.

The situation in Gaza is acute largely because of Israel’s war on the strip in the summer of 2014, which left it devastated. There has been little or no rebuilding in many areas. A large number of people are homeless, living in makeshift homes that are insufficient to shield them from the elements. “There is no electricity, water, food or gas. We don’t even have firewood. Our life here is poverty, worries, blockade and homelessness,” says a Palestinian mother. The rains also often bring flooding.

Regarding health in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA states that “Food insecurity and rising poverty mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 per cent of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption.” To be sure, Israel’s closure of Gaza since 2007 has wreaked havoc with the population’s fundamental requirements, like food, water, and shelter. Gaza’s infant mortality rate has increased from 2008 to 2013, and medical professionals attribute the cause to the long-term blockade of Gaza. This is the first such rise in fifty years.

On the West Bank, Israeli home demolitions continue. On February 2nd, Israel demolished 23 homes in two poor southern West Bank villages, leaving 100 Palestinians homeless and in the cold. Some of the displaced will now live in caves, as they have nowhere to go.

Cold and wet weather in Palestine will not be over anytime soon, and the situation could get even worse. Just last week a storm brought snow and freezing weather, closing Palestinian schools for days. In 2014 and 2015, storms delivered feet of snow and brought cities to a standstill. Many fear there will be a repeat this year.

Indeed, there are problems caused by nature, such as heavy rain or snow storms and severe cold, and those purposefully caused by humans, such as Israel's military occupation, wars against Gaza, and house demolitions. The combination of the two makes for an arduous, often deadly, situation for the Palestinians. The international community needs to remember, and act on, the fact that the impoverished or homeless population in the West Bank and Gaza requires critical aid to stay warm during these severe winter months. Gaza, in particular, needs urgent support, especially as a result of Israel's destructive policies.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

Dec 24, 2015

Bethlehem: Living Between Tear Gas and Christmas Ornaments

“During the Christmas season, while the Palestinian community, comprising Christians and Muslims, was celebrating the lighting of the Christmas tree on manger square, young Palestinians, who were demonstrating their longing for freedom, were shot at, wounded, and some even killed by re-invading soldiers of the Israeli occupation. Two contradictory phenomena are so poignantly met in Bethlehem, as we continue to live between tear gas and Christmas ornaments, between shattered hopes and resilient faith.”

Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, penned these words as his Christmas message this year. He also cited this line from the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

For the West Bank city of Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the juxtaposition of hopes and fears is the stuff of everyday life. That Palestinians of all faiths in Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora hold onto hope and have faith in a better future is a challenging feat indeed. Starting with the violent dislocation of three-quarters of a million Palestinians in 1948, Israel’s military occupation in 1967 of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and a number of major wars, military assaults, and oppressive policies, Palestinians have endured lifetimes of injustice.

In their latest expression of frustration at Israel's military occupation, Palestinians are facing deepening and brutal policies of suppression. Between October 2 and December 18, 2015, in the occupied territories, 121 Palestinians (men, women, and minors) were killed by Israeli forces, police officers, and settlers, and thousands have been injured.  Several of the dead hailed from Bethlehem and its three refugee camps, Dheisheh, Aida, and Beit Jibrin—all of which were established soon after the Nakba in 1948.

In the Western imagination, the “little town of Bethlehem” is a romanticized, mythological town that appears on Christmas cards and is usually depicted by a bucolic nativity scene with wise men, animals, Mary, Joseph, Jesus in a manger, and a bright star above all.  In reality, Bethlehem is a besieged city surrounded by a 26-foot-high wall erected on much of its perimeter. This imposing edifice prevents many farmers from getting to their land and restricts residents from performing everyday actions, like going to school or work. By the time it is completed, 56 kilometers of this barrier—which many call the apartheid wall—will leave 12 communities physically separated from the rest of Bethlehem.

Fully 85 percent of the Governorate of Bethlehem is classified as part of Area C—under complete Israeli control in all security and civil matters. In addition, there are 19 settlements—illegal according to international law and officially opposed by the U.S. government—surrounding the governorate which house over 100,000 Israeli settlers. In the last three months, there were 39 incidents of settler violence in Bethlehem—these are cases that involve assault, raids, destruction of property, abductions, injuries, and other aggressive acts perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. Settler violence goes largely unpunished, so settlers feel they have tacit impunity for their actions.

In March of 2014 Pope Francis visited the West Bank and made a surprise stop in Bethlehem to pray at the separation wall. Many Palestinians interpreted his gesture as a nod to Palestinian suffering. One Palestinian Catholic witnessing the event said, “He is trying to tell the world what is happening to Palestinians is so unfair… We are dying inside.”

Challenging circumstances require creative responses, as in a bold move on December 18 by Bethlehem Palestinians who dressed up as Santa Clauses and marched to the separation wall. “For Christmas I want every child back home,” they chanted, referring to the growing number of Palestinian children whom Israeli soldiers have arrested in the last two months.

A January 2015 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs concluded that “Israeli policies and practices applied since the beginning of the occupation, which have accelerated in recent years, have resulted in the increasing fragmentation of the Bethlehem governorate and its population.” The policies include land seizure, settlement building, restrictions on physical and administrative access, inadequate planning and zoning, and ineffective enforcement of the law on Israeli settlers. The result is a vulnerable population living in a fragmented physical and social space.

Like Rev. Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Baboun, also characterizes Bethlehem as having contradictory identities: “Bethlehem, the Palestinian city under siege, and Bethlehem, the universal city of the message of peace,” she says. This Christmas season, as Christians the world over sing of Baby Jesus’s little town of Bethlehem, they must also remember that this city remains under a crippling Israeli occupation. There will be no meaningful peace in Bethlehem as long as the Palestinians there have to live with the wall, settlements, and an unrelenting military chokehold.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

Dec 10, 2015

Trump’s Latest Muslim Bashing: The Country Must Redouble Efforts to Defeat Him

Listening to and reading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s vicious comments and speeches against Muslims over the last several weeks is bad enough, but of special concern is the reaction of the crowds he addresses. On December 7 he read this statement at a rally in South Carolina:

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” he said, adding the word “hell” for emphasis this time.

The Washington Post also reported that “Supporters erupted in applause.”

Alarmingly, more and more Americans seem to be applauding Trump’s statements, which discriminate against and disparage Muslims. He flaunts his bigotry and racism freely, giving license to his supporters to do the same.

The venom with which this presidential candidate has been imbuing the Republican Party is moving the national conversation about diversity, tolerance, and respect to the far right. Earlier, Trump also called for stepped-up surveillance of mosques, and he did not rule out the establishment of a database to track Muslims in the country.

Those in leadership positions—whether sitting presidents, or those vying for the role—have a responsibility not to incite hostility toward religious or national groups. They must invoke and buttress the protections for all citizens regarding freedom of religion, which are enshrined in the US Constitution. As for the treatment of non-citizens or refugees, it is incumbent on leaders to provide wisdom and moderation, not xenophobic diatribes that paint the United States as prejudiced and partisan with little empathy, especially, for victims fleeing war.

Despite media questioning and negative repercussions from many in American society, Trump continues to do well in the polls. Each time he makes an outrageous pronouncement, he receives an abundance of attention, which serves to keep his ratings high. In a sense he is rewarded, time and again, for offensive remarks that damage the fabric of American society.

In the American Muslim and Arab communities, these are chilling and shocking developments. US Muslim leaders are calling for extra protection for community members, as hate crimes and vandalism of mosques are on the rise.  Many Muslim women who wear the hijab now are afraid to go out in public. Muslim parents are fearful that their children will be mistreated, and many in the community are experiencing increased profiling when traveling inside and outside the country. Racist comments against Muslims pervade the internet.

President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the San Bernardino attacks and the war on ISIS, on December 6, rightly cautioned that “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.” The president admonished Americans to “reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.”

On Facebook and other social media platforms, many are saying that the Trump campaign, which was viewed with mockery and amusement at first, has become downright dangerous. It is now clear that Americans were silent for too long and did not realize they needed to halt Trump’s scurrilous campaign in its early stages. The country—Republicans, Democrats, and everyone else—must rally together to undo the damage this leading Republican presidential candidate has already caused. Together, we must also work hard to try to make Trump’s supporters understand the perniciousness and divisiveness of his views and to put the reins on the candidate’s progress toward securing the Republican nomination.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

Nov 20, 2015

Bashing Arabs, Muslims, and Refugees

The bomb attacks in Beirut on November 12th, and in Paris on November 13th, have underscored the brutality of the Islamic State. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for horrific attacks in other countries including Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

Judging by the vitriolic reactions against Muslims—and especially Syrians—in U.S. society after the Paris bombings, it is clear that few understand that the vast majority of the casualties of ISIS’s bloody strikes are actually Muslims. The group has wreaked havoc in majority Muslim states for a number of years. But so many people in Europe and the United States seem not to understand that the Islamic State does not represent Muslims, and that Muslims are in fact terrified by and abhor the savage tactics of the group. They are trying desperately to escape the lands under ISIS control.

In the same way as during the aftermath of 9/11, we are now witnessing a hysteria against Muslims in the United States. The latest ISIS attack has made many question allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country; indeed, the House of Representative just approved tougher refugee screening—a brazen move against President Obama, who has threatened to veto such legislation. Earlier this week, thirty governors called for stopping the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States altogether.

In fact, negative perceptions and treatment of Arabs and Muslims started way before 9/11, with media analyst Jack Shaheen characterizing stereotypes of Arabs as “bombers, belly dancers, and billionaires.” After 9/11, Shaheen notes, Muslims and Arabs took on the more heinous stereotype of the villain in Hollywood and in American popular culture.

Stereotyping is the first phase in a vicious cycle that leads to prejudice, and then, to discrimination. This “psychology of prejudice” suggests a strong linkage between stereotyping (for example, “Syrians are violent”), prejudice (“I don’t want Syrians to be settled in my state because they are violent”), and discrimination (“Let’s pass laws against allowing Syrians in our country”). In the United States we have experienced this same process—stereotyping leading to prejudice, leading to discrimination—historically with many ethnic, racial, and other minority groups, but most visibly and profoundly with the African-American community, to disastrous results that continue to reverberate deeply in our society today.

In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu took advantage of the current global antagonism against Muslims and Islam and declared the Islamic Movement in Israel an unlawful association. The timing for this declaration is clearly to plant the idea in the international community that this Islamic group, which represents many Palestinian citizens in Israel, espouses similar violent strategies as ISIS. The Palestinian civil and human rights group, Adalah, countered that the Islamic Movement “is part of the national representative bodies and elected local bodies of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all its political activities are in accordance with the law. The order issued by the Defense Minister, without a hearing or trial, is a violation and crackdown on the Islamic Movement’s rights to freedom of association and political expression, and harms the Palestinian-Arab minority in Israel as a whole.”

The situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is a true example of institutionalized discrimination. Indeed, there are over 50 laws in Israel, enacted since the establishment of the state in 1948, which discriminate directly or indirectly against the Palestinian citizens of the country in such arenas as “political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.”

It’s a slippery slope from stereotyping to prejudice to discrimination, and the United States should look at its own history—and that of its allies—as a cautionary tale. It would serve us well to check our words and public pronouncements about Arabs, Muslims, and refugees before making hasty decisions that are harmful to us and to those we are trying to help.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

Nov 18, 2015

War of Words: Israel and the Semantics of Oppression

by Mohamed Mohamed

The Hebrew word “hasbara” translates to “explaining,” but it is a euphemism for the propaganda that endorses the state of Israel and its actions. In its efforts to influence world opinion and promote itself on the international stage, Israel’s hasbara campaign has relied on misdirection, careful selection of words, empty semantic arguments, and the omission of crucial facts. These tactics are part of a deliberate strategy by Israel and its supporters; one example is The Israel Project’s 2009 “Global Language Dictionary,” which is a propaganda booklet that instructs its readers on the “words that work” and “words that don’t work” when fighting the media war for Israel.

The Concept of Palestine and Palestinian Identity
Supporters of Israel frequently note that a state of Palestine never existed prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948. This implies that Israel was founded on uninhabited territory and that Palestinians have no basis for claiming their own land. It also ignores a historic Palestinian national identity. Similarly, a state called “Native America” never existed, but this certainly does not justify the displacement and atrocities committed against millions of Native Americans.

Along similar lines, supporters of Israel also deny the existence of a Palestinian national identity prior to 1948. In 1969 Golda Meir, one of the founders and prime-ministers of Israel, said that “there were no such thing as Palestinians” and that “they did not exist.” Today, this attitude persists among hardline supporters of Israel. In a 2013 op-ed for Arutz Sheva (Israel National News), Palestinians are described as “the counterfeit Arabs.” Even Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum have parroted this claim as a tactic to draw pro-Israel voters, which suggests that this mindset is still quite popular in pro-Israel circles.

Ironically, Israel is the primary reason behind the reinforcement of the Palestinian identity that many of its supporters wish to deny, as it is logically inevitable that a stronger identity would emerge to distinguish the Arab inhabitants uprooted from their land in 1948. Over the last 67 years, Israel’s continued belligerence and discriminatory policies toward the Palestinians has only served to solidify this identity.

The bottom line is that Israel was established at the expense of an existing native population. The argument that no Palestinian state or national identity existed before Israel is a tool of misdirection that completely ignores the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and the denial of their right to return. This misdirection becomes apparent with Israel’s use of the word “absentee” when referring to the Palestinian residents who were expelled or forced to flee their homes. Such euphemisms are common in Israeli doublespeak.

Israel as an Occupier of Gaza
As part of its propaganda efforts, Israel emphasizes that it “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. In a 2004 general outline of “The Disengagement Plan,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly states that “there will be no basis for claiming that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory” once Israeli forces and settlers withdraw.

This is an attempt to dilute the perception of Israel as an occupying power and to avoid responsibility for Gaza’s population. Despite physically pulling out of Gaza, Israel maintains “effective control” over the territory. Specifically, it continues to uphold a relentless siege of Gaza’s land, airspace, and territorial waters, which translates into severe limitations on Palestinian economic activity, mobility, and self-determination.

Israeli naval ships frequently open fire on Gaza fishermen who are within the six nautical mile limit imposed by Israel (although 20 miles were allocated in the Oslo Accords). With this limitation, Gaza fishermen are only capable of supplying about 20 percent of the needs of 1.8 million people. Additionally, about 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land lies within the Israeli buffer zone, a “no-go” area where Palestinians, including farmers, are at great risk of being shot and killed.
This chokehold also allows Israel to attack and invade Gaza at any moment with relative ease. In fact, over a six-year span, from 2008 to 2014, the number of Israeli wars on Gaza (three) was greater than the number of Knesset elections held (two).

Within the scope of international law, a number of arguments exist as to whether or not Israel can be classified as an occupier of Gaza. Under the Geneva Conventions, some argue that Gaza is occupied territory as long as it remains non-sovereign, while others argue that this only applies to the invasion of sovereign states, a designation Palestinians never had.
These arguments are essentially questions of terminology and hinge on technicalities. Furthermore, international law itself does not guarantee that sovereign states such as Israel will comply, as there is no formal mechanism to enforce these principles. Dozens of ignored UN resolutions condemning Israel are a testament to this reality.

From an economic and humanitarian standpoint, the average Palestinian civilian does not care about how Israel’s treatment of Gaza is labelled. In any case, Israel’s actions are certainly hostile. Even if the crippling siege and other belligerent policies do not formally qualify as acts of war under international law, in practice they devastate the livelihood and well-being of 1.8 million people. Semantic arguments about the word “occupation” are a distraction from tangible consequences of Israeli aggression toward Gaza and the denial of basic freedoms and rights to its people.

Israel as a “Beacon of Democracy” in the Middle East
When appealing to Americans and others on the international stage, Israel is quick to peddle the claim that it is a liberal democracy and shares many of the same core values cherished by modern societies. Recently, this argument has been exploited to counter the apartheid metaphor that is used to describe Israel.

For example, AIPAC describes Israel as a “unique sanctuary of democracy, freedom and pluralism in the Middle East, protecting its citizens’ rights while upholding the progressive values it shares with America.” This statement is highly misleading, if not outright deceptive, as it applies only to Israel’s eight million citizens. It takes advantage of the concept of statelessness, which is a legal status that is unfamiliar to many American spectators, but applies to millions of Palestinians. Using the word “citizens” implies that this includes all members of the population under Israel’s authority.
However, an additional four and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem are effectively under Israeli control, but as stateless people, they are neither citizens of Israel nor of any other state. This means that a third of the people living in territories that Israel “administers” are not entitled to many of the same fundamental rights and protections that it claims to respect. These people are routinely subjected to restrictions on their movement, unequal access to basic services such as water and electricity, imprisonment without charges, collective punishment, and many other unacceptable violations. Unsurprisingly, AIPAC and other blind supporters of Israel neglect to mention these facts, because doing so would severely undermine Israel’s self-proclaimed status as a liberal democracy.

To make matters worse, the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians who do hold Israeli citizenship face “institutional, legal, and societal discrimination,” as noted in a 2010 US State Department report on human rights. One example of this is the Admissions Committees Law passed in 2011, which allows residents of small towns to prevent individuals “who do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community” from residing in these towns. In practice, this law primarily targets Palestinian citizens of Israel but it can also be used to exclude other marginalized groups such as homosexuals and persons with disabilities. Another example is the “Nakba Law” of 2011, which punishes those who commemorate the Nakba or undermine the “Jewish character” of the state. Promoting laws that essentially entrench ethnic or national segregation and restrict freedom of speech goes directly against the so-called common values that Israel claims to share with liberal democracies.
When trying to legitimize its image as a democratic and inclusive state, Israel also points to the fact that its Arab citizens (again, avoiding use of the term “Palestinian”) are elected as Members of Knesset (MK) and appointed to the country’s highest courts. However, important details about this participation are left out.

One MK described Arabs as “worms,” while another referred to them as “invaders” and “new crusaders.” When voicing opposition to discriminatory policies or condemning Israeli military forces, Palestinian MKs have been branded as traitors and terrorists by their fellow MKs. MK Avigdor Lieberman has even called for the trial and execution of MKs (and Arab citizens) who he feels have shown disloyalty to the state by commemorating the Nakba, for example. He questioned why “no Arab MK sings the national anthem or raises the flag on Independence Day,” yet failed to acknowledge that the anthem itself focuses on Jews, thereby excluding Arabs and other non-Jewish citizens.

A deputy interior minister labelled Palestinian opposition MKs as terrorists and called on them to give up their citizenship. Ironically, he added that they are in a “democratic state,” and that they should respect it. Outspoken Palestinian MK Haneen Zoabi faces frequent verbal abuse by other Israeli MKs, and she was also physically attacked while participating in an election panel.  Such incidents clearly indicate that discrimination and racism reach substantial levels within Israeli institutions as well as the public. 

The Apartheid Connection
In light of these facts, defending the democratic character of Israel becomes very difficult. Yet, many argue that the apartheid analogy does not apply to Israel, since the South African apartheid model was fully intended to be a framework of racial segregation and was enforced through formal legislation. They say that Israel does not have such openly racist laws, therefore apartheid does not apply.

Again, this is an empty, semantical argument.  Even if “apartheid” is an imprecise term to describe the Israeli system, the system is undoubtedly an oppressive one. The fact that the Israeli structure even raises such comparisons should be a concern for anyone serious about issues of human rights. Does it matter that Israel holds free elections, has an independent judiciary, and provides a range of civil and political rights to its citizens, when it simultaneously oppresses and rules over four and a half million people who do not enjoy these rights? Is a system of discrimination acceptable as long as it remains implicitly, rather than explicitly, racist?

Supporters of Israel and others interested in the conflict must ask themselves whether Israel’s behavior is acceptable in today’s world, particularly in the democratic “Western” societies. Would the population of Chicago agree to live under military occupation? Would the citizens of Phoenix endure a total siege? Would it be acceptable for local communities to exclude black residents based on their race, or for 50 priests to issue a ruling forbidding the renting of homes to blacks? Would it be normal for a US congressman/woman to refer to Latinos as invaders or worms? The bottom line is that these things would not be tolerated, and Israel should not be an exception.

Policy vs. Image
However, Israel’s hasbara campaigns have been effective in “explaining” its actions to the world and reinforcing the fallacies behind its positive image. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy comments that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not “hasbarable” because ultimately its policies are unjust and unacceptable. This explains why Israel’s propaganda efforts rely heavily on obscuring key facts, presenting misleading information, and misdirecting audiences away from core issues. By resorting to such deceitful tactics, Israel indirectly recognizes that its policies are too difficult to justify in reality. Logically, why else would it choose a strategy of deception? In fact, the truths of Israel’s establishment and continued existence are so inconvenient that they are also concealed from its own public. This is clear with the depopulated Palestinian villages of 1948, which were physically destroyed and erased from Israeli consciousness, despite being one of the fundamental unresolved issues of the conflict. Until internal and external pressures create overwhelming costs for maintaining the status quo, Israel has no reason to dismantle its apparatus of occupation, oppression, and obfuscation. Until then, Israel’s war of words will continue.

Mohamed Mohamed is the Finance, Grants & Development Associate at The Jerusalem Fund

 The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.

Interview with Author Noga Kadman

On October 16, 2015, the Palestine Center hosted Israeli researcher Noga Kadman as she presented her recent book, Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. Kadman’s presentation focused on different mechanisms used to build the collective memory of Israelis after the 1948 war and aspects of marginalization and erasure of Palestinian villages from Israeli consciousness. She argues that this resulted in a picture for Israelis that theirs is a Jewish country with very little Arab history and geography. Kadman asserts that it is very important for Israelis to see with open eyes what happened in the past in order to take responsibility for the harm that was caused and to move forward.

This interview with Noga Kadman was conducted by the Palestine Center Interns.

What sparked your interest in learning about the ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages of 1948?
I was working for years in human rights organizations in Israel, documenting human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and being introduced to that. I became curious to learn more about the history of the conflict and what happened before the occupation and why there were refugee camps in the West Bank. So this brought me to study more about the conflict and the history, and in addition, traveling in Israel and visiting those places that used to be Palestinian villages, and realizing that these were villages. So I wanted to learn more about this, about the encounter between Israelis and the villages.

What does the average Israeli know about these villages?
Quite a few Israelis know that this was an Arab place or an Arab neighborhood in the cities, but it’s just like a title. It’s not deeply understood what it means, that people used to live here not so long ago and what happened to them. And also the magnitude, how many villages, how many people, what happened to them--we don’t have enough knowledge.

So, it’s a distant history to most Israelis…
It’s not only distant, we didn’t receive enough information to have this knowledge [sink] in and be part of the picture and history.

How is this history taught in most schools, if at all?
When I grew up, it was not taught at all. We studied about ‘48, about what we called the “war of independence” and also about the war of ‘67, but we studied just the military aspect of it, and what army came from here and here; nothing about refugees and occupation and all that. Now, it’s changing in the last twenty years. It depends on the schools and the teachers, but there are textbooks that mention it or refer to it and try to make a more balanced view of history. But it’s still marginal and controversial, so in school, you still don’t learn a balanced view of history.

What is it like working at an Israeli human rights organization in a society that is increasingly right-wing?
It’s not easy because many people who work in human rights work for their own oppressed society. But in this case, it is the opposite: we work for another people that our country oppresses. But to many people in our own country, we are perceived as traitors by helping the enemy who wants to kill us. So it’s difficult in many ways: you both encounter very difficult stories and situations of what happens to the Palestinian, and you feel you are responsible in a way because you are part of this country; and you also have constant struggles and discomfort in your own society.

Do you find a good deal of support from fellow Israelis?
Yes, there is. There are many, many groups, human rights groups, political groups, who try to work for the Palestinian cause in this way or another. There is a lot of that, but in general, it is not the mainstream. The mainstream are people that have a good heart. They are not aware or they are dealing with their own things, they have their own prejudices and it is difficult. I often avoid saying what I do. I just say I work in research and writing, a social justice organization, something more general. Or I say I work for ACRI, an organization for civil rights in Israel, which is true, I work with them sometimes, but they also deal with rights to medical care for Israelis. That sounds less controversial.

Many of the Jewish voices in your book offer a deeply sympathetic and remorseful perspective on settling depopulated Arab villages. Why is this, and why are their voices significant to understanding the depopulation and the subsequent repopulation of Palestine?
The people themselves, the Jewish refugees that came, they didn’t chose the situation to live in a house of someone who lost the house. They also lost houses, and many of them - I don’t know how many - but some refused to receive empty houses of Palestinians. They said, “This happened to us, we cannot do it to others.” But many, they didn’t have much choice. They were offered an Arab house, and yes some felt discomfort in this way or another but generally after the years, they accepted that ...this is the reality, this is the inevitable, “We have to defend ourselves, this is a conflict and if it is not us living in their houses, they would live in our houses and we would be somewhere else.”

And with the first wave of immigrants, you mention the systematic erasing. How was this done to the children of the immigrants who were now living in these new homes and maybe were not aware of the memory that existed?
They all know that this place used to be an Arab village before. They mention it in their [the immigrants’] publications. It’s a well-known fact. I also grew up in Jerusalem, in a Palestinian neighborhood and we knew it’s an Arab place, but nothing went beyond this. It is just a title. You don’t really understand what it means and you don’t talk about the people themselves and where they are and what happened to them in ‘48. And you know the history of the place, it was Arab and it was also Roman before and now we are here and we don’t think much about what happened there before.

It’s not something that the [first generation’s] parents would talk about with their kids? Or was it something that they dealt with internally?
The first generation who came, they sometimes dealt with it [the difficulty of living in formerly Palestinian homes] but I found that in most places they didn't deal with it. In some places, they dealt with it a lot. But also the first settlers, the first generation, they were struggling very hard for their own survival, to build their home in a new place. It was very usually ruined [from the war] and very difficult to live in so they didn’t always deal with the moral issue sometimes but that was a thing with the first generation. Later on, the second and third generation don’t deal with it really because they didn’t encounter the houses with the [Palestinian] property inside and sometimes the refugees themselves. The houses they live in, it’s not really a reminder, a concrete reminder of the refugees [for the second and third generations].

Could you discuss the role of national parks and state-owned spaces in the continued erasure of Palestinian villages?
The physical erasure was completed pretty early on, but then there were changes in landscapes sometimes covering the ruins by planting trees on them, making them into recreational parks and forests. And national parks were declared in many places where there used to be Palestinian villages because those villages sometimes were sitting on places that were more ancient than the national park was going to preserve. In those places, sometimes the important past is considered ancient past, and sometimes what is more new, like the [Palestinian] village, was not considered important. Many times, the buildings of the village were erased so you can excavate the more ancient layers. And also the information that is given to tourists in these places focuses on the more ancient history and sometimes ignores the village information and it is very partial. Sometimes they mention a building but they skip the history of the village. They will mention “Ottoman” but not mention Palestinian.

The Jewish National Fund [and other state and non-state funded groups] will plant non-indigenous plants in these public parks. Why is that? Why non-indigenous?
They began planting trees since the beginning of the 18th century. At first they began planting to make it seem more European, to make it look like a forest they were familiar with. So it was mostly pine trees, lots of them. But in the last twenty years, they realized that for environmental reasons, it was not so good, it would not survive well, it will not last storms. Pine trees are very weak and they don’t allow other plants to grow under them. So now they’re trying to make a variety, to plant local species, and some pines, too. There are some native pines in Israel, too, but the ones they planted are not native. In many places, it totally changed the landscape. There are places that are covered with pine trees... even in the desert. The biggest Jewish National Fund park is in the desert, in north Be’er Sheva.

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