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Memory and recognition

September 2003, by Dorit Shippin, Dyana Shalufi-Rizek

All the versions of this article: [عربي] [English] [עברית]

Saturday June 7: Some 150 people met in the auditorium of NSWAS in order to mark 36 years of occupation of Palestinian land since the Six Day War, as it is called by Israelis or “Naksa ’67” as it is called by Palestinians. The activity focussed on the tragic events that took place very close to here: the destruction of Imwas (Emmaus), Yalu and Beit Nuba villages, and the forced deportation of all of their inhabitants.

Three organisations took part:

The Association For Reconstruction Of Emmaus, a Palestinian organisation, works for recognition of the crime and its redemption by the return of the refugees to their villages and lands.

Remembrance (Zochrot), an Israeli association , works to bring recognition for the wrong caused by Israel and its institutions to the Palestinian people. The association conducts activities such as creating commemorative signs at ruined villages, studying and translating into Hebrew the history and geography of the Nakba, constructing a database and cartography of the Nakba, and developing educational materials.

Doumia Sakinah, the Pluralistic Spiritual Centre of NSWAS, acts to advance the objectives of the community by creating a framework of spiritual and cultural activities to promote listening, understanding and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.

Background

While the government is hard at work building a separation wall between the two peoples, we Jews and Arabs have chosen to work for remembrance of the Nakba (the catastrophe) to the Palestinian people. We call for justice for the refugees and the dispossessed, for reconciliation and for the establishment of peace and equality.

We have chosen to focus on the three ruined villages at Latrun: to tell their story and place markers where they stood, because what happened to them epitomizes Israel’s policy of denying the destruction and the willful obliteration of all record of the Palestinian population. This is highly conspicuous in Canada Park – where a recreation area was created over the rubble of razed villages. The thousands of picnickers and holiday makers who visit each year are directed by signs and markers to well preserved specimens of settlement from the Roman era, while no mention is made of the three flourishing villages which existed there within the lifetimes of many of the visitors.

The Day’s Activities

The day was divided into two parts. First, in NSWAS, the presentation of verbal and photographic testimony by witnesses to the destruction: Palestinian refugees who once lived in these villages, and Israelis who had been present at the time. Second, a field trip to the site of the villages now in the Canada Park. There, at a place that was once the centre of Yalu village, we placed yellow markers bearing vital statistics of the village before the 1967 destruction.

Part 1

Diana Shalufi – Rizek and Dorit Shippin of NSWAS opened the day’s events. Dorit’s description:

“The representatives from the three villages arrived just as we were making the final preparations in the Auditorium. They had come by car from the place in which they now live, near Ramallah in the West Bank. Although this would normally be a journey of half an hour, they had driven on dirt roads for four hours to avoid the army checkpoints where they would certainly have been turned back. We were therefore relieved and happy that they had managed to come, and it was obvious that they were very moved too.

Gradually the auditorium filled with a large number of people. Some of these were already involved in the activities on behalf of the villages. Some were members of nearby Kibbutz Nachshon, which had protested the destruction of the villages, and there were also some monks from the neighbouring abbey at Latrun. After words of introduction by the organizers, representatives of the the villages were called upon to tell their stories. Taghrid Shbeta expertly translated each presentation from Arabic to Hebrew and vice versa.

The first speaker was Mr. Nihad Abu Ghosh, a native of Imwas village. While in his thirties, Nihad had been principal of the high school that served Yalu, Beit Nuba and Imwas. Today he chairs the Committee of the Three Villages.
Nihad began by apologizing that he could not invite all of us to sit with him for coffee in his home at Imwas. In his words, he poignantly conveyed his deep sorrow for the former villagers, whose homes were razed even while they were making their long exodus on foot through the hills. “If peace will come to this land, it must be a just peace. Real peace must be based on mutual recognition and the right of both peoples to live in this land, one beside the other.”

Afterwards, he turned to the members of Kibbutz Nachshon who before 1967 had been his neighbours: “You can vouch that we were good neighbours – can you tell how we came to deserve this?”

The second representative of the three villages was Mr. Ahmad Abu Elrob, formerly of Yalu village, now an active member of the Committee. “People lost everything they had, and Israel turned their lands into a nature reserve.”
He added that the nostalgia for their village would not die with the passing of his generation – it was passed on to live in the hearts of the children of the refugees. These same children, he said, imbibed not only the longing to return to their village, but also the wish to live in peace. Ahmad appealed to the audience to help return the villages to their rightful inhabitants and to set the matter right through the exercise of justice.

A third representative of the Committee, Mr. Ismail Zaid, was from this second generation of which Ahmad spoke. He recalled the stories his father told of their village, Beit Nuba: of the dances and songs at the time of the olive harvest and the womenfolk in their frocks embroidered with coloured silken threads. Ismail too spoke of his longing to return to his village, and to live in peace on his lands.

Testimony from the other side we hear from Amos Keinan who took part in the occupation of the three villages and in the deportation of the residents, as a soldier in the Israeli army.

Keinan told of the peace circle in which he participated in Paris, of Jews and Palestinians who held anti-imperialist positions and were in favour of peace. The circle was founded by the philosopher Henri Courier.

After a short introduction, Keinan read his report which he wrote on June 10 1967. This report can be found here

Nihad Abu Ghosh of Imwas was so affected by the memories stirred up by this report that he broke in spontaneously and, with tears in his eyes, recalled those difficult moments: “I was only 31 then. I remember that we were ordered to move immediately, just as we were, without being able to take anything, not even shoes. Old people were buried under the rubble. There were no soldiers among us and we did not succeed to protect our houses”.

After a short break, we moved to another hall to see a slide show by the photographer Yosef Hochmann. In 1967 Yosef Hochmann had been a member of Kibbutz Harel. A few days before the war some sheep had been stolen from the kibbutz. Since they had heard that the area had been captured some members of the kibbutz decided to go by jeep and look for the sheep in Imwas. Yosef joined them with a camera and returned also the next day. Although the sheep were never found, he managed to document the occupation, the destruction and the deportation.

Yosef presented and commented on his slides, and answered questions. The pictures were stronger than any description. In some of them the villages were seen before the destruction. Lovely stone houses, gardens with fruit trees and decorative trees. Some of the pictures captured the bulldozers already in the process of demolishing the village houses. Others showed the refugees: long lines of people – women, children, old men. One of the children carried a white flag.

These photos may be seen here.

Part 2

After a short break all were invited to travel to the site of the three villages. In a long convoy of cars we proceeded to the Canada Park. The lands of Imwas reached almost to the abbey at Latrun. The Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway, under whose overpass we traveled, cut through Imwas itself. After we passed by the village cemetery, we entered the park, which was created with donations from Canadian Jews, who apparently were unaware of the painful history of the place. Some years ago, Canadian TV made a documentary film on the subject, and the resulting uproar led to a formal request to change the name of the park (now known officially as the Ayalon Park).

We continued on a narrow road through the park. The well-worn curb stones that could occasionally be seen along its side showed that this had been a road in use since ancient times. This road had once linked the villages to Ramallah. Further along we passed a high point with a magnificent view over the old orchards of Beit Nuba and the settlement of Mevo Horon that was built on its lands. Eventually we arrived at a place where we were greeted by a large sign, in Arabic and Hebrew: “Welcome to the centre of Yalu village”. We stood there between the grape vines, pomegranate, almond and fig trees, by a palm tree that rose to some 20 meters. The clusters of dates that hung from it swayed in the breeze. In the fading late afternoon sun, from an improvised stage formed by the raised platform of the old village well, we heard additional testimony from two former residents of the villages, who prior to 1967 and till today, have worked for the Latrun abbey. One of these was Abdelfatah Halil and the other was Ahmad Ali Abu Samra.

A member of NSWAS, Michal Zak, also spoke about the importance of recognizing the Palestinians’ right of return, on the need to change racist positions that refuse to acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to live beside the Jews as citizens with equal rights, on the need to acknowledge the wrong that was done, and to initiate discussion on the right of return within Jewish Israeli society. In the existence of all these, Michal said, we will begin a process based on justice and rectification, and contribute to making Israeli society more moral, just and egalitarian.

The last speaker was Dr. Zoheir Sabag – a sociologist and lecturer at Birzeit university. Dr. Sabag shared with us the experience that he and his family, who live in the occupied territories, undergo each day, on the difficulties of movement from place to place, on the humiliation at the checkpoints and the presence of the army at the gates of the university, and sometimes even on campus. Afterwards he gave a brief historical overview of the policy of ethnic cleansing, as he called it, that has been taking place in the region from the early 20th century until today, and the resemblance between it and similar phenomena elsewhere. Dr. Sabag remarked on the importance of recognizing these events in order to prevent their repetition In the future. He quoted from his research on Zionist history: Arieh Yitzchaki reports on 110 massacres during the battles of 1948, of which 20 involved the killing of more than 50 persons and 90 others of more than 10 persons. The historian Benny Morris reports that 370 Palestinian villages were destroyed (while others claim more than 400). They were destroyed in order to deny the residents the possibility of return. Such obliteration of native peoples takes place under many colonialist regimes. Israeli policy is to efface the existence of the Palestinians, rather than encourage a situation in which the two peoples can live together.

The final event was to leave markers in the area. The large steel that had been prepared in advance gave the name of each village and some details of its habitation. Post holes were dug, and water brought from the well in order to prepare the concrete. Additional signs were placed in the cemeteries of Imwas and Yalu.

The signs remained in place for about two days before being removed by workers of the Jewish National Fund. In response to a question by Eitan of “Zochrot” why dozens of improvised signs by the sides of the roads are not removed, the answer was, “political signs are something else.”

And the official sign that commemorates a Roman bath house, while ignoring the fact that it stands in the middle of Imwas’ cemetery - isn’t this also political?” “That sign is legal”, was the response.

The testimony in the area has been removed, but the story of our event, and the dark chapter in history that it commemorates, will be remembered. Those who read about it will become witnesses too, and will join the people of the villages, their offspring in remembering the houses, the orchards and springs of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba.

While we were working on the planning for the event, we saw the brochures published by the Jewish National Fund on the park. Since here too there is a deliberate ignoring of the existence of the three villages till June 1967, we decided to produce an alternative brochure that would contain the missing material. The brochure (see photos at top of this page) is in Hebrew and Arabic and can be ordered from doumia-sakinah@nswas.org or by telephone at: tel: +972 2991222#103.

— 
Postscript:
- Another report of the event can be found at the Zochrot website.
- Article in Haaretz quoted at the Zochrot website.
- Update: April, 2006 (from Zochrot):

"Yesterday, the JNF workers posted two new signs in Canada Park, marking the villages of Imwas and Yalu which existed in the same location until the war of 1967.
The signs mention the number of inhabitants in each village and where are their refugees live today.
These signs are the result of a long struggle which Zochrot conducted with the civil administration of the occupation and the JNF.

At first, the JNF refused to Zochrot’s proposal to put the signs herself by saying that "the JNF does not involve itself in political matters". Zochrot approached the civil administration which is the legal body which control the area occupied in the 1967 war but was ignored for a long time.

Then, through the attorney Michale Sfared, Zochrot petitioned to the high court of justice, and only then did the JNF and the military authorities responded to the demand to post the signs, by saying that they will post them themselves thus making the petition redundant.

Only yesterday, under the threat to meet in court, set for the 5th of April were the signs posted in the park. In this link you can see the pictures and get to further information about this struggle.
Zochrot wishes to thank Michael Sfared for his superb services and to the donating funds of the MCC, the Global Ministries and Hella Langer which enabled the legal struggle. We believe that this is a beginning for the possibility to officially mark Palestinian destroyed locations by the Israeli state authorities:

Photos at :
http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?id=408 "

Portfolio

Heb/Arab brochure (side 2) Heb/Arab brochure (side 1) Dorit Shippin (l), Diana Shalufi-Rizek (r) Map of the three villages Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot Nihad Abu Ghosh Amos Keinan The audience Convoy to Canada Park "Welcome to the center of Yalu village" Speeches from Yalu's well The gathering in Yalu Dr. Zoheir Sabag Signs posted in Yalu The photographer Yosef Hochmann Ismail Zaid Ahmad Abu Elrob The road to Yalu village Michal Zak Ahmad Ali Abu Samra (l), Taghrid Shbeta (r) Abdelfatah Halil "Yalu cemetery" Mevo Horon settlement - site of Beit Nuba The Latrun interchange - on Imwas lands picknickers in Canada Park Jewish Nat. Fund sign Entrance to the (renamed) Canada Park

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