Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom
Nakba Day 2014: On a tour led by village member and Zochrot staff Umar Ighbariyeh, together with several WAS-NS members from Lydda, we visited what remains of the Palestinian city. The old city center today consists of a number of old stone houses and public buildings, empty lots long since cleared of rubble from the town’s destruction, and the characterless blocks of flats that have sprung up since 1948. A new extension of Airport City has begun to intrude into the city’s derelict open areas, and recent years have also seen the arrival of right wing religious Jewish settlers. The majority of the Palestinian residents who today inhabit Lydda have no historical links with the town, having been brought there by Israeli authorities - sometimes in return for cooperation with state security forces. The modern town is known for tense relations between Jews and Arabs, a high crime rate, drug trafficking and other problems.
From Umar and our Lyddites we heard testimony at various sites: a sabeel (well-house), the ruined khan (caravanserai), the church of St. George (where the saint is reputedly buried), the mosque, the market area, and the home of Umm Hamed Burghal (a local woman now in her 80s), who spoke of her memories from 1948.
The stories we heard brought back the pain and horror of those days in July 1948 when a Palmach force entered the town in what was known as "Operation Danny". The 30,000+ residents were sheltering another 20,000+ refugees evacuated from nearby towns. The aim of the Jewish forces was mainly to scare the residents to evacuate and flee towards the east. The operation succeeded, and the town was emptied of all but approximately 1,000 residents, who were held in a fenced in area known as the "ghetto". Aspir Munayer (father of village members Rita and Lily), in his book about the events, estimates that the number of Palestinian casualties during battles in the area was about 1,500. More than 300 (a number similarly mentioned by historian Benny Morris) died along their long march to Jordan, partly due to the prevailing hot and dry conditions.
WAS-NS members then engaged in discussion. Many, including those who said they thought they had already "heard everything" expressed shock at the gruesome events that took place during the evacuation of Lydda, as described by local residents and confirmed by the testimony of the soldiers.
Many of the community members focused on the fact that, due to a "conspiracy of silence", what took place in Lydda and similar places remains largely unknown to most Israelis. It is not taught in school and has not become a part of the national discourse. As a number of the residents noted, "it is impossible to take responsibility without awareness. Yet without taking such responsibility, it will be impossible to build good relations between the two peoples". "Real reconciliation has to be based on recognition," they said. Others pointed out that the same "dehumanization of the enemy" continues unabated today, and that this in turn makes similar events possible.
Umar, in summarizing the day, said that we need to understand the events of 1948 not as the individual acts of soldiers, but as a systematic policy determined by the leaders: the events were therefore "an action of Zionism". He expressed the opinion that "we have a responsibility, as a community, to help to expose the truth about what happened, to Israeli society".