Zochrot, or "remembering" in the English language, is an organization working to engage the Israeli and Palestinian populations in a the recounting of historical facts to both acknowledge and honor the painful histories of the Jewish and Palestinian people.
We met with Zochrot member Tamara Avraham and human rights activist, Yacoub Odeh for tea at the Jerusalem hotel. Both work to raise awareness that the Israeli narrative of its history is not entirely accurate. Currently underway, is a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to erase the sins of its past.
One such example is the story of Canada Park.
The park, built on the ruins of three Palestinian villages has become a natural haven for Israelis and one more slight for Palestinians who were forced to flee during the six day war in 1967. According to Ha'aretz,
Historians who are very critical of the Zionist movement, such as Dr. Ilan Pappe, claim that disregarding the existence of Palestinian villages is part of a deliberate effort to erase their history in favor of creating a new one that suits the Zionist narrative of a country that was barren, and only flourished thanks to groups like the JNF. In a study he published, Pappe analyzes the information that JNF provides on several sites, including the Biria Forest, the Jerusalem Forest, the area of Ramat Menashe and the Sataf site near Jerusalem. "The Palestinian orchards are presented as a product of nature, and the history of Palestine is relocated to the period of the Bible and the Talmud," he writes in his discussion of the site of the village of Ein Zeitun in the Biria Forest.
Pappe also points out that the JNF publishes information about unique sites in the Jerusalem Forest and Sataf that testify to the extensive agricultural activity in the region. The information emphasizes the presence of terraces, describing them as ancient, even if they were built and maintained by Palestinian villages.
A recent study conducted by Noga Kadman (as part of her studies in the Department of Peace and Development Research at Goteborg University in Sweden, under the tutelage of Prof. Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), found about 86 Palestinian villages inside the JNF forests - sites she describes as "emptied." Most of the sites have directional signs, but only 15 percent of them mention the villages by their Arab name. Most of the pamphlets and brochures do not even mention the villages. And in half of the literature where the villages are mentioned, the fact that their inhabitants were Arabs is elided. Only in one case did it say how many people lived in the village, and only in isolated instances is there any discussion of the lives of the inhabitants.
"In most cases, the fact that the villages ceased to exist is not specifically mentioned," writes Kadman. "This can be concluded from the text regarding most of the villages, which are called 'abandoned,' and are described as ruins or remains, or mentioned in the past tense."
When we finished our meeting, Yacoub took us to the village where he was born and spent his childhood. The tour of Lifta was just as sad as it was enlightening. Yacoub recounted childhood memories of family gatherings, chores for his mother, and play with friends.
As he relates his story to us, the cracks in his voice tell of the sadness his words cannot. His family's expulsion from Lifta was both quick and unexpected. Like many Palestinians who were forced to flee in order to escape the violence, they took only the key to their homes and little else.
Years later, the area is littered with tears and trash as well as new plans for construction.
In opposition to these plans, Zochrot points out,
The Palestinian village of Lifta existed adjacent to Jerusalem until 1948, when it was overtaken by the Israeli Defense Forces. Its residents were forced to leave the village and find refuge in Jerusalem, in various cities in the West Bank and in other countries. At the core of the village there remain a few tens of houses and a water well, and this area is a unique corner in the Jerusalem landscape. The village was not repopulated by Jews — as compared, for example, to Ein Karem, Ein Hod and other villages — and therefore an implicit relationship of respect toward the Palestinian residents of Lifta has been established. When Jews repopulated the abovementioned villages, historical events were presented in such a way as to make it appear that the Palestinian residents had freely and willingly abandoned their villages. This physical and cultural reconstruction of the past obscures the reality of the pain and the depth Palestinian refugee problem, which stands as the primary obstacle to reconciliation between the two nations.
And further argues,
We are concerned that if the building plan is carried out and Lifta is repopulated, these actions will further enforce the trauma experienced by the Lifta residents who were uprooted in 1948, and will embody a painful reminder to Palestinians, both in and outside of Israel, of the Nakba inscribed in their collective consciousness. The Or Commission, which investigated the factors leading up to the violence of October 2000, observed that for Arabs in Israel, "The establishment of the State of Israel, which the Jewish people celebrated as the materialization of the dream of generations, entails in their historical memory the most painful collective trauma in its history – the Nakba." In his testimony before the commission, Alik Ron, OC Northern District during the events of October 2000, related to the deep roots of the rage felt by Arabs in this country: "Over the years the sense of the tragedy, of the loss of homes and the loss of land, has not diminished… They experienced a tragedy. [Some] refugees who were uprooted… stayed inside the State, and this sense of loss has not diminished, has not faded, and follows them to this day."
Recently, much attention has been paid to the initiative of Arabs in Israel to visit the extermination camps in Poland in order to better understand the roots of Jewish suffering and the impact of the trauma of the Holocaust in Europe on Israeli Jews. Building on the remains of the village of Lifta will demonstrate to the Arab public that Jews choose not to return the gesture of respect to Arab history and the Arab tragedy. Instead of understanding, respecting, and preserving the memory of the Arab past in this country, the abovementioned building plan will efface the existing traces of the village of Lifta.
Walking through the village with one of Lifta's former residents is an experience that will stay with me forever. It brings to mind the importance of remembering all of our histories – this is truly our only means of avoiding the mistakes of the past.