at camp al awda with kids from ibdaa cultural center at deheishe refugee camp a couple of weeks ago we realized, too late, that we made a big mistake with at least one of the villages we took the youth to. instead of taking kids to بيت عطاب (or beit ‘itab) we took them to deir al hawa instead. part of the mistake is somewhat understandable. although we were using salman abu sitta’s amazing book, the return journey, as our guide, it is extra challenging to find the remains of a palestinian village that was ethnically cleansed when one must do this in land that was forested over by the zionist terrorist colonists. this particular forest, “the american independence national park” contains at least twelve ethnically cleansed villages whose residents and their descendants now reside in deheishe refugee camp among other refugee camps. the map above is one that the zionist terrorist colonists give out at its information center of the so-called national park. the interesting thing about the map is that it identifies the names of several palestinian villages like beit ‘itab, however, it does not identify them as palestinian.
one of the ways one has to find palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed is to look for the zionist terrorist colonies now occupying the land. and even in this national forest there are such colonies. one of them is nes harim, which is where we parked our car. i brought three youth back to the village who were the youth leaders we smuggled out to help us run the camp. because they are older than 15 years and already have identity cards it was especially dangerous for me to smuggle them out. too, it is far more difficult to smuggle out men and boys than women and girls. so we took a risk and did it one more time two days ago. we drove until we saw the sign for nes harim colony, which if you notice in the picture above has stickers over the arabic. this is a common phenomenon in historic palestine because the racist colonists actively work to conceal the arab character of this land. incidentally, jonathan cook reported for electronic intifada on a more official, state practice emerging that will remove the original arabic names from street signs altogether:
Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced this week that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardized,” converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew name.
Currently, road signs include the place name as it is traditionally rendered in all three languages.
Under the new scheme, the Arab identity of important Palestinian communities will be obscured: Jerusalem, or “al-Quds” in Arabic, will be Hebraized to “Yerushalayim”; Nazareth, or “al-Nasra” in Arabic, the city of Jesus’s childhood, will become “Natzrat”; and Jaffa, the port city after which Palestine’s oranges were named, will be “Yafo.”
Arab leaders are concerned that Katz’s plan offers a foretaste of the demand by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Mohammed Sabih, a senior official at the Arab League, called the initiative “racist and dangerous.”
“This decision comes in the framework of a series of steps in Israel aimed at implementing the ‘Jewish State’ slogan on the ground.”
Palestinians in Israel and Jerusalem, meanwhile, have responded with alarm to a policy they believe is designed to make them ever less visible.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in the Israeli parliament, said: “Minister Katz is mistaken if he thinks that changing a few words can erase the existence of the Arab people or their connection to Israel.”
The transport ministry has made little effort to conceal the political motivation behind its policy of Hebraizing road signs.
In announcing the move on Monday, Katz, a hawkish member of Likud, Netanyahu’s right-wing party, said he objected to Palestinians using the names of communities that existed before Israel’s establishment in 1948.
“I will not allow that on our signs,” he said. “This government, and certainly this minister, will not allow anyone to turn Jewish Jerusalem into Palestinian al-Quds.”
Other Israeli officials have played down the political significance of Katz’s decision. A transport department spokesman, Yeshaayahu Ronen, said: “The lack of uniform spelling on signs has been a problem for those speaking foreign languages, citizens and tourists alike.”
while the racist nature of this new project of the zionist entity may seem new, it isn’t. there are many signs throughout 1948 palestine that only have hebrew, for instance. signs indicating the new zionist terrorist colonies where original palestinian villages used to be–like beit itab–only carry an arabic transliteration of the hebrew re-naming of the stolen land. so you can see the arabic in the sign pictured above peaking out from the other end of the sticker which shows the colony’s name not the palestinian village’s name.
in beit ‘itab the layers of erasure are even more striking. there are signs all over this so-called national park indicating the various touristic things one should hike to and look at. while palestinian names are used (as in the photo above where the youth point to their village’s name in arabic), the zionist entity has done all it can to elide thousands of years of history on this land, a history which the buildings and trees eclipse. and indeed we saw many remains from a water well to fig trees to cacti and olive trees attesting to the palestinian presence on this land.
the photograph below and above shows one of the signs that is trying to erase palestinian people and their history from beit ‘itab. while it acknowledges that these ruins exist, and that they are relatively recent ruins–from the 1830s, a date which they get wrong–they mention only the crusaders (another foreign entity that occupied palestinian land) and not the people whose labor and love built the homes pictured here. reading walid khalidi’s all that remains gives us a far more accurate view of the village:
The village stood on a high mountain, overlooking some lower mountain peaks below. Its lands extended southwest as far as Wadi al-Maghara. Several springs around the village provided drinking and irrigation water. A secondary road linked Bayt ‘Itab to the Bayt Jibrin-Bethlehem road that ran about 3 km to the south. Bayt ‘Itab is identified with Enadab, which appears in the list of Palestinian towns that was compiled by the fourth century A.D. historian Eusebius.The Crusaders knew it as Bethahatap. Edward Robinson visited the village in 1838 and described its stone houses as solidly built. Several houses had two storeys, and in the center of the village were the ruins of a crusader castle. (274)
if you compare the sign to khalidi’s book, or even to robinson’s book, you will realize that the zionist terrorist colonists attempting to re-write history are using robinson’s dates as if to say the village begins when the white man comes and notices it exists (this is akin to saying christopher columbus “discovered” america). khalidi gives us a sense of what the people’s lives were like in that village as well, which of course, is not acknowledged by the zionist entity’s sign because that would be to admit there were not just homes and structures but real live people who built and lived in them:
In the late nineteenth century, Bayt ‘Itab was a village built of stone, perched on a rocky knoll that rose 60 to 100 feet above the surrounding hilly ridge. Its population in 1875 was approximately 700. The villagers, who were Muslim, cultivated olive trees on terraces to the north. A large cavern–eighteen feed wide and six feet high–ran beneath the houses. The original layout of the village was circular, but new construction to the southwest (along the road that led to the neighboring village of Sufla) gave it the shape of an arc. Most of its houses were built of stone. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood. The village lands were planted in grain, grapes, olive trees, and other fruit trees. In addition, the residents owned extensive areas on the coastal plain that also were planted in grain. During the [British] Mandate, some village lands were expropriated to make a large, government-owned woodland. The villagers also engaged in livestock breeding. Crops were rainfed and irrigated from springs. In 1944/45 a total of 1,400 dunums was allocated to cereals; 665 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards, of which 116 dunums were planted with olive trees The village contained the ruins of an old Crusader fortress. (275)
that is the life that the zionist terrorist colonists destroyed and here is what khalidi says about it:
Bayt ‘Itab was one of a string of villages in the Jerusalem corridor that was captured following the second truce of the war. Israeli historian Benny Morris writes that it was occupied on 21 October 1948, during Operation ha-Har. The operation was complementary to Operation Yo’av, a simultaneous offensive on the southern front that aimed at thrusting southwards into the Negev. (275)
the above, of course, is a militaristic description of an nakba experienced by the palestinians from beit ‘itab. merely addressing this history is in the process of being criminalized in the zionist entity’s usurping government:
The bill, proposed by a legislator from the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, would withhold government money from any state-supported institutions that fund activity deemed detrimental to the state.
Such activity includes “rejecting Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people” and supporting “armed struggle or terrorist acts” against Israel.
A ministerial committee approved the bill, clearing the way for its presentation to parliament for future debate and voting.
to get to the village we had to hike quite a bit from the road where the entrance to the colony and park are. it took us about an hour and a half to climb up the mountain. it was super hot and we did not bring enough water with us and i think i had borderline heat stroke. at the top of the mountain the fruit on the fig trees was not quite ripe, but i tried to eat a few anyway just for the sake of getting something inside me to cool down. then i found a cactus with sabr fruit on it and decided i’d try that since it’s juicier. i broke one apart with a stone and then carefully tried to peel it back, trying to avoid any of the thorns. little did i know how difficult this would prove to be. not only did i get my hands covered in these hard-to-see little hairy thorns, but i also got them in my lips and on my tongue. this lasted until the next day. when we hiked back down the mountain we found one of the village springs where we drank the most amazing tasting water. i was so refreshed.
the palestinian houses that remain in beit ‘itab testify to the palestinian people, to their presence on this land, and to their right to return to it. this is why i take palestinian refugees to their land: to see it, to know it, to fight for their right to it. i wish i could have a full-time job doing this. i would make signs and paint them on the car saying سيارة العودة. i would spend all day doing this from all the refugee camps. we could make it a widespread movement to get palestinian teachers to circumvent the palestinian authority’s curriculum so that palestinians could actually learn their own history. they could use that history to fight for their rights. they could learn about their legal rights, think creatively about how to implement and take back what belongs to them.
the shebab wanted to go for a swim at the beach in yaffa after we finished exploring their village. we drove to the beach and saw the palestinian cemetery in yaffa, which is next to the so-called “peres peace center.” peres, of course, is a notorious war criminal and this center named after him is on stolen land. but the cemetery was striking. it shows how the zionist terrorist colonists will not even let palestinians rest in peace after they die. it was totally vandalized and not only were there very few headstones left in tact, many of the tombs themselves were destroyed. you could see some places where some palestinians have tried to put the pieces back together, but it is difficult to find any marked grave that contains all the information about who is buried there.
they swam and i watched the sunset. it was a glorious sunset. i took them to yaffa to swim, but i want to be clear that taking palestinian refugees to any place that is no occupied by the zionist entity is a political act for me to help them feel connected to their land and to fight to take it back. this is in contradistinction to the zionist terrorist colonists who stand and watch (and do nothing i might add) at checkpoints, otherwise known as machsom watch, and who think that all palestinians need or want is a “fun” day at the beach, even if that is the child’s own wish:
Israeli media report that 15-year-old Ahmad’s only wish was to go to the sea, but that his permit request was turned down by the military. Ahmad lives in the West Bank village of Burin, close to the city of Nablus, and has never in his life even seen the sea. In his daily life Ahmad work as a bottled-water and candy vendor at Huwarra checkpoint. Machsom Watch is convinced that the army’s decision was made without explanation or reason and set away the army’s security reasons as nonsense. “This is a 15-year-old boy, what could he possibly do?” a source said. The organization said they have known the boy for many years now. “We can testify, beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has never been part of any security incident, including throwing stones,” according to the organization’s spokeswoman Raiya Yaron. Machsom Watch sent out a petition for Ahmed. The petition has since then touched the hearts of many, among them two famous Israeli actors. This is the third time Machsom Watch holds a day of recreational activities for around 50 Palestinian children and youth from the area of Nablus, in the northern West Bank. The plan is to take the children to the beach, where they will get the chance to swim in the sea for the first time in their lives after which they will return to the West Bank on the same day. Just like Ahmad, most children in and around Nablus have never been to the sea and state this as their biggest dream. When asked, nearly all, children say that swimming is their favorite hobby, only to admit immediately after, that they don’t even know how to swim.
yes, they should know how to swim and they should be free to swim in their sea whenever they want to. but the zionist terrorist colonists, including those in machsom watch, are occupying their land. but they want to relieve their guilty consciences or some such thing and so they seem to think that spending the day at the beach with palestinian children, which forces the children to normalize with their colonizing occupying terrorists.
and after all this we still had not eaten. so we got in the car and drove another 1.5 hours north to akka for some palestinian fish. we ate dinner and then went to another place to smoke argilla on the sea. and then we walked around the old city where i noticed new american and zionist terrorist colonizing schemes in the old city (see photos below).
we didn’t leave the old city until around 3 am. i drove all night and as we reached the checkpoint to come home the sun was rising and there was an amazingly beautiful layer of fog on the hilltop (see below). but the hardest part was taking the shebab home. while i think it is important, and i know that this trip was intensely meaningful to them, it kills me to have to take them back to the camp when their village exists. when so much of it remains unused. but, of course, their right of return is not just to their houses, but to the open space of their entire country. to the sea. to the borders–all the borders. but this is why i do this and why i believe and i hope and i will fight until my last breath for the right of return for all palestinian refugees.