The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba: searching for the shadows of ancestors in British Park

During my last days exploring, searching, the ghosts of former residents of the destroyed towns and villages call out to me, Skip, we are still here. Tho expelled, please feel our presence. See us, show us, help us regain our basic human rights. We want to go home! We have a right to our homes and lands!

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now make plans to return in spring, 2022.

PHOTOS

Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

Amad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents recording the atrocities of the Nakba

July 7, 2019, Sunday, Jaffa, Israel, Old Jaffa Hostel

During my last days exploring, searching, the ghosts of former residents of the destroyed towns and villages call out to me, Skip, we are still here. Tho expelled, please feel our presence. See us, show us, help us regain our basic human rights. We want to go home! We have a right to our homes and lands!

For my next trip to explore destroyed Palestinian sites now in Israel I plan to set a clearer itinerary, estimate better the sequence of my search, where I’ll be, doing what, and book stay housing (homes) in advance (so I myself, the wandering explorer, has a home for the night). The need for overnight housing distracts me. How long should I continue the search today, how far should I travel? Booking in advance—especially not thru Airbnb which caused me so much anxiety in Ramla (still not resolved, my request for a refund. any response at all from Airbnb or my host, to whom I’ paid a deposit)—I am clear. This might restrict me somewhat in my explorations but overall the tradeoff could be useful.

Yesterday [July 6, 2019] I believe I found the following sites: Beit Nabala near Ben Gurion airport and Lydda, Kafr ‘Ana near Yaffa, and Al-Tira (Or maybe the day before.) None resulted in significant discoveries or photos.

Unfortunately, as seems true for this series, I’ve not located much that is viewable thru photos or videos. I try. Sites are totally built up with Israeli buildings. Other sites are now forests or Israeli communities. I attempt to show this. One exception: the Omari Mosque in Lydda/Lod, positive identification, with Arab structures nearby, the soap factory for instance. This is a famous massacre site—famous among whom? If I’d polled people in the neighborhood, on the street, in their homes, how many would know its history? The mosque adjoins a Greek Orthodox Church, Saint Lod, perhaps the reason for the city’s name (altho its Arabic name is Lydda or Lyd, never sure about names). In the 13th century, the Mamluks converted a Crusader church into the Omari Mosque.

Along the coast, most of the village sites are now inhabited by Jewish Israelis. Tel Aviv covers one, Al Jammasin al-Sharqi. I choose not to locate it, altho it seems clear enough from info I found online. Zochrot, the Israeli organization revealing sites of expulsion, had led a tour to it and posted plenty of quotidian photos. I do not need to make more.

In the U. S., perhaps laudably, we tend to maintain indigenous names for places: Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Shawmut, Ohio, Dakotas, etc. while we erase the places (for the most part). Here in Israel they erase the names and keep at least a few remnants or reminders of the Arab eras.

July 8, 2019, Monday, Jaffa, Israel, Old Jaffa Hostel

After my usual morning activities—journal, breakfast (luscious and generous, with vegetables, dips and sauces, juice, white bread, etc); toilet; downloading and uploading; email; planning; etc—yesterday I headed south to hopefully meet Amos Gvirtz at the Bedouin vigil at the Lehavin Junction (which looked very familiar, I’m sure I’d been there before, maybe even with Amos) and to locate more village sites, namely Tell es-Safi, Saris, and Sar’a.

I failed to find my target sites but I happened upon British Park, aka Britannia Park, guessing correctly that it covered and erased one or more villages. [please see my video in LINKS]

Accurate. Thanks to my online encyclopedia (via my phone and if needed laptop) I discovered it buried the remains of Deir Yassin al-Dubban, Ajjur, and Kudna, also Guvrin which I’m fairly certain I found last year.

The thrill of discovering old rock walls and ledges, cacti, and relatively newly planted trees, all markers of former villages, easily surpasses the discovery of a gas station when nearly out of gas, or an email from a favorite person, or a new subscriber to my blog, or even the acceptance of a grant application. Cruising thru the forest virtually alone, noticing how splendidly carved out the site was, with playgrounds, picnic areas, location signs, paved roads, lookouts, one is so easily tempted to believe the only presence before this forest was created was nature, neutral nature. Not a hint of human beings living here, planting, cultivating, harvesting, making love, fighting within families—all the aspects of human life fully lived. Gone, erased, vanished.

The soft whispering of light winds thru the trees reminded me of former beings here.

Previously, searching for Tell es-Safi, maps showed me a junction and road that I later discovered didn’t exist, and then a fictional route to the site using a new direction. How could I miss that junction, that road, so clearly indicated on maps? Close to giving up, the British forest appeared. And thus my discovery of the day. Previously on this week-long journey, most sites have been completely built over, no forests, no small agricultural Jewish communities, no piles of debris, simply buildings, often tall—the urban environment. Many buildings reminded me of Soviet-era construction: grey, inert, neutral constructions, people packed into the simplest, cheapest housing possible.

July 9, 2019, Tuesday, Jerusalem, Old City, Palestine-Israel, Golden Gate Hostel lobby

So I ditched the exploration plan and drove straight back to Jerusalem, dropped the car at Good Luck car rental (so far, all my rentals have brought me at least mixed luck, and good luck in the sense that I returned cars undamaged, me also), chatted with Kamal, the affable agent I’ve dealt with before—he told me he rides his electric bike between his Ramallah home and work, 30 minutes each way, straight thru Kalandia checkpoint. Which he believes has grown much easier to pass thru over the years. Will it eventually disappear, as suddenly or gradually as it appeared?

These are the sites I skipped: Saris, Saress, Sar’a, Al Walaja original, Beit Etab, Al Malha, and Lifta.

Maybe for my next trip which I’d like to make next fall along with Gaza. If I can’t enter Gaza I could research the villages many of the Palestinians in Gaza come from and visit there. However, most might be built up and thus might offer little photographic potential.

Sar’a, 2014 (Courtesy of Zochrot)

Once safely home in Jerusalem’s Old City (I consider the Golden Gates hostel in the Muslim Quarter my home, among many in various parts of the country, rarely homesick because of my flexibility), I greeted the desk person, Seenan, unloaded and sorted my luggage, showered, and ate the falafel sandwich I’d bought at the Old City intersection near the Damascus Gate. Half a beer as well. Then napped. What bliss!

Later, I picked up a half chicken and salad from the large restaurant just outside the Damascus gate, bought some food including the delicious chocolate croissants maybe only available here, checked about my phone service which has for the entire 2 months limited my local phone to receive calls only, not initiating them, and ate on the porch, then backed up my materials from my 7-day journey by private car. A lot of material. I hope to generate good works with it once I’m home in Cambridge.

There are many olive trees, some very ancient, in British Park planted by farmers throughout history. In the valley just south of the Ajur ruins is an ancient olive grove whose trees have survived for hundreds of years thanks to the dedicated care of the Ajur farmers. Some of the hollow trunks have a circumference of three meters (10 feet) or more and are supported by stones cleared from neighboring terraces. The path to the olive grove is along a wide road leading south, built by Ajur farmers who used stones cleared from the fields to make the walls bordering the road.

On the sign in British Park, nothing about Ajur residents being Arab/Palestinian

A road trip thru British Park, searching for signs of former life, by Skip Schiel (2019)

CODA

While I was in Palestine [2019], the presiding clerk of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Fritz Weiss, emailed me an uplifting invitation:

I am planning to have a time to celebrate the witness of Friends in New England on Monday Afternoon at sessions this year [our annual gathering of New England Quakers].  My hope is that we will be able to balance the gravity of the concerns we carry with the levity of faithful witness. This would not be a time to seek sessions endorsement or approval, but to share, praise and be joyful.

I am expecting that the session will be facilitated by 2-3 folks who will call out to specific people to share their story from the floor and then provide some open time for others to speak. I wonder if you would be prepared to share about your work in Palestine and perhaps more generally about how Friends in NE have been carrying the concern for Israel/Palestine? We will be talking specifically about Gaza on Tuesday afternoon, and hearing directly from Adrian Moody on Tuesday. There will be a video message from Jean Zaru closing the Tuesday morning session. About five minutes or a little less? 

What do you think?

I responded:

with gratitude and enthusiastically, fritz, i accept the invite. i’ll consult with our [then named, israel-palestine working group, now quakers advocating justice for palestine] working group about talking pts and split my 5 minutes between an overview of my 16 yr witness on the ground (where i happen to be now, in the old city of jerusalem, finishing a 2 month tour of duty), and the israel-palestine working group. one theme might be racism toward the palestinians and black israelis by the white jewish israelis and how that connects with worldwide racism.

thanks so much for asking.

LINKS

Welcome to Dayr al-Dubban (buried beneath British Park), by Palestine Remembered

Ajjur

Kudna , by Palestine Remembered

Zochrot’s new digital campaign against the Jewish National Fund (JNF) “120 Years of Dispossession and Displacement.” (2021)

Under the Forests, by Eitan Bronstein Aparicio (2014)

Review of Noga Kadman’s Erased from Space and Consciousness, by Rana Barakat

British Park – Scenic trails in Israel’s Heartland

How Britain dresses up crimes in Israel as “charitable acts,” by Jonathan Cook (2019)

Large House in Britannia Park (airbnb)

JNF: Colonizing Palestine Since 1901, by the BDS Movement (vol 1, 2011)

Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Homes-Reversing Disappearance (part one), by Skip Schiel (September 3, 2019)

TO BE CONTINUED

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