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Thursday, June 02, 2005


Gideon Levy and Amos Oz

"Shards of Memory" is Gideon Levy's story about settlers from the Gaza colony Gush Katif who the Israeli government plans to compensate with property on the ruins of Barbara, one of the over four hundred destroyed Palestinian villages destroyed by Jews.

In The ZionistImperative: The Meaning of Homeland, Amos Oz makes an analogy between drowning Jews and the lifeboat which is the Zionist state. Levy writes sympathetically about Palestinians, and is one of the most socially astute journalists alive, while Oz writes about Palestinians inasmuch as they affect Jews: Jews and redemption, Jews and the land, Jews and the other, Jews and Nazareth, Jews and Jaffa, Jews and Ramallah, Jews and Nablus, Jews and drowning.

This is what Levy writes about Barbara, the intended relocation area for the soon to be homeless Gush Katif colonists: This is the most Arab-free area in Israel. It was the scene of total ethnic cleansing, which left not a vestige apart from the heaps of ruins and the sabra bushes. On the coastal plain, between Jaffa and Gaza, not one Palestinian village remains intact. Now the settlers of the Gush Katif bloc from the Gaza Strip are to be brought here. In a bitterly ironic jest of fate, the settlers who sowed ruin and destruction in the Gaza Strip will now live on the ruins of the homes of the residents who were their invisible neighbors in the refugee camps.

Again they will see nothing. From Gush Katif they saw nothing of the devastation that was wrought in Khan Yunis and in its refugee camp; and in the Nitzanim region they will see nothing of the rich fabric of life that existed here and was destroyed. It was all erased from the face of the earth (eternity is only dust and earth). Only the skeletons of a few beautiful homes, which somehow still stand, and the piles of stones, the orchards and the natural fences made of sabra bushes remain as mute testimony among the eucalyptus groves, the new settlements and the orchards that were planted on the sites of the destruction. From the Ashdod-Ashkelon road it is possible to see a few of the ruins, but who pays attention? Who asks himself what these houses are, what used to be here and where the former residents are as he shoots past on the highway?There is no memorial and no monument. No signpost and no sign of the dozens of villages that were razed.

In Moshav Mavki'im, on the ruins of the village of Barbara, in a grove where dozens of bulldozers and trucks are now working to prepare the ground for the evacuees, we actually found a monument between the trees: "Here rests our beloved dog Mozart Hanin, of blessed memory, 1991-2003."

Although the Jewish inhabitants of the destroyed Arab village eulogize the beloved dog, Mozart, there are no plaques indicating that the village was once inhabited by indigenous Palestinians. According to Khalidi in 1944/45 Arabs owned 13,477 dunums of land while there were 501 public dunums. No Jews owned any land in Barbara. He writes that in the first half of January 1948, "a Jewish bus passing through the village opened fire on villagers, without causing any casualties." Then on January 12, "the village was sprayed with gunfire." Barbara was strafed by Israeli planes in October and in November villagers "were either expelled or fled under fire." In January 1949 Mavqi'im was established "for the purpose of preventing the villagers' return."

Oz would find nothing irregular in the colonists evacuation to Barbara since he clearly deliniates what is kosher and what is not kosher Holy Land property for Jews.

The Zionist enterprise has no other objective justification than the right of a drowning man to grasp the only plank that can save him. And that is justification enough. (Here I must anticipate something I shall return to later: There is a vast moral difference between the drowning man who grasps a plank and makes room for himself by pushing the others who are sitting on it to one side, even by force, and the drowning man who grabs the whole plank for himself and pushes the others into the sea. This is the moral argument that lies behind our repeated agreement in principle to the partition of the land. This is the difference between making Jaffa and Nazareth Jewish, and making Ramallah and Nablus Jewish.)

In Oz's view it is perfectly O.K. for the "drowning man" (although why a Jew in the twenty-first century is perceived as drowning seems to be reaching the outer limits of poetic license) to grab the plank as long as it's not the whole plank. Hence, the bad guys are the Jews who would colonize Ramallah and Nablus, but he finds nothing wrong with his "drowning" man from wresting Jaffa and Nazareth.

What's the difference? To the Palestinians, which Oz doesn't consider much, there's a big difference. Twenty-three Arab villages used to exist in the District of Jaffa. This is the fate of just one of them, Al-'Abbasiyya, as reported by Khalidi in All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated By Israel in 1948.
On 13 September 1948 Prime Minister Ben-Gurion asked for the Israeli cabinet's permission to destroy this village. Under a newly passed regulation, the Ministerial Committee for Abandoned Property had to approve requests made for the destruction of villages. The request was made in the name of the commander of the Central Front, General Zvi Auyalon, on the grounds that there was insufficient manpower to completely occupy the area. Israeli historian Benny Morris describes this sequence, but does not clarify whether the request was implemented in full. Indirect evidence indicates that it was not, for a recommendation was made ten days later by the Israeli Military Government to settle Jewish immigrants in the village, probably in the houses that were still standing.

Oz doesn't seem to have much affinity for the land but thinks that the only game in town for the redemption of the Jews is the land of Palestine. We're asked to just live with the inherent contradictions. In a nutshell, I am a Zionist in all that concerns the redemption of the Jews, but not when it comes to the “redemption of the holy land.” We have come here to live as a free nation, not “to liberate the land that groans under the desecration of a foreign yoke,” Samaria, Gilead, Aram, and Hauran up to the great Euphrates River. The word “liberation” applies to people, not to dust and stone. I was not born to blow rams' horns or “purge a heritage that has been defiled by strangers.”

Pretty words, and I am sure that in his benevolent generosity which is expressed by his deigning to partition the land, he'll provide life jackets for the hapless Palestinians who were unlucky enough to be born in Jaffa, Haifa, Lydd, and Ramle so that they may swim their way to Ramallah.

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