Monday, February 2, 2009
homes for the taking
Newly arrived persecuted European Jews strolling in Jaffa, 1949
Newly arrived Bulgarian Jews in the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of al-Bassa, 1950
Looting 'Ayn Karim by newly arrived persecuted European Jews 1948
These old black and white photos look like they could be found in any number of old photo albums in a box or on a shelf in someone's house. Stories of family. Of new beginnings. Of immigration. And I guess in some photo albums and families that is how the stories get told.
Well, these photos, like all photos, are layered with meanings, narratives, histories and social, political and economic context. These photos are from the Palestine Remembered site, where there are 1000s of photos that show what Palestine was like before it was invaded, stolen, looted and its population ethnically cleansed and expelled, then re-populated with Jewish settlers and re-named Israel.
The infrastructure and cities and towns and homes and farms were all there. Ready for the taking. The myth that Palestine was an empty desert, is just that--a myth.
These photos illustrate Israeli historian Tom Segev's research report, based on de-classifed Israeli documents found in the Israeli Archives (some are still sealed), that details how the land, the infrastructure, the buildings, the homes, the shops, the factories, and all the possessions, furniture, tools, animals, and machinery of the dispossessed Palestinians was confiscated, cataloged and re-distributed to in-coming Jews. Of course, the army officers got the best homes, particularly eager to take the elegant homes in Jerusalem, Jaffa, in Haifa. Read the report; it's all there; who got what, how that was decided, who did the documenting, and of course, the looting. The looting that was not part of the plan, but, hey, free stuff everywhere! The once-persecuted Jewish settlers became feverish with the riches before them. Homes for the homeless, workshops for the jobless, farms for the landless, just go to your place and start your new life.
Salim El Far recounts:
This house belongs to my maternal grandfather Salim Hatoum. It is situated on the junction of Hariri and Haddad streets (if these names still exist) opposite Raji el Issa Bldg [in Haifa]. The GF is divided in two apartments where lived two families. In the 1st floor lived my uncle Joseph with his wife, his mother and unmarried brother. Uncle Ibrahim occupies the second floor with his wife and 3 children. Nowadays I was told that in every room of the 1st floor lives a family.
I read Segev's chapter last week, one night quite late, and I just couldn't process all I had read. I felt overwhelmed. After all the killing in Gaza of the Palestinians--many whose ancestral homes and streets are in these photo archives--I simply felt my heart so heavy; my head like a lead weight. I felt despondent thinking about the levels of lowness that people are capable of--people who may be your neighbours now. Someone you actually like, whose family was part of the "new settlers" to the new state of Israel. I know a woman like that here in town. I had her over for my garden party a few years back. Her family "went" to Israel in the late 40s.
I want to ask her, which house did your family walk into to? Did your mother and your grandmother ever wonder about whose home it had been and what were the terms of their leave-taking?
How could people, a people so dispossessed themselves, simply walk into homes and take over the homes and possessions of peoples who had been dispossessed by military force, just as they had been? Would they not wonder as they sat on the brocade sofa or slept in the hand-carved bed piled with soft white wool blankets, whose home is this? Would they not wonder as they walked across 100 years old extraordinarily beautiful Oriental carpets, who lived in this house? Would they not wonder as they sat outdoors on a hot summer day in the cool shade of the trees sheltering the courtyard, whose home is this? And would they not wonder as they tended to the chores of their new farm and fed the goats and the sheep, whose animals are these?
Would they not ask these questions? In night as they lay sleeping and it was quiet and dark and they felt safe?
My head was spinning and swimming with this. I wanted to post this earlier, but I am frankly, overwhelmed with the injustice done to the Palestinians and incredulous to the callousness of the Jews of Israel. I used to actually feel that Israelis had a right, too, to share the land. But frankly, the more I read and the more I learn and the more heartache I open myself up to, I wonder. I wonder how the Jews who entered Palestine and the Jews who live there now (some still the original settlers) can do what they do, continue to be part of this ugly injustice, and sleep at night. I wonder how could they not rise up and stop being part of this ugly plan that is such a disaster for everyone but their own comfortable selves? I wonder why don't they rise up and stop their government representatives from spreading the ugly lies and propaganda?
But especially I wonder how they can continue to blame the victims when their own role as perpetrators of injustices is staring them in the face as they go about their days in the homes they have stolen?