Reham Alhelsi -61 Years of On-Going Nakba: the Old Still Live through Us and the Young Never Forgot

Reham Alhelsi -61 Years of On-Going Nakba: the Old Still Live through Us and the Young Never Forgot

By Reham Alhelsi • May 14th, 2009 at 22:42 • Category: Analysis, Children’s Corner, Counter-terrorism, No thanks!, Culture and Heritage, Israel, Newswire, Palestine, Religion, Resistance, Somoud: Arab Voices of Resistance, War, Zionism

On 18/07/1948 David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary: We must do everything to ensure they (the Palestinian refugees) never do return…. The old will die and the young will forget.” (1)

Today, 61 years after the Nakba of 1948 and despite the on-going Zionist terror and ethnic cleansing, we are still here and we have not forgotten, nor will we ever. In 1948/49, accompanied by looting, pillage and plunder, 418 Palestinian localities, including towns, villages and tribes, were destroyed by Zionist terror groups, the predecessors of the IOF. A study by researcher Salman Abu Sitta lists 531 destroyed localities and 11 emptied urban neighbourhoods. (2) Many villages were completely erased off the face of the earth, while others stand in ruins today. The inhabitants of these villages were faced with massacres and forced expulsion, and Palestinian houses, belongings and lands were usurped. 70 massacres left 15,000 Palestinians dead and up to 850,000 Palestinians were made refugees. (3) The Zionists did not spare those living peacefully on their lands nor the dead lying peacefully under their lands. Graves were desecrated, dug and destroyed. Knowing they were stealing something that didn’t belong to them, and as if fearing that even the dead would wake up one day and demand justice and their homes back, they wanted to erase every trace of its real owners, including the graves. Palestinian towns and villages were given Jewish names to hide their Palestinian origin, new Zionist colonies were built on the ruins of many of them and resettled by Zionists coming from Europe and elsewhere and who had no right to Palestine and its lands. Addressing the Technion in Haifa in 1969, Moshe Dayan said: “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population”. (4) Israelis and others, using Sderot as an excuse for Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, should remember where it stands, on the ruins of which Palestinian town, on the ruins of whose houses. Sderot was built on the remains of the Palestinian village Najd, which like other villages was ethnically cleansed before being erased from today’s world map. A map created by a biased world, which even after 61 years of on-going ethnic cleansing could not bring itself to shed its bias and take action. But these villages still stand in our maps because we didn’t forget.

The original residents of these and other Palestinian towns and villages and their descendants, ethnically cleansed from their homes, are scattered all over the world. Today, there are over 7 million displaced Palestinian, constituting the world’s largest displaced population. On the 60th Anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) issued a special report stating that Palestinians worldwide have multiplied 7.5 timers since the Nakba of 1948. While there were 1.4 Million Palestinians in Palestine in 1948, there were some 10.6 million Palestinians worldwide in 2008, half of which are refugees. 3.76 Million Palestinians live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 44.6% of whom are refugees. (5) One of my favourite songs as a child was a song aired on the Syrian TV. Little children singing: “my country is very beautiful” while painting and playing with small toy houses. The song goes on: “Do you know what happened? In 1948 they took everything. They burned the room, and they broke down the houses. They uprooted the forests and erased the whole village, and they changed the names.” The children then gather the destroyed houses and tree figures and place them in boxes and sing that the chests have remained in their hearts, with them grandmother’s tales, mother’s tales, grandfather’s proverbs and father’s bequests. The song ends with “My country is still beautiful, my country is called Palestine.” And then, one child after the other says his/her name and where they come from. It is clear that these are Palestinian children living in refugee camps either in Syria or Lebanon, but even the smallest of them knows that she comes from a small village in Palestine (6). As in the song, Palestinians worldwide carry the “chests from Palestine” in their hearts and with them their national and cultural identity as Palestinians. This is not exclusive to Diaspora Palestinians. My cousins in Dheisheh Refugee camp, their friends and other kids from the refugee camp know how it feels to be at home and not yet at home. Although they live in Palestine, they are not in their original villages. When asked where they come from, they would say: from Jrash, from Zakariya, from Dayr Aban, etc…. Their answer would be full of confidence and pride, and would come quick and natural, because there was nothing there to think about: “My home is Jrash, I am here on a temporary basis.” Not only do they know that these villages are their one and only home, these villages are part of what they are: in addition to the family name Ramadan or Salem, today they are also known as Jrashi (from Jrash) or Derabany (from Dayr Aban) or ‘Ajjuri (from ‘Ajjur).

The Zionists see themselves as the ultimate victims. They refuse to accept any comparison between the Holocaust and any other human catastrophe. They insist that their suffering is the ultimate suffering, as if suffering can be measured by the kilo or the litre. Every cry of a child, every agony, every death counts, and is a human suffering. And if they measure their “ultimate suffering” with the atrocities committed by the Nazis, then they better look closely at their own state and their own deeds, for there is only one reflection to see. What they are, other than the “ultimate murderers” and “the ultimate racists”, are the ultimate thieves, and Zionism not only incorporates terror but the ultimate theft. They not only stole another peoples’ land, they are stealing their culture as well. For even with a land, you can’t have a nation without a culture that reflects and represents this nation and binds all its members together. And since they stole the land, and since they come from all parts of the world except that part they stole, the culture of that land is necessary to give the thieves some kind of “right” or “legitimacy” to the land. There is no surprise there: for one thing; if you steal the land, why not also all that comes with it? For another: no wonder with all those illegal settlers and “immigrants” gathered from all over the world trying to establish some sort of “nation”. Some 10 years ago, during my first trip to Amsterdam, I remember friends and I stopped at a small kiosk and bought Falafel Sandwiches. That was during my first trip outside Palestine and I was still naive, believing European countries were at the least “neutral” and not biased in favour of Israel like the US. At least, that was what the Israeli government was always complaining about. I later understood this complaining to be yet another of Israel’s PR gags, a manoeuvre to blackmail Europe to yet more bias. European countries seem pleased with this, since on the one hand they and Israel know exactly well that these countries are in no way neutral. On the other hand, they can continue deceiving the Arabs and the Palestinians and creating this image of a neutral Europe, who has both sides’ interest at heart. During every visit to Palestine since then, I was often confronted with people asking me about Europeans: it must be great living there, especially that they support us and so on. Sometimes I tell those asking the truth: that they see these international activists and think that all Europeans are alike. That many Europeans don’t give a damn one way or the other, and that if it were up to them, they would sink both of us in the deepest ocean. The only thing preventing many of them from saying that out loud is the threat of “anti-Semitism” when to comes to talking about Israelis. When it comes to talking about Palestinians, Europeans can be as racist or as brainwashed as they want thanks to the one-sided “freedom of speech”. And thanks to the biased media or the biased governments, many are brainwashed. The activists who choose to come to Palestine do this because they choose to investigate and search and find out about the truth for themselves, they realize that there must be something amiss with the general presentation of the conflict: i.e., the Palestinians are always the bad guys and the Israelis always the victims. More than once I heard from such activists that the reason behind their investigating the truth about the conflict was the way it was presented in their media and what they were told by their governments, and that no clear mind would accept the concept of a people that has no goal in life other than to destroy another nation and for no reason at all. Why would the Palestinians “hate” the Israelis so much? And then the important question: what have the Israelis done to the Palestinians to deserve their “hate”? Those with a still-functioning brain would come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the media presentation of the conflict and that the Israelis must have done, or are still doing, something really bad, namely the on-going ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the brutal military occupation. But often, when asked about Europeans, I just nod and say: yes, they are good. I know how disappointed I was when I came to Europe and slowly discovered the lies. I remember how many times, after the IOF killed children or unarmed demonstrators or after massacres, how many of us said: This news would reach Europe today and they will support us to end this brutal occupation. Little did we know.

Returning to the Falafel shop, I was pleased to find Falafel in Amsterdam and to see that so many people stood in line in front of that tiny kiosk to buy a sandwich. It was years later that, during one conversation, I realized that that kiosk owner was actually an Israeli. It made me angry. The truth is, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a Dutch, a German or any other nationality selling Falafel, but it upset me that an Israeli was selling Falafel. For one very simple reason: the Dutch, the German or the American would never claim that Falafel is a Dutch, German or American national food. They would be just another person selling something, like a Dutch selling Pizza. He would never claim the Pizza to be a national Dutch dish. But with the Israelis selling Falafel is another thing: they claim that Falafel and other Palestinian and Arab dishes are their national dishes, which is yet another theft. In Europe and the US many conceive not only Falafel, but Hummus as well, as Israeli traditional dishes. In these countries, Msakhan, Maqluba, Mansaf, Manaqeesh Za’tar are unknown and are being marketed as Israeli. The Israeli government, assisted by the media in these countries, established this idea through campaigns, ads, etc. Last August, the Israeli foreign ministry started yet another campaign, this time in Vienna, to introduce Israel to the Austrian public. Entitles “Israel – love from second sight”, the campaign aimed at promoting Israeli “culture” inside Austrian trams. Using the newest media technologies, info about Israel, Israeli sights, sounds and tastes were presented, and the trams were decorated with posters of Falafel, Humus, Maftoul and other Palestinians and Arabic dishes depicted as Israeli. (7)Lebanon is suing Israel for exporting Hummus, Falafel, Tabuleh, Fatush, Baba Ghanuj and other dishes as its own dishes. Greece on the other hand had already won a case against Israel and other European countries for exporting “Feta” cheese as Israeli product.

To steal the cultural identity of another nation is not limited to its national dishes. The cultural heritage of a nation distinguishes one nation from another and is transferred from one generation to the next. It is the identity of that nation, and includes traditional costumes, dance, music, literature, sculptures and handicrafts such as embroidery, weaving, pottery, glass-making, olive-wood and mother of pearl carvings and soap-making. Embroidery is an integral part of the Palestinian cultural identity, part of our cultural heritage. The Palestinian traditional dress “Thob” is part of the family heirloom, handed down from mother to daughter. Every region in Palestine has its own stitch form, its own symbols and motifs and its own colours. The symbols usually depict some feature of the region, its heritage and beliefs. According to Maha Sacca of the Palestinian Heritage Centre, the red colour prevails in Palestinian dresses, for example the red wine colour for the Ramallah dress, and the orange red for Beer Sabi’ (Beersheba). The Beer Sabi’ dress has cypress and palm trees as symbols and changes colour according to the status of the wearer: the bride’s dress is dominates by the red colour, while that of a widow is dominated by blue. If a woman marries for a second time, flowers and other motifs are added to her red dress. The “Paradise and Hell” dress is called so because of its prevailing red and green colours. The Rafidia dress, a town in Nablus, is characterized by its red and green stripes, the green tie and the shawl distinctive of the Nablus region. (8) Bethlehem dresses are known for their use of gold or silver cord. The trousseau of the Palestinian bride included 12 embroidered dresses, headdresses, shawl, belts, kerchiefs, cushions and Kohl containers, all embroidered. Every girl learns to do embroidery, even nowadays it is taught at school as part of the home management curriculum. Embroidery goes beyond clothes to decorative pieces. Such pieces are found in every Palestinian home.

During the Nakba, Palestinian homes were looted and their content stolen. In the 1970s, Moshe Dayan filled his house and garden in Tel Aviv with stolen artefacts, while his ex-wife opened a shop in London and sold Palestinian traditional dresses as Israeli heritage. (9) In 1980 the Israeli airline El Al adopted the Palestinian dress worn in the Ramallah region as the official uniform for its stewardesses, and introduced it as Israeli culture during the tourism season. In 2007 Sacca reported that Israel stole the Bride dress of the Bethlehem area known as “Malak” and registered it in the 4th volume of the International Encyclopaedia as its own. After a campaign of the Palestinian Heritage Centre, the dress was removed. (10) The “Malak” dress is characterized by its thick embroidery, mainly on the neckline and the sides, and by its head cover, “Shatwah”, decorated with silver and gold pieces. Other Palestinian traditional dresses, such as those of the Naqab and Galilee are introduced in international exhibitions as Israeli traditional costumes. Not even the traditional Kuffeyah, another symbol of Palestinian national identity, escaped the theft. Claiming that Israel has the right to have its own Kuffeyah, two Israeli designers designed one with the colours of the Israeli flag and small David stars instead of the usual dots. Palestinian traditional dresses, jackets, handbags and shawls, decorated with Palestinian stitches, are being sold to tourists as Israeli souvenirs. One day, I was waiting at the train station for my train, when I noticed some German woman sitting nearby wearing a jacket decorated with Palestinian embroidery. The truth is I hoped she knew what she was wearing. So, I asked her where she got that jacket from. As if waiting for someone to notice the jacket, she started talking about how beautiful it is, how rare and expensive and how lucky she was to have one, adding that one can only get them from Israel. I asked her if she knew what the lines, the colours, the patterns and symbols meant? When she said she had no idea, I told her that this was Palestinian embroidery, Palestinian cultural heritage, and to make my point clear, I explained to her that these patterns and colours have meanings, that every region in Palestine has its own colour and pattern. As I explained, she just kept nodding her head and her face grew redder, I hope out of shame for helping promote the theft of our culture. During the first Intifada, embroidery was a means of living for many families. Being a symbol of Palestinian identity, it was also used as a form of protesting the Israeli occupation. Since owning a Palestinian flag was punished with imprisonment, women started stitching the Palestinian flag or its colours on dresses, on shawls, on cushions, and even on wool blouses and jackets.

And the list of thefts goes on: from stealing our traditional dance, the “Dabka” to an Israeli version of the “Dal’ona” song, which is an integral part of the Palestinian wedding. Palestinian weddings are characterized by popular songs, whereas every village and town had its own songs describing the beauty of the area and relating some of the local stories. The Dal’ona and the Ataba are common among all regions of Palestine. During a 6 month stay in Germany some 10 years ago, I remember watching on TV a group of dancers dancing the Dabkeh and other well-known Palestinian dances. I thought at first it might be the famous Palestinian dance group the “Founoun”, until it was made clear that this is an Israeli dance group performing “Israeli traditional dances”. When on the next day I mentioned this shameless theft in class, the teacher abruptly and in a somewhat impolite way changed the subject. I suppose, for that German teacher, discussing Israeli theft is part of the “Israel-Criticism Taboo”. Imitations of Palestinian pottery, silverware and jewellery, are also being sold to tourists as Israeli souvenirs. The olive tree and the poppy (Anemone Coronaria) have also been stolen and at the Chinese garden, held during the last Olympic Games in China, they were adopted and claimed by Israel as representatives of the Zionist state. [11] Palestinians have been celebrating the Olive tree as a symbol of their steadfastness in Palestine and the Poppy as a symbol of the sacrifices given on the road to freedom and independence for decades, and long before Israel start promoting them as their own symbols.

But one thing they forgot: they can – for now – steal the land, the culture and forge history, but they can’t delete our memory nor forge the blood that flows in our veins. One afternoon, back in 1982, my sister, brother, some friends and I, decided to have a picnic. At school, we used to do this often. All we would need would be some slices of bread, a couple of tomatoes, and some salt in a paper. During the second break, which lasted some 20 minutes, we would have our picnic in one corner of the school playground. On that afternoon, we planned to have the picnic with our friends after we get back from school the following day. We were very enthusiastic, because our friends didn’t know what a “picnic” was and we wanted to share that with them. That evening, when we told our parents about our plans, father said: no, there will be no picnic tomorrow. For me, that was one of those days that remain branded in one’s mind for ever, memories of what we Palestinians should never ever forget and never forgive. On TV, we saw the pictures of butchered Palestinians, piled up like sacks one over the other. We saw pictures of murdered women, children and elderly filling the streets. We saw women crying and shouting and cursing. We saw what had happened in Sabra and Shatila. It was like waking up from a dream, and realizing that for you, as a Palestinian, there was no place for picnics, no place for happiness when other Palestinians are being murdered. These Palestinians were not in Palestine, they were far away from us, but they were part of us. They were a part that makes Palestine full, for Palestine belongs to all Palestinians, and when Palestinians bleed, whether in Palestine or in the Diaspora, Palestine as a whole bleeds. More massacres and Israeli crimes followed, and with every massacre, with every crime, with every war, we stood together as one. We cried for every child, we went to the streets for every martyr and every wounded and every prisoner, we protested and made our voice heard. It is our unity that makes us strong, a blood bond that not Israel, not the US, not even some treacherous Palestinians can break.

Despite their Nazi-like methods, Zionists continue to deny it and shout anti-Semitism when accused of it, although a number of Zionists had as early as 1948 realized and admitted they were acting like Nazis towards the Palestinians. Aharon Cizling of the 1948 Israeli cabinet commented on reports of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians: “… But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken … Obviously we have to conceal these actions from the public, and I agree that we should not even reveal that we’re investigating them.” (12) Also, the “Stern” terror gang collaborated with Nazi Germany during WWII, and a scanned copy of the document sent by the “Stern” in 1941 asking Nazi Germany for alliance can be seen at Palestine Remembered (13). One would expect that, when Jews are being sent to gas chambers in Germany, armed Jewish gangs in Palestine would rush to Germany to save their brothers and sisters. What they did, in addition to terrorizing Palestinians, was attack British troops in Palestine, who contrary to these gangs, were fighting the Nazis in Europe. (14) Defending themselves, Zionists usually rush to claim that they have not erected any gas chambers. Well, although it would have much pleased the Zionists to erect the Nazi gas chambers in Palestine and get rid of the Palestinians once and for all, they are not that stupid. They realize that even the strongest of their allies won’t be able to turn a blind eye anymore and would have to say: stop. But this doesn’t mean that there are no gas chambers in Palestine. Times change and mass murderers develop their gas chambers to fit the times. Sharon knew this and in 1988 he was reported saying: “You don’t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away … I prefer to advocate a positive policy, to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave”. (15) The positive policy being the policy of land grab, siege and military operations. Instead of killing millions in a few months and drawing world uproar, why not kill gradually? Every couple of years a war here and an incursion there, wiping out thousands and leaving thousands crippled. Every now and then an air raid here and there, leaving dozens killed and hundreds other crippled. And why not use checkpoints, peaceful demonstrations and the siege to kill an extra few here and there? The problem here is that with every Palestinian killed, at least 10 others are born, and with every massacre committed, our roots in the land get deeper and our memory gets stronger.

So, although after 61 years of an on-going Nakba, an on-going ethnic cleansing and terror, we are scattered everywhere, one thing binds us: our Palestinian identity, the place we all call home, the home we all want to return to. No matter what nationality some of us have today, or where we were born, as long as Palestinian blood flows through our veins, we have one nationality and one homeland: Palestine. During my Masters programme, there were students from all over the world who had enrolled in the same programme as me. Among those, I was not the only Palestinian, but the only Palestinian with a Palestinian passport and the only one who was born and grew up in Palestine. There were others who were born in the Diaspora. To the other students, except for those who knew better, we were of different nationalities. To us, we were Palestinians, share the same history and heritage, and have the same homeland. And while statistics show that many Russian and European Jews see Israel only as a step towards the US, we see Palestine as the “ultimate” step: a return to Palestine, to stay there, and plant ourselves there and spread our roots deep into this land like the olive tree. This is why the olive tree is our national symbol and can never be the symbol of a Zionist who was brought to Palestine by financial inducements and to escape poverty elsewhere.

In 1983, Chairman Heilbrun said: “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” The dream of completely ethnically cleansing Palestine and of getting rid of all Palestinians failed, but not out of lack of trying on the side of Zionists. Nor have they succeeded in making slaves out of us, for despite the suffering, we stand armed with our pride and dignity against those armed with hate and terror. After 61 years of Zionist terror and land theft, the Zionists are fighting a lost war. Many of us are still standing steadfast in Palestine, others are packing their bags to return to Palestine. When passing towns, villages and refugee camps, and seeing all the illegal settlements scattered everywhere, the confiscated lands surrounded by barbed wire, one would realize the extent to which the Zionists state would go to delete a whole existence, a whole nation and a whole country. The greatest threat to Israel is our existence, and as long as we are steadfast in Palestine, they can’t take Palestine away from us. The destroyed homes will be rebuilt one day, and the empty villages will be refilled one day and all those ethnically cleansed will return one day. This is no wishful thinking, nor an illusion. History teaches us that nothing lasts forever, especially injustice. It might take another 61 years or another 10 years or another 100 years, but one day all Palestinians will return and Palestine will find its rightful place on the world map again. And today, 61 years after its establishment, the only thing the Zionist state achieved is that the more they kill, the more they expose themselves as a racist and a terror state and the harder we cling to the land. At a time when Israel is doing its best to get rid of us, it is bringing us closer to our homeland, because it is our duty to stand still on our land, and those who can return should return, it is a national duty.

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Reham Alhelsi is a Jerusalem-born Palestinian. She has worked extensively in the Palestinian Broadcasting Company and since 2000, when she moved to Germany, has trained at various radio and TV networks including Deutsche Welle, SWR and WDR. She is currently writing her PhD in Regional Planning with a focus on Palestinian Land Management and local government.
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