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 The homeland purified of Arabs
 Meron Benvenisti, Israel
 September 26, 2002
A few dozen kilometers separate Hebron's casbah from the remains of the abandoned Arab village at Sataf. There's no comparison between the crooked narrow alleyways of the casbah and the manicured olive groves, reconstructed mountain terraces and the remains of the irrigation system of the mountain village; and the visitors who decided to have a "day of fun" during Sukkot at each site are also very different. Hebron was toured by those with knitted kippot and their militant rightist supporters. Sataf, on the other hand, was visited by secular Jews for a "happening" of pastoral olive picking.

Despite the differences, both sites provided the same experience: one of the homeland purified of Arabs; in Sataf they purified and sterilized the past, while in Hebron, they purified the present. At Sataf, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) invited the public to an experience with "the flavor of the past," "in the footsteps of the olive tree planters of Hadera, Hulda and Ben Shemen," without any mention that in "the past," the olive trees of Sataf belonged to people who live less than a dozen kilometers away. In Hebron, the government made sure to give the participants of "the traditional Sukkot days" the euphoric feeling that the city had become purely Jewish: "Not a single Arab was seen on the street": more than100,000 people were placed under curfew.

Much has been said about the brutality, the indifference and the racist vanity of the decision to put an entire city under curfew to allow a group of extremists celebrate their mastery over the land and to disseminate messages of hatred and expulsion. But maybe not enough emphasis has been put on the curfew as a form of psychological repression, nothing more than the desire to hide from the consciousness (and perhaps the conscience) the fact of the existence of an entire people, and the hope that the "transfer by the hour" will turn into comprehensive transfer. Apparently, those ambitions will remain delusions that will be smashed when the Palestinians overcome the fear barrier, or when the Israelis err with too great a provocation.

The celebrations in the shadow of the curfew are an expression of racist, ruthless chauvinism, but the rape of the past, expressed at the Olive Picking Festival in Sataf and at four other sites that were once Arab villages, are historical provocations that are a different sort of expression of violence. The JNF [Jewish National Fund]—whose leaders during and after the War of Independence led the destruction of the Palestinian landscape to such an extent that even Ben-Gurion had reservations about their activities—has, in recent years, been turned into the main promoter of the "the landscape of the past" concept, obviously after all traces of the identity of the people who once lived there have been erased.

With enormous devotion and formidable knowledge, JNF representatives present the agricultural instruments, the irrigation systems, the groves and vineyards, the flour mills and the terraces—but the historical context is presented only as "the remains of an abandoned village vacated during the War of Independence."

Now, after they've managed to anchor the "landscapes of the past" in the public consciousness as "evidence of our forefathers' lifestyle," the JNF has adopted the olive tree—the national symbol of the Palestinians and the source of the livelihood of tens of thousands of people who practically have a monopoly on it even inside the State of Israel.

The abandoned olive trees of Lubia (Lavie), Sataf and the southern villages (known as Britain Park), are offered up by the JNF as a family adventure "with the flavor of the past." But what past? When mandate-era Palestine had more than 600,000 dunam of Arab olives under cultivation and Arab farmers produced 99 percent of the harvest? And what happened to those olive groves in the War of Independence? How many of them were uprooted to grow cattle-feed for Jewish farmers, who thought olive growing was a burden?

There's a direct line between the rape of the past and the rewriting of history to the arbitrary brutality of the present.

There's nothing wrong with a hike through the remains of Sataf and its orchards, but there is no need to give in to the manipulations of the propagandists of the JNF: the landscape has an ethnic identity, and the attachment of others to the land is not necessarily threatening—unless, of course, a person is not confident of his own attachment.

Meron Benvenisti was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kolleck.

From Ha’aretz, September 26, 2002.