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Home Archaeology — by Rela Mazali

May 15, 2021

A Jewish activist woman from Israel conducts an "archaeological dig" into her immediate physical surroundings and the sites of her successive homes. It recounts her slow unlearning of Zionist erasures both of the dispossession of Palestinians previously living at these sites and of the discrimination against and relegation into poverty of Mizrachi Jews (Jews of color) sent to live at them.

A gradual awakening to an unblinkered understanding of the context – historical, social, economic of where she lives, this fragment opens a window onto the reality that is (again) erupting in horrific violence in Palestine Israel today, in the spring of 2021.

The text is the 5th section of the novella-length essaytale, “Home Archaeology”, originally published in full in Hebrew in the collection “Home Archaeology: Essay Tales” and re-rendered into English by the author. This piece will appear in print at a later time in a three-part series to be published by the author.

Home Archaeology

by

Rela Mazali

 

Shivtei Yisrael 12-20, Triangular plot beside the parking bay, 1990-2004

[…]

5. Judaization

 

I didn't ask. But even so, well before I could start to think to ask, I was answered. I was about twenty-seven and I can still hear the cadences, the sentence. Re-hear, of course, in memory, the knowing voice of the man of about my age who uttered it. "It was a village of marauders." A dark base timbre. A radio anchor announcing "casualties." A tune of disclosure: privileged, dramatic and highly important knowledge, known to a select circle, to the secret bearers, the informed few, the guardians of Security. The intonation of one privy to "sources." Especially sources I lack. One unfailingly knowing more than he lets on, or at least hinting at knowing more than he lets on, but careful not to disclose any more to any one who is not one of the guardians of Security. Authority unchallenged. Knowledge guarded and only half-disclosed, barring debate.

His answer silenced the limp, not-truly-questioning, intentionally impractical (and accordingly harmless) musing I'd nevertheless chanced just before, "I wonder about the people who used to live here once and what happened to them." The "village of marauders" was a coinage I deciphered instantly, without a second of confusion or effort, as a reference to what I still, at the time, called the "War of Liberation." To “forty-eight” as I would call it today – nineteen-forty-eight, twenty-seven years before we stood there. A generation. The coinage denoted riots and murderous rampages, both vague, evil, dark, never clearly known in detail. Something, as his “sources” had told him, that one or presumably more-than-one of the villagers had wreaked upon the Jews. The Jews, that is, who were already living in the vicinity of the village in nineteen-forty-eight, or those who had just moved there, for example to the kind of newly invented communities that we were later taught to refer to with pride as "wall and watchtower" settlements.

I recognized the code: "marauders' village" as an exemption from finding out precise details or verifying a specific chain of events. Somebody said. It's known. That is, by those who heard firsthand, who regularly read the news, who note, who always remember the details. This was long before my reality transmogrified, before the war of nineteen-forty-eight emerged in front of my eyes with much changed contours. Still, his answer felt at least partly irrelevant. Left me with a sense of vacuous ritual. Of a chant for calming bad conscience. At the same time, I didn't sense any urgency to look for some other, less irrelevant answer. I was, after all, so utterly marginal to the whole story. Not one of those in the know, in charge. There’s got to be someone in charge who knows and decides rationally, fairly. We're not evil people. I retained a blurred discomfort that didn't prevent me in the least from proceeding as usual. My limp musing, like the course in spoken Arabic that we organized in the community two or three years after founding it, turned – for me – into a private ritual of conscience cleansing and exorcism. See – I'm caring and sensitive enough, and open enough, to muse with discomfort on the people who once lived here. To try to learn their language. I didn't invest any real thinking in how to do more. No need. I was already paying the dues of injustice in the form of my vague but abiding discomfort.

We were standing – that is, when he answered, "… a marauders' village," on a hilltop in the western Galilee, right beside the traces, embedded in the earth, of a home that had once stood there. The place in which the house had stood when it was whole, had been called Miyar. Up until the day we stood there in nineteen-seventy-five, the year Micha was born almost two years before Assaf, nothing had been built on these razed ruins and they stayed bare and visible above the highest line of pine trees planted all over the hill by the Jewish National Fund and, for some reason, sparse at the top. Maybe the trees had a hard time taking root here in the mean daily winds. The floor plan, or rather the wall plan, was quite distinct just above the earth, a row of the tops of hand-chiseled stones. At least part of another row met the first at a ninety-degree angle. Right before my non-question I had walked over to touch them, briefly running my wide-open palm over the roughness of one of the stonecutter's surfaces.

Nearby, a broad slab of slightly concave bedrock also stood out bare just above earth level. A well had been carved into the hill at the lowest point of this face of natural rock. I looked down it for a few split seconds before my vertigo pushed my eyes aside hard. But the others couldn't see anything in there either, except dark. The timbre of the stones hitting some surface when we threw them in was inconclusive. Was it water or rock? About four yards from the narrow, black opening, in another, more protruded slab, I could see the remaining segment of chiseled basin – maybe the bottom of an olive press used to collect the oil. At the site we were visiting, where we knew there was once an Arab village, as I called it back then, before I started to say Palestinian in a consciously political gesture, the Jewish Agency and one of Israel's Jewish agricultural settlement organizations had already started building houses. A small community called Ya'ad, whose Hebrew name we – the settlers – chose as a matter of course to overlay the Arabic. It didn't occur to us to keep the Arabic. Even if it had, chances are that this or that authority would have overruled our choice.

In the wind that sandpapers dry almost every day of life on the first rise of hills east of the coastal plain in the western Galilee, we were standing and looking. North and westwards towards the spectacular vista of Mediterranean and coast – its entire length from the Haifa bay in the south to the Lebanese border up north. Eastwards and down into the wadi, the ravine where we knew of, but couldn't see, a village, Sha'ab. His sources, the exact identity of which I didn't even think to ask for, which I, unquestioning, understood to be "the Agency" or some other institution, said it was populated, in part, by people once from Miyar.

Almost twenty years – another generation – later, I ran into the "marauders' village" chant still successfully forming and stabilizing worldviews, decisions, actions. Micha, my oldest son, was at boot camp, training for service in an elite combat unit. By that time I had already started asking questions I'd never asked before, considerably louder and clearer than the one I didn’t ask on the Galilee hill. Both of myself and of others. On one of Micha's weekends off at home, I asked him, "Do you ever go to the occupied territories? Do you go there and do all kinds of stuff?" His boot camp wasn't located in the territories. "Not really," he answered. "Sometimes we train near a village that's not too far from the camp." "What do you mean?" I asked. "What do you do there?"

I held myself co-responsible for his deeds. For the doing. I held myself guilty, deeply and irreversibly guilty, for creating part of the conditions leading to his choice to enlist. To join a military that stood to endanger him his life his body his soul unjustifiably and unnecessarily. To enlist in an army that is doing a deed which I believe to be immoral. My conviction that he was consenting to a useless, mindless risk, was only a case I could plea, spell out, repeat. He even agreed with me to some extent but opted for the army anyway. Just days before his conscription date, in a conversation about his choice, he said with an ironic smile, "Ima, what a motivational talk you're treating me to." Understanding and rejecting simultaneously. But I could still go on openly bringing up my belief that the army was doing immoral wrong throughout his term of duty. I was conscripted along with him to require a precise account, to the extent that I that he were able. To ask of him a truthful and direct description. I wasn't trying to pry out military secrets on the positioning or sizes of troops or their methods. I just wanted the headlines of his own personal doing.

"So what? Were you firing? At what? Were there people there?"

At least between the two of us, at least in this (to me) overridingly central relationship, I hoped to avoid the dissolution of his personal responsibility for his doings with his own two hands as a soldier. The dissolution of my personal responsibility for asking the solder these questions. I told myself that he, like me, felt it was important to him. That maybe it helped him move more whole and intact through the intentionally induced haze of combat created by commanders and structure and effected through fast-flying orders, artificial time constraints imposed numbly arbitrarily, through the imposed exhaustion blurring memory-identity-feeling-blurring. I tried to ask with clear eyes that meanwhile didn't corner him. To retain the space we both needed for a straight answer. And therefore, only sometimes and to some extent and somewhat gently, I asked him. Nevertheless asked him. And he nevertheless answered.

That Saturday he said, "Nothing much. Just you know. Training. We don't do anything to the people there. But they told us it's a hostile village and that it's important, you know, to keep up a presence there." "What do you mean hostile?" I asked. "What did it do? The village? Do you know anything about what it did?" "You know," he said, "come on, you know." "Everyone there did it?" I asked. "Do you know when? Do you… or exactly what happened there? What did they actually tell you? What was it that they told you?" "Come on, you know," he said. "They told us. I can't really remember details. A hostile village." His voice in deep, serious tones approached – though hesitantly, in a slightly skeptical version – the familiar lilt of sharing privileged information that he'd heard from his sergeant. That I'd heard, the year he was born, on a Galilee hilltop.

I had absolutely no interest in Judaizing the Galilee, as its often called. In carrying out the government promise to radically change the ratio of Jews to Arabs (Arab citizens of Israel) in the north of Israel. Judaization was simply a government scholarship, like the price of the town-house in the poverty neighborhood twenty years later. It enabled me and Shaul and Micha and our future children to hopefully move into a dream. Into just the same leaf vine tendril hidden dream – Loofah or Morning Glory or maybe this time a grape vine – abruptly there in the depth of nature, in the depth of distance – a home. Into that erotic dream of an isolated, faraway house, cut off, covered, covert, magical and all that, that I imagined I saw in front of me in the orange groves at age twelve-to-thirteen. That I saw in front of me stripped of context, of history, non-seeing community, people, deportation, flight, murder, fear, life spilled out and scattered like a burlap bag of lentils. I saw it not seeing it.

Judaizing the Galilee, even more than that, to me, was a scholarship into a tale of adventure that would establish my uniqueness. Prove me not like all the rest. Prove I could shed the predictable trajectory of college-degree-mortgage-apartment-car-two-or-three-kids-job-dog that I took to be a total loss of self. Judaizing the Galilee was a grant for proving myself to myself shaped into actual walls in a house-on-a-hill, whose front French window ensnared the whole wingspan of coast from Haifa bay to Lebanese border. I imagined the Galilee a virgin space, open to me tracing the contours of self.

The Galilee was a given. Right in the middle of the country. Uncontroversial. Not at all in need of Judaization because to me it was beyond question. The occupation, already a presence in my consciousness by the time I was twenty-seven even if I didn't know or use that term, was elsewhere. The Galilee was wild nature at a secure location. If the Jewish Agency was handing out stipends, why not? In the Galilee, in 1975, I didn't notice Nineteen-Forty-Eight. Nineteen-Forty-Eight had been a fait accompli for years. It could be totally ignored and taken for granted. I'd never heard any one even ask about it: whether it had been necessary, whether there had been no other choice, whether there had really been no other choice. Whether there hadn't been some other option. Whether it had been, was, right. Forty-Eight, as I later learned to call it from my Palestinian friends, was a fact I didn't even note to myself beyond reminders in the form of the "marauders' village." It was presupposed. "An expansionist/appropriating project … is constructed in public discourse as 'a given,' or as 'truth' … supported by the material and political power of the elites disseminating it … and it surfaces in various arenas such as the language of the media, academic research topics, court rulings, political speeches, literary works, popular music – in all the daily cultural practices that tend to duplicate what is 'taken for granted.'" This was how what I failed to note was described by Oren Yiftachel and Alexander Kedar in their paper, "On Power and Land: The Israeli Land Regime," in: Space, Land, Home edited by Yehouda Shenhav and published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad and the Van Leer Institute in Hebrew in 2003. The English translation of these sentences from pages 21-22 is mine.

Back then, due to the successful segregation that my culture and my planning and cultural institutions invested in and tended with care, I didn't have, in fact I had almost no chance of having, a single personal acquaintance whose family came from the hilltop village on which I’d left Tel Aviv to build my house and my self, supported by a government subsidy. I didn't know, and I didn't know how to imagine, the people now gone from the hilltop and living below in the wadi, less than half a mile from the village of their childhood or the village of their mother's childhood, the people who were still living out the forceful dispossession encoded in the phrase "marauders' village." And still retaining a dream not so different, so utterly different, from mine. I didn't see them, the people who were paying my subsidy in the form of their repudiated right to move into the dream that once, in past, had simply been their home.

I saw, in the vicinity, Arab communities which I thought to be villages, without seeing or knowing that they were "undeveloped" mainly thanks or due to state institutions and quasi-state institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Appeal that intentionally disallowed them development and denied them sufficient space, open to tracing their contours of self. Up on the hilltop I enacted another ritual – the incantation of "the clans" or "the khamulot," recited to me again and again in varying masculine voices, the "undeveloped" as a tale of their own failure to reach internal mutual consent, to organize, to understand, to get it, to function as a community. Democratic. Orderly. Normal. Modern.

I saw us building homes on one hilltop and them there before, scattered on other hills in the area or in the ravines in between – neighbors, why not? – and I failed to see that the new line we were drawing around our new houses and yards was meant, expressly intended, to circumscribe their space, to enclose them, to constrict their chances and freedom for building their own new homes, their children's new homes. Like the orange groves that looked endless to me at age twelve-thirteen, the Galilee, nature, looked limitless to me at age twenty-seven. I didn't even conceptualize that, "There's enough space for all of us." The sense of space as a given entitlement and right into which I’d been inculcated shut out any inkling of the fact that space was an issue. That square meters or square feet and the routes of roads and the borderlines of fields and the fences around communities were an issue. And the question which of the communities had fences didn't occur to me either at the time.

I meant, plain and simplistic, to be a good neighbor. Not to bother anyone. "We came with no intention to hurt," my father wrote me in 2000 about 1947. Good, decent people. What's wrong? Why not? "I remember once when I was on sentry duty," he told me in a conversation we had, sixty years after the facts. "I was sitting up on the guard tower and I saw a line. A very very long very long line. More and more people walking towards Lebanon. Walking. Walking. Masses. An endless line. I just saw them. I just watched. I didn't really understand. I remember that line." In another conversation he told me he had heard from one of his comrade kibbutz-members that the members of another, neighboring kibbutz, had gone over and fired shots into an Arab village in the area. In the northern part of the Galilee. To scare them off, my father explained. To get them to flee. He thought that was terrible. Back then at the time. That is, he added, "If this was really true." "Come on, do you mean to tell me that you really didn't know that was going on?" That wasn't my question. It was his comrade kibbutz member who asked him that, back then. At the time. In nineteen-forty-eight. "Did you do something about it? Did you try to do something about it?" I asked sixty years after the facts. "No," he said, "I just thought it was terrible. I heard about it and it shocked me."

In the community in the southern Galilee that I moved to myself in the seventies, with state support, a small group of us started learning Arabic after we had lived there for a year or so. After all, it was our neighbors' language. Why not? But it didn't occur to me to ask the real why not. Why in a new, state-subsidized community, the homes weren't being built both for Jews and for Arabs. Why the not, the strict segregation, was completely taken for granted. To the point where I didn't even think of asking. Why we couldn't be "the new middle class that emerged in the country, which identified domicile with global criteria of 'quality of living,' that don't comply with national or ethnic boundaries or differences … [the middle class that sees] integration as a principle goal to be actively achieved"? This is the wording (in my English translation) of Neta Ziv and Ronen Shamir on page 104 of the book Space, Land, Home in their chapter, "Build Your Home: Macro and Micro Politics in the Struggle against Land Discrimination." I learned to ask all this only many years later, long after I wasn't living there. I learned slowly, with effort, with trepidation. My learning was a cumulative crawl but also directed and consistent. I very nearly learned a whole new language. Another dimension of space, a landspan that had been there in front of me hidden in plain sight. But at twenty-seven, no child after all, I still succeeded in mainly unseeing what I was seeing.

I had a lot of help, of course. Among other things I already had a bachelors' degree and was close to finishing my masters' at Tel-Aviv University when I moved into my Galilee dream. Years of studying science and then literature and philosophy and the history of westernized culture. Studying how knowledge is collected and constructed, how to collect and construct knowledge, how to understand and interpret texts, how to read works, how to read in between the lines, how to analyze, how to think. Years of what, for me, were sometimes exciting or even revolutionary intellectual discoveries. With no thoughtful analysis whatsoever of the place that I, that my professors, were living in. My professors, a few of whom (all men) I looked up to immensely, starry eyed (there were very few women professors, all of them junior faculty and none of them looked up to). None of them offered me, even for a second, a look through the windows of our classrooms in the Gilman Building at the mixture of half-ruined and almost standing and totally destroyed houses in the Palestinian village Sheikh Moanes, which we called Sheikh Munis back then, a village in whose forcibly vacated shells the new state had settled Mizrachi immigrant families in the fifties. My higher education leapfrogged neatly over the power structure that allowed it in the first place while denying it to all kinds of others. Without an interpretation of this place, my higher education concealed, reinforced, affirmed and created as given, the culture that ensured that back then, from 1970 to 1980, I would hear no Arabic in the university halls. Not the Arabic of Palestinians. Not the Arabic of Arabic speaking Jews or of their children. It wasn't that my higher education authored this culture. But it helped immensely in imbuing immersing me with in it.

The math department bulletin board wasn't very crowded when Shaul caught sight of the note: A group organizing for communal settlement in the Galilee. A group. Not much detail. The backdrop provided the necessary information; A university department bulletin board. A template of life-conduct-thinking habits. Without even having to note it to myself I knew that group meant Jewish. Without even having to note it and therefore without having to turn my attention to the strict segregation. Without having to turn it into a question. I understood, from the note that Shaul tore off and brought home, that I was a possible candidate. And I also understood – without having to register this act of understanding – who wasn't. Actually, if I had somehow encountered the idea of a joint, mixed settlement, back then, I wouldn't necessarily have objected. I may well have taken an interest or even been enthusiastic. That isn't the point. The point is my not bumping into it and not having any place to bump into it or to think up such possibilities myself. The point is the not.

Yisrael Koenig made it all really easy for me. In 1976, when we were already living in a trailer at the temporary settlement site, while our homes were being gradually constructed on the ruins of Miyar, the Northern District Commissioner of Israel's Ministry of the Interior composed a secret document that was leaked to the press. According to press reports, Koenig proposed strategies for what is still, to this day, called the demographic problem – a coinage to which I only started listening carefully many years after 1976. Started hearing how its words designate specific people who are presupposed to pose a problem regardless of what they've done. Due to the identity of their mothers or their future mothers. Preclassified before they're born. Versus other specific people who, due to the identity of their mothers of their future mothers, are presupposed to be not a problem. Hearing how its words designate the womb of a friend of mine as a threat to my own, which is a source of security.

The media in 1976 claimed Koenig was afraid of a rising national consciousness, of organizing and emerging institutions created by the Arab citizens of Israel, of demands for political equality. This was ten years after the state had ended its military rule over these people. Koenig was seeking practical ways to encourage Arabs (at the time I too was using this term rather than "Palestinians") to leave the northern district and, in fact, the country. One of these ways was expanding the Jewish presence in the Galilee, which would circumscribe the expansion of existing Arab communities. A weekend magazine article by Yossi Klein, published in the Haaretz daily on July 5th, 2002, looked back at the Koenig memorandum. It claimed (in my translation) that Koenig also proposed "an exchange of leadership," for the Arabs of the Galilee (the article didn’t elaborate on this point) as well as limiting "the number of Arab workers employed at government subsidized industrial plants. He [Koenig] added an explanation: 'Social and economic security … frees the individual and the family from economic worries … allowing them, both consciously and subconsciously, the leisure for social and national thoughts.' Koenig also sought to 'neutralize government allowances for large families' and to channel students into the sciences in which 'the drop-out rates are high.'"

In 1976, the story preoccupied the newspapers that I didn't read at the time. But I heard about it – vaguely – from those in the know who did. I didn't take an interest in the details, didn't look at the specifics of urban or area plans or boundaries, let’s say, to get the picture. What stood out to me, shocked me, along with the rest of my social circle, was the blatant racism of the document the man. Yisrael Koenig, a nationalist, religious Jew, a senior clerk in the Ministry of the Interior, a powerful mover and shaker, signified what I wasn't. Signified, that is, the extent to which I was free of all or any racism. I had no intention whatsoever of circumscribing the lives of Arabs. I didn't in the slightest want to meddle with their business. I didn't share any of the views expressed by Koenig, even remotely. I thought they were horrible. I knew for a fact that all of us – in Yaad – simply wanted to live our lives – faraway from the Joneses, in a quasi-wild, with good neighborly relations. I was thoroughly ignorant of Israel’s land regime or of its urban planning and, for instance, of the natural growth of the town of Sakhnin, nearby Yaad, which by the end of 2005 (25 years after I’d left the Galilee) was already housing twenty-five thousand people in an area of nine-thousand and seven hundred dunams, while the district council that administered Yaad and all the new Jewish communities in the region, was about twenty-five times that size – two-hundred-and-forty thousand dunams. And, while the population of all these new Jewish communities combined was fifteen-thousand, in 2005, that is, about sixty percent of Sakhnin's. So twenty-five times the area for just over half the number of people. These data come from the article, "Transcendent Life in Misgav: the Parable of the Cedar and the Mosses," published by Corinna The Author on her (Hebrew) blog, December 14th, 2005.

In 1976, in my well-tended and well-kept ignorance, I still didn't understand that I, personally, was fulfilling an active role in an intentional plan to systematically cause Sakhnin severe distress "in every sense – whether the issue is land for private or public use." I didn't see that the home being built for me in the mid-seventies would make it terribly difficult for the people of Sakhnin "to find space even for burying the dead" in 2005, as their mayor, Mohammad Bashir, was reported to have said to the daily Haaretz on October 14th, 2004. At age twenty-seven, a young, educated, not consciously racist woman, with every intention of being a good neighbor, I didn't realize I was Yisrael Koenig's executor.

I didn't see Land Day either.

I was we were preoccupied with our small communitarian, unmixed settlement ("fourteen families" – a heading under which we included-erased the two unmarried men among us). With our daily problems. Most of us wanted to start or continue this or that career trajectory and the settlement – that is all of us jointly and the community we had created – needed income. During the first few years we looked for jobs "outside" and commuted back and forth to the city of Haifa or to the industrial sprawl north of it or to some other village in the area. We groped our way through the communal daycare that we had decided to provide for babies and toddlers, rotating caretakers every year so there would be a place to leave children when we commuted to work. Not one of the community women (and it didn't even occur to us to include men in the rotation plan) was trained in child care. Most of us were youngish, first-time mothers, living through painful difficulty and deep insecurity in caring for our individual sons or daughters. So despite our decision to take turns, we were groping, not really knowing what to do, how to organize, how to give our first children safe, good, supportive, protected care. The individual salaries each of us earned working outside were collected in a communal account and distributed as identical salaries paid to each by the community. We decided together who would work with the toddlers in a given year, who would operate the community office, who was responsible for the bank account, who would manage the software company in-the-making, under what conditions to approve graduate studies for someone who was awarded a university scholarship. We deliberated about how to establish and run a foodstore to provide each family with produce and staples, when to run the generator supplying power to the dozen-plus mobile homes that we lived in, temporarily, for four years, while our houses were being planned and built. That is, how early to start it up in the afternoons/evenings and what time to shut it down in the morning (we did without power during the day). We appointed and exchanged committees. We decided in heated discussions which families to accept or reject at the end of trial periods. We monitored every detail of the planning and positioning of the houses that would constitute the "permanent community." And much later, after two years in the trailer camp, when the tractors started leveling the hill top, we struggled to come up with a fair, egalitarian plan for assigning members their respective houses and plots, given a varied list of parameters. Meanwhile, all the while, concurrently, we mainly invested intensively, each of us, in examining and clarifying who her close friends were, who she really loved and could trust in the small, harsh community that were we. The world "outside" receded towards the horizon of my our passionate, compelling investment in creating a way of living that tabled for discussion all manner of habits and arrangements that were taken for granted in other places.

In 1976 I was working as an English teacher in a kibbutz, Kabri, half-an-hour's drive from the trailer camp, driving there and back every day, along a road that wound through the Arab villages of Jdeida and Kufr Yassif and Sheikh Danoun (another supposed "hostile village") and the Jewish settlements of Beit HaEmek and Amka. My little, old not-so-trusty car stalled more than once along the way, long before mobile phones were even invented. That day, March 30th, I was told, most probably in the same deep masculine timbre, that I probably shouldn't take the usual route. "Better take the coastal road," it emphasized, "through Akko and Nahariya." Which meant driving twice the distance if not more. "Might be a big mess." Out of the blue. A mess. Because of the "shabab" – the young boy-men – one of the few Arabic words I already knew. Unruly young ruffians. I thought it was all overblown prejudice and vindictive tale-telling, that they really weren't violent or dangerous. My car had already broken down in Kufr Yassif and no one had hurt me in any way and I'd been helped wholeheartedly by the guys at the gas station, a Jewish woman alone in a broken car. Good people. I thought this was all some blustering, booming-voiced, self-important, empty fuss. Unwillingly but just in case because maybe I'm not that knowledgeable, and maybe to appease Shaul who took the warnings more seriously than I did (if I’m remembering right), I drove around, over an hour each way, there and then back in awful traffic jams near kibbutz Lochamei HaGeta'ot, along the ancient Roman aqueduct running parallel to the main road, and finally got home without incident and without seeing a thing.

Less than ten minutes drive from my home, the people of Sakhnin whose good neighbor I thought I was, had a so-called "gravel cart" show up in the middle of town, while policemen shot and killed six people. Khawla Abu Baker and Dan Rabinowitz told me almost thirty years later about what I didn't see for myself when I lived right next door. On page forty-one of their book, The Stand-Tall Generation, published by Keter in 2002, they described (and I translated) the shootings of Palestinian people protesting “a wave of land-freezes ‘for security and settlement needs,’ the official terminology for a move designed to … shift lands from Palestinian owners to the Jewish collective," or in other words "the official terminology" for a move designed to build my house. A move that I, among others, executed.

I have no other term for "gravel cart." I don't actually know how this bizarre invention worked. Was it supposed to hurl vicious spurts of gravel back at "stone throwers" (the official terminology) from within a protected space (van)? Or maybe it was simply meant to provide cover in the midst of a turbulent demonstration for whoever was supposed to ensure the public order and restore calm. For instance, by shooting live ammunition into a group of demonstrators.

Yes, I did hear about all this back then too. Not just thirty years later. Sure. I didn't read the papers but I knew, vaguely, when I lived right next door, that indeed, as it turned out, there had been a "mess," although not much of anything in Sheikh Danoun, along "my" road. I knew it had something to do with lands. With territory. With some area that had been designated as a no-entry firing range near the Jewish town of Carmiel, an area whose appropriation the demonstrators were opposing. Even back then I actually assumed that they were probably somehow right. But my house was somewhere else. Totally. It was being built on top of a village that had stood there empty. Had been abandoned. Had never been returned to. I hadn't frozen it or cordoned it off under military command. I hadn't prohibited anyone from entering. I hadn't stopped anyone from building there. It had simply been empty. No reason. Stood there for years like the house in the orange groves. Apparently no one had wanted to build or rebuild there before we'd decided to go live in the Galilee. Otherwise, how come it was empty? I can't remember ever asking myself that question, not even as a rhetorical one. Possibly, I dimly understood that I was scared of discovering the answer.

The pines, I thought, should be preserved as far as possible when they start building my house among them. At least one or two of them if there's any way to do that. Maybe even really near the house. That is, if the tractor can clear the earth there and do its digging without felling them. In the mid-seventies of the twentieth century, in my own early thirties, I didn't yet know that, "Fifty percent of Jewish National Fund lands – appropriated from Palestinian refugees in 1948." As the headline of an article by Amiram Barkat, read on February 4, 2005, in the daily Haaretz. "On December 18 1948," the article said in my English translation, "Ben Gurion summoned to him, for an urgent meeting, Yosef Weitz, Director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the JNF."

When we settled in the Galilee almost thirty years later, there was also some Weitz who held a senior position to do with lands and settlements. His name was Raanan. Maybe a son.

"Six days earlier, the UN General Assembly had concluded its discussion of the question of the land of Israel with Resolution number 194, which states that ‘refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.' … The decision aroused apprehensions among state leadership who feared a wave of refugees demanding their property … At the time Israel held about 3.5 million dunams of abandoned lands, previously owned by Palestinians who had become refugees. [Prime Minister, David] Ben Gurion was of the opinion that this store of lands – about one sixth of the entire area of Israel – was vital to ensuring the existence of the Jewish state. … Ben Gurion feared that appropriation of this land by the state would be viewed as an affront to the UN … [T]he solution … was swiftly transferring these lands to private Jewish ownership … [T]he government decided to sell one million dunams of these 'abandoned lands' to the Jewish National Fund."

On Land Day, I circumvented the mess. Obediently. I listened to the knowing voices and drove home. I wasn't frightened. I wasn't angry. I knew it had nothing to do with me.

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About the Contributor

Rela Mazali, writer, independent scholar and feminist anti-militarist from Israel, writes hybrid-genre literary research, in both her m/other tongues, Hebrew and English. Active since 1980 in opposing Israel’s militarization and military occupation, she co-founded the New Profile movement to demilitarize society and state (in 1998) and later (2010) the small arms disarmament and gun control project, Gun Free Kitchen Tables (GFKT), which she coordinates. Mother of three, grandmother of five, she lives just north of Tel Aviv with her partner. Some recent publications include: An essay tale: “Hospital Archive,” in: Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations and Resistance; Reflections on a story: “Complicit Dissent, Dissenting Complicity: A Story and its Context,” in: Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences; An article: “Speaking of Guns: Launching gun control discourse and disarming security guards in a militarized society,” in International Feminist Journal of Politics; GFKT's report, Loose guns: Israeli controlled small arms in the civil sphere, of which she was lead author; A multi-media essay: “Mother Lands,” hosted by M/Other Voices. Rela was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her extensive efforts to bring peace in the Middle East as an activist, researcher and writer.

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