Adonis Diaries

Israeli recreational sites, national parks, touristic region…? They are all destroyed Palestinian villages since 1948.

Posted on: May 22, 2023

Jessica Buxbaum

15 May, 2023

Over 180 Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948 are now Israeli recreational sites or national parks, with environmentalism used to conceal the history of the Nakba

In 1967, Israel expelled the residents of Imwas, a Palestinian village northwest of Jerusalem that was captured during the Six-Day War, and demolished the town.

Today its remains — along with three other villages — are buried under non-indigenous eucalyptus and oak trees as part of Ayalon Canada Park, with barely a trace of its former inhabitants’ lives left.

More than 180 Palestinian villages, whose residents (over 800,000) were displaced during the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine known as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, are now Israeli recreational sites.

After the state of Israel was established in 1948, government agencies and “non-profit organisations” – like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) – began turning depopulated Palestinian villages into green spaces, under the Zionist myth that colonisation was “making the desert bloom”.

“The fact that some of these forests have no names, are not cared for, nor accessible for hiking or any kind of activities, shows that their sole purpose is to actually just take over the land and cover up the remains of the villages [and] to prevent the refugees’ return,Najwan Berekdar, media and advocacy director at Zochrot, an NGO promoting recognition of the Nakba in Israeli society, told The New Arab.

Haider Abu Gosh, who was expelled from Imwas when he was 14 years old, acknowledged how many of the village’s residents-turned-refugees can’t even visit the land that was once theirs.

“This park became a recreation area for the Israeli Jews or anyone who can get there,” Abu Gosh said. “Unfortunately, the people from the village who are still living in the West Bank can’t get there.”

After being displaced, Abu Gosh grew up in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Today he’s only able to access his land because he received Israeli citizenship when he married a Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship.

The Palestinian village of Lifta, west of Jerusalem, was depopulated by Zionist militias in 1948. [Getty]

The JNF’s role in hiding history

Created in 1901 during the Zionist Congress in Switzerland, the JNF was tasked with buying land in Palestine for Jewish settlement.

The process was typically done through absentee landlords, but when Palestinians became aware of the JNF’s efforts in the 1920s, they refused to sell their land to the organisation. The JNF then turned to more insidious methods of acquiring land, like recruiting Palestinians to buy plots for the fund.

By Israel’s founding, almost 90 per cent of Palestinian land seized during the Nakba was transferred to state and JNF ownership under Israeli military orders and legislation.

“The JNF did not only play a role in the displacement of Palestinians in ’48. They continue to play that role today

Noga Kadman, an Israeli tour guide and author of Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948, explained that the JNF initiated its forestation campaign to make Palestine resemble the European nations Zionist settlers arrived from. But after 1948, planting trees became a way to conceal Palestinian history.

“[Parks’ authorities] ignore the villages altogether,” Kadman said, describing how the signs rarely mention the area was once a Palestinian village unless it relates to nature, such as the villages’ orchards being absorbed into the park.

“They present the villages as violent against Jews or Israelis or as a destination for occupation without talking about them also as civil places where families used to live,” Kadman said. “They never describe the real reasons why those places are empty now.”

Kadman explained that the information presented in these parks serves to reinforce the false narrative of a country with a Jewish majority.

“It’s part of the mechanism to shape the Israeli awareness or lack of awareness to the full story of the history and geography in the country,” Kadman said.

Israeli police detain a young woman as Palestinian Bedouins protest in the southern Israeli village of Sawe al-Atrash in the Negev, or Naqab, desert against a forestation project by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), on 12 January 2022. [Getty]

A Nakba never finished

The JNF’s forestation campaign hasn’t ended, Zochrot’s Berekdar emphasised, explaining how erasure through environmentalism is ongoing.

“The JNF did not only play a role in the displacement of Palestinians in ’48,” Berekdar said. “They continue to play that role today.”

The JNF is currently pushing Jewish-only development in Palestinian-heavy areas like the Galilee and the Naqab (or Negev desert, where a village was demolished over 150 times in order to force the “bedouins” to transfer)).  

“In almost every Palestinian locality or in every JNF park that we’ve visited, we can see cactuses. And that tells us that there has been a Palestinian village here”

 “These projects are being built in order to transfer more Palestinians and to take over more land,” Berekdar said.

“The idea is not only to prevent Palestinians from taking this land, or from purchasing land and expanding. The idea is also to take away the land as much as possible from people who might then request to get back the land.”

While many Palestinian refugees are blocked from returning home, Abu Gosh often visits his former village now to explain the land’s history to journalists and tourists, but returning isn’t easy.

“Even after more than 50 years, still I get worried. And sometimes it’s even difficult to stop myself from crying,” Abu Gosh said. “I don’t like it but I have to go just to speak about what happened.”

Despite Israel wiping out Palestinian memories, the land is as resilient as its people and little pockets of Palestine creep through.

“In almost every Palestinian locality or in every JNF park that we’ve visited, we can see cactuses. And that tells us that there has been a Palestinian village here,” Berekdar said. “If you look closely around, there are things that can help you tell it was Palestinian land.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum

In Masafer Yatta, the Nakba is ongoing. Jessica Buxbaum

75 years after the Nakba, Palestinians still dream of return. Rami Almeghari

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