Destruction of Palestinian Villages Is Not a Matter of Perspective

An NGO has issued a second edition of its successful Nakba map, showing 601 Palestinian villages and 194 Syrian villages destroyed in 1948 and 1967, respectively, as well as destroyed Jewish communities.

Nir Keidar

The Zochrot NGO has published an updated Hebrew version of its dual-layer map of the Holy Land, highlighting destroyed communities set against the backdrop of currently populated areas. Called the Nakba Map, it is not limited to destroyed Palestinian villages but also includes destroyed Jewish and Syrian communities.

Most Israelis are not familiar with the map, which hangs in nearly every Palestinian home and bears the dense dots that represent the numerous Palestinian villages that existed before 1948. Zochrot published the first version in 2013.

The editors of the two maps, Noga Kadman and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, remember Israelis’ shock when they saw for the first time the Palestinian villages that are no longer here. They hadn’t imagined the extent of Palestinian life before 1948 and the scale of destruction, said Kadman, whose groundbreaking research into Israeli ignorance about the destroyed villages pushed Bronstein Aparicio to produce the map.

The two and their colleague, cartographer Ali Abu Rayya, believe that by exposing the information and its significance, they can change the Israeli discourse on the Palestinians, relations between the two peoples and their joint future. The Right of Return is part of that joint future, they say.

And what about the talk that Jews must leave the country because of the destruction, and because they are all settlers (on both sides of the Green Line)? The three say they believe Israel’s rejectionist policy against reconciliation, particularly over the past 20 years, has encouraged such talk.

In the course of their work on the map, the trio followed in the footsteps of Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, a refugee from a Bedouin village in the northwest Negev. He was the first to publish a Nakba atlas, which showed in two layers destroyed villages alongside current populated areas.

The 3,000 copies of the initial Zochrot map sold out last year. They reviewed their data and made slight changes for this second print run of 2,000 maps. The new map shows 601, rather than 678, Palestinian villages (with 750,000 refugees). There were 33 communities with more than 3,000 people, including Jaffa (76,000), Haifa (70,000) and Ramle (17,890); 415 villages with between 100 to 3,000 residents, such as Al-Khalisa (2,130), where Kiryat Shmona now lies, or Najd (720), now Or Haner and Sderot; and 153 even smaller hamlets, like Uja al Hafeer (50), where Nitzana sits today.

Although not all Bedouin villages – especially in the Negev – were included in the map (further research is needed in order to differentiate between actual encampments and the wandering area), their inclusion explains the numerical difference between the Zochrot map and the monumental work of historian Walid Khalidi, which documents 418 Palestinian villages evacuated and destroyed by Israel, and excludes the Bedouin sites. His book did not include cities, either.

The mappers’ review led to an increase – from 14 to 20 – in the number of Palestinian communities still in existence where a section of residents were permanently or temporarily expelled in 1948. These are not part of the 601 destroyed villages.

After the new map was completed, Bronstein Aparicio discovered the Israeli army had expelled residents of Kafr Kara, in eastern Wadi Ara, in 1948. They found refuge in a village near Qalqilyah, beyond what became the Green Line. However, this village didn’t want them and, as one of the village residents told Abu Rayya, “they chased the Kafr Kara residents” away from their territory. “But the map was already printed, without Kafr Kara – to our embarrassment,” says Bronstein Aparicio, who has since left Zochrot to launch De-Colonizer, a research and art laboratory for social change.

The mappers also became acquainted with the history of Nehalim, a religious moshav that suffered both harassment from nearby Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim and shelling from Syria, in time to include it on a list of 26 Jewish communities destroyed in 1948 due to attacks by Arab armies. The previous map listed 24 communities. Some of the Jewish settlements were reestablished immediately after their destruction – such as Gezer, which the Jordanian army conquered and destroyed before withdrawing its forces.

The map is not limited to 1948. Much earlier, village lands the Zionist movement had purchased were emptied out and destroyed. Mlabas (Petah Tikva), Shatta (Mizra) and Jinjar (Ginegar) are just three of 57 villages whose residents were expelled by Zionist settlers, like chattels one disposes of.

The new research – based in part on research by Golan settler Yigal Kipnis, who examined Syrian censuses – revealed that Israel destroyed 194 Syrian villages and farms in 1967, containing 82,709 residents, and not 127 as previously thought. Israel also destroyed six Palestinian villages following the Six-Day War: three in the Latrun corridor; Qa’oun in the northern Jordan Valley; Al-Hama (today Hamat Gader – in the previous map it was errantly included among destroyed Syrian villages); and one place the mapping team found by chance: the tin-shack neighborhood of Arad Al Ramel in what is now the Hof Shemen industrial zone in Israel proper, where some 200 Palestinians lived, including 1948 refugees. Israel used the cover of war to dismantle the shacks and disperse the residents.

“One of the things that guided me in editing the map is resisting the narrative view of history,” says Bronstein Aparicio. “In other words, ‘The destruction from the point of view of’” – that’s to say, minimizing the facts by turning them into a subjective perspective.

“The destruction and logic of the destruction is one of the foundations of the Israeli regime,” he adds. “Without understanding the pattern, it’s impossible to understand what Israel is doing today in Area C or the Negev.”