The Arab Villages That Were: A New Israeli Guidebook

A new volume in Hebrew and Arabic retraces a past that many prefer to forget.

Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
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Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

A round white dome stands in the middle of the vacation village at Dor Beach, near Caesarea. I've visited this place dozens of times but never noticed the sheikh's tomb on the well-tended lawn. Nor did I remember the large stone building right on the shoreline, a few dozen meters from the water, opposite the bobbing fishing boats.

This made me wonder. After all, this beach - also known as Tantura - was among my parents' favorites and as a child we would go there every summer. Still, when I pressed the intercom at the entrance to the village and explained why I'd come, the woman declared: "There are no antique buildings here. You are mistaken."

I tried to persuade her that the guidebook I was carrying - an intriguing new volume, in Hebrew and Arabic, called "Omrim Yeshna Eretz" ("Once Upon a Land - a Tour Guide" ) - contradicted what she had said. Maybe she doesn't see the sheikh's tomb either, although she walks past it every day.

The guidebook offers 18 tours in various locales, including Palestinian villages that were evacuated in the late 1940s, most of which were destroyed. On the back of the book it says, "The tours lead to places that once existed, the remains of which we often encounter even if we do not know their meaning."

The book was published by Pardes Publications and Zochrot (an NGO which, according to its website, tries to explain to Jewish Israelis the significance of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" Palestinians suffered in 1948 with the creation of the state ). My tour followed the chapters on Ein Hod and Ein Hawd al-Jadida, written by Rachel Leah Jones, and the Carmel shore villages of Kafr Lam (Habonim ) and Dor/Tantura, written by Noga Kadman.

I'd visited these places before, but this time went in search of their Palestinian past - to see what remains of that past, which to me had been almost entirely transparent for decades. I looked for what could be found today of the villages that, 65 years ago, stood along the shore.

Regarding the book, let me say straightaway that its importance goes beyond the mere fact of its publication. It contains consistent, systematic historical documentation, with a clear political opinion, of a past we tend to ignore. Indeed, until this visit, I myself had missed the sheikh's tomb at Dor.

The guide presents the reader with complex challenges, such as dealing with a combination of tour directions and comprehensive history - and all in two languages, with complicated and slightly wearisome pagination.

To the left (i.e., south ) of the access road leading to Dor Beach, there is a brown sign directing visitors to a monument for 13 fighters of the Alexandroni Brigade who fell here in 1948, during the War of Independence. This modest memorial stands inside a fenced-off area. It is necessary to use a phone to call someone from the Agriculture Ministry's fishing research institute that operates on the site to open the gate.

The institute is currently located in a long stone building with large arches. Until 1948, the building served as the school for the children of the Arab village of al-Tantura. About 1,700 people lived in the village in the 1940s, and 200 buildings stood there, but hardly anything is left of them today. It is, however, worth looking for the little that remains in the Dor and Nahsholim vacation villages, near the beach.

Deep scar

On the eve of the tour I spoke with Yousef Amar, a Fureidis resident and the grandson of refugees from Tantura. He asked me if I knew the parking lot at Dor Beach. "Yes," I replied. Amar sighed and said: "Great. It stands on our graveyard."

Most of the Arab village's houses stood on the site where the parking lot is now located. Not a lot can be seen here. According to Amar, his grandfather and grandmother - and also his father - did not want to talk about Tantura. They were afraid of even saying the word "Palestinian." "You, the victors, write the history and we, the vanquished, no longer care what you write," Amar said.

I didn't tell Amar this, but my father - who, as it happens, was named Yosef - did in fact like to talk about Tantura. A soldier in the Alexandroni Brigade, he fought in the battle for the village, was wounded at its start and spent several weeks in the hospital. A deep scar, which he was proud to display, remained on his shoulder. Decades later he would say, "I spilled my blood here and look what has come of all this for us. What is this state? It's not what we intended."

The story told by a number of historians, most notably Teddy Katz - to the effect that the village's occupiers massacred the inhabitants of Tantura - made my father angry. It was better not to mention this.

At the southern edge of the Dor vacation village stands the tomb of Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Alburjirmi, a former inhabitant of the place whose relatives, according to the guidebook, today live in Lebanon, Syria and Canada. A few hundred meters from the tomb, between the vacationers' part and the fishing boats belonging to the inhabitants of Fureidis that bob in the bay, stands a large building that appears to be on the verge of collapse. This is the Customs House, where British Mandatory officials lived. They supervised the export of watermelons grown by Tantura's residents to Egypt.

It is also worth entering the Nahsholim holiday village area (north of the parking lot ) and visiting the glass factory there. In 1882 Baron Rothschild bought land from some Tantura residents and established, adjacent to the Arab village, a gigantic stone building. This factory was supposed to manufacture glass bottles for the wines of nearby Zichron Yaakov. Meir Dizengoff, who was later to become the first mayor of Tel Aviv, was the chemist who brought Rothschild here, but the whole enterprise collapsed shortly after the factory was built and nothing was manufactured there.

In recent years, this beautiful building was renovated and now serves as an archaeological museum in which artifacts from Tel Dor are displayed. If you would like to see remains of the more ancient history of this perfect bay area, it is worth climbing the hill where the Tel Dor excavations are under way (north of Nahsholim ). There is a fantastic view from the top of the hill. Here you can clearly understand the advantages villagers once enjoyed - a beautiful and convenient place with tranquil inlets where boats could be sheltered from stormy weather.

It is possible to walk from Dor to Habonim beach along a path with red markings, that winds parallel to the beach and the hills. This is a lovely tour that takes about an hour and a half. It is also possible to drive to Habonim (from Highway 4 north, and then west following the signs ). The remains of the village where Moshav Habonim is now located are right in the middle of that community. The most prominent and impressive is the building that houses the moshav's secretariat, which also serves as a library and post office today.

This impressive structure was the home of the mukhtar (village head ) of Kafr Lam. You can climb an external staircase to the house's veranda and look out over the surrounding area. Next to this building stood the houses of Kafr Lam; until 1948, there were about 350 inhabitants living in some 50 houses. Today, there is a large lawn, north of the mukhtar's house, where many of those homes stood.

Near the lawn stands a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust, inscribed with a quotation from World War II underground member and poet Abba Kovner: "To remember the past, to live the present, to trust the future." An Arab worker knelt on the lawn next to the memorial and prayed when I visited there.

At the top of the hill, beyond a small grove of trees, stands the biggest surprise of Habonim: a large, impressive, entirely neglected and ruined Muslim fortress from the 8th century, called Caferlet. According to the guidebook, this is one of the country's few surviving fortresses with round towers at its corners. The structure could be a tourism magnet if anyone would spruce it up, but today it is difficult even to beat a path to get a look at it.

'Our ways are different'

Thus, not much remains from Tantura and Kafr Lam. A few buildings testify to the life that once existed in those places. At Ein Hod, further northeast, the situation is completely different. Unlike the other Arab villages in the area that were destroyed, almost to their foundations, in 1953 a decision was taken to preserve the buildings at what was formerly called Ein Hawd and turn the place into an artists' village - for Jewish artists, of course. In 1954 the locale's name (meaning, "the spring of the water trough," in Arabic ) was changed to Ein Hod ("the spring of splendor," in Hebrew ).

Muhammad Mubarak Abu Alhija sits in the courtyard of Habayit, an excellent restaurant that serves wonderful Arab food, with a Swiss-like view, in Ein Hawd al-Jadida, which was established in the 1960s by Ein Hawd refugees a few kilometers east of the village from which they were uprooted. He has blue eyes, a piercing gaze and a tired smile. He stops smoking his cigarette, looks for a moment at the guidebook I show him, and says: "I don't agree with the Zochrot association. Our ways are different. They want to take the bones of my grandfather who was uprooted from Ein Hawd out of his grave. How is that going to help me?"

Abu Alhija is head of the village of Ein Hawd al-Jadida. Until 1992, it was considered an unrecognized village under Israeli law and its inhabitants did not get water, electricity, sewage or an approach road. The village has only become a recognized locale by the Hof Hacarmel regional council since 2004.

In his youth Abu Alhija worked as a building laborer for the Jews in Ein Hod. He then studied civil engineering and established the Association of Forty, the first organization that dealt with the distress of the unrecognized villages. Ten years ago he opened Habayit, which has become a great success.

"I am a realistic person," Abu Alhija explains. "My only problem is that the state does not treat us with respect and as equals. I am asking only for full equality. I think the people of Ein Hod are still afraid of us, and I don't understand why. I don't, after all, want to go back there. Look at how beautiful it is here. Even if they pay me millions I am not prepared to trade with them today. But there has to be respect among people. They insist on operating a bar that sells alcohol in the building that was the village mosque - that is disrespect. I don't feel religious, but it is necessary to respect the other. We've offered to build them a restaurant in a different location and they are refusing. I was born in the new village and I have it good here, but I want to be an equal citizen in the state and have some respect and dignity."

Then he recalls someone who came to have coffee at the restaurant and told him, with a big smile: "Today I bought your grandfather's house."

"I didn't say anything to him," says Abu Alhija. "I only asked: 'Is the coffee good?' That's it."

The neglected, partly concealed 8th-century Muslim fortress at Habonim.Credit: Moshe Gilad
Artists' homes in Ein Hod. The original structures were preserved here.Credit: Moshe Gilad
The Customs House at Dor Beach. One of the few remnants of Tantura's past.Credit: Moshe Gilad

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