KABRI, Western Galilee – A group of young families survey the impressive memorial to the soldiers ambushed near the kibbutz of Yehiam during the War of Independence in 1948. Their guide relays the story of the 47 brave Jewish fighters killed while delivering supplies to the under-siege kibbutz. Their convoy, he recounts, was targeted by Arab villagers hiding out in the Muslim cemetery just a few dozen meters away.
The grounds of the Yehiam Convoy Memorial contain some of the original armored vehicles that came under attack on March 27, 1948; a plaque bearing the names of the fallen soldiers; and a map showing the area as it looked back then, dotted with Arab villages.
Until a year ago, visitors curious about what transpired at this site 67 years ago would have relied on the Jewish-Israeli version of events – the one spelled out on the visitor information signs and monuments scattered on the premises, not to mention official government and Israel Defense Forces websites.
Now, though, a mobile application called iNakba provides relatively simple access to the other side of the story as well. Not only at this particular site, but also at many other flash points of the first big Jewish-Arab war – known by Israelis as the War of Independence, while the Palestinians term what happened to them when the State of Israel was founded as the Nakba (or “catastrophe”). Nakba Day is marked annually on May 15, a day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israeli Independence Day.
By downloading the app – available in Arabic, English and Hebrew – and clicking on the link to Al-Kabri, for example (it’s no coincidence that many communities in Israel carry names similar to those of the abandoned and destroyed Arab villages on which, or near which, they were established), they can learn about some of the events that predated the attack on the Haganah [pre-independence army of Palestine’s Jews] convoy, which loom large in the Palestinian narrative.
For example, less than two months before the fatal ambush, according to information provided on iNakba, “a small Zionist unit had attempted to blow up the house of a village leader allied with the Mufti of Jerusalem.” It was after this hit-and-run attack, the app states, that Arab villagers often tried to block Jewish traffic on the main road. Citing testimony from some of these villagers, iNakba also provides details pertaining to the reprisal operation that followed the convoy ambush – information not widely available via official Israeli sources. “An undisclosed number of villagers were taken captive and some were killed,” it reports. “Others were killed during their dispersal in Galilee when Zionist forces found out they were from Al-Kabri.”
Where exactly was the village of Al-Kabri? Using GPS technology, iNakba directs travelers to the precise location, a less-than-one-minute drive from the Yehiam memorial. “You have arrived at your destination,” announces the recorded voice on the navigational app, though there isn’t a whole lot to see. No monuments here. Not even any abandoned homes. All that remains are crumbled stone ruins among a field of cactus plants.
But that, too, is part of the story.
iNakba was created last year by Zochrot, an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the displacement of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their villages during and after the 1948 war. As an organization that supports the Palestinian right of return, it falls on the far left of the Israeli political spectrum.
Currently, 520 sites are mapped on iNakba, but the organization says the list is still incomplete. Using a wide range of both Palestinian and Israeli sources, the app provides the following basic information on each village: population in 1948; date of occupation; name of the military operation that displaced its residents; name of Jewish settlements, if any, on or around the area after 1948. In some cases, there are detailed accounts of battles waged at the site. Photos and video testimonials are also available for some locations. And since the app is interactive, visitors are invited to post their own, too.
Getting through all the sites on iNakba is a daunting task. But here are suggestions for stops that include not only the ruins of abandoned or destroyed Palestinian villages (often, not even that), but also Jewish memorials honoring those who died at the very same location while battling for Israel’s independence. Call it a do-it-yourself dual narrative experience.
In the parking lot near Kibbutz Yizre’el, south of Afula in northeastern Israel, two Druze women are preparing flatbreads. Another vendor is selling homemade jachnun, rolled sticks of dough traditionally eaten by Yemenite Jews on the Sabbath. Most of the weekend travelers spilling out of the parked cars have come to take in the spectacular view. Along the trail leading to the scenic overlook is a monument commemorating the young soldiers killed in battle in the area during Israel’s War of Independence, many of them from nearby kibbutzim. Inscribed on a series of plaques stationed along the way are biblical verses relaying the tales of the Israelite kings who once lived in these parts. There is no mention whatsoever, though, of the Palestinian village of Zir’in, which occupied this area less than a century ago.
Just beyond the overlook, on a slope covered with overgrown weeds, an abandoned stone structure – surrounded by the remains of crumbled walls – provides the sole clue of what was once here. In 1948, according to iNakba, 1,650 Palestinians lived in Zir’in. Information provided on the app relays that “after a mortar barrage to soften its defense, the village was captured on May 28 by the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade, with little resistance. Women and children fled weeks prior to its capture.”
Lounging around in bathing suits with their little ones underfoot, vacationers in the gated coastal holiday village of Dor Beach, situated south of Haifa, seem entirely oblivious to the little domed structure found right in their midst. A sign in Hebrew identifies it as the grave of a long-dead sheikh.
It is one of the few remnants of the seaside fishing village of Al-Tantura, which once occupied a gorgeous strip of beach right here beneath the town of Zichron Yaakov. As iNakba spots go, this one carries more evidence than usual of previous inhabitants. Along with the grave, an almost perfectly intact stone building stands just a few meters from the sea. A sign posted outside its arched façade forbids entry.
Adjacent to the nearby coastal highway is a stone monument listing the names of the 13 Jewish fighters from the Alexandroni Brigade who fell in a battle waged on this spot during the 1948 war.
A controversy erupted 15 years ago when an Israeli graduate student published a thesis alleging that the local villagers had been massacred indiscriminately by IDF troops. Information provided by iNakba on the battle of Al-Tantura is rather sparse. However, the app does note that 1,730 Palestinians once lived here along this splendid shore.
Al-Qastal/Castel National Park
Overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway (Route 1), the Castel National Park is known for the remains of the crusader fortress on its summit. It was also the site of several particularly fierce battles during the 1948 war. Detailed descriptions of these fights appear on bronze plaques stationed around the site, along with a monument to the Israeli soldiers killed in battle here and a memorial to the convoys that tried to break through the blockade of Jerusalem.
The national park is built directly atop the site of the former Arab village of Al-Qastal. Evidence of what preexisted the Jewish state here comes in the form of a prominent stone building located directly above the memorial to the Israeli soldiers killed at this spot. A sign in Hebrew reveals it to be the former residence of the village mukhtar. According to iNakba, in 1948 the population of Al-Qastal totaled 100.