It is so easy to forget and to live in oblivion in Israel. Itís easy not to know or care about the history of injustice from which the state of Israel was born while the-would- be Palestinian state is yet to come into being. Stay in west Jerusalem, walk on streets with Hebrew names, dine at a restaurant with a Hebrew menu and kosher meals, and drive around the outskirts of Jerusalem on wide well-built highways with rows of patches of trees and itís easy not to know anything beyond what you see. It is too easy to forget the Palestinian villages that used to be, the Palestinian residents that used to live there, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing Palestinian struggle for freedom.
What made me realize how everything in Israel is ďbuilt to forgetĒ was a drive from Jerusalem to the south, to the Negev and Eilat. On the highway at the western exit of the city, just a few kilometers away from Jerusalem, you can see patches of trees in what would look like forest reserves. The sides of the road are also lined with rows of trees and green bushes. If you donít know the history of injustice in this land, itís easy to just drive by, impressed with the greenery in the rather dry ďMiddle EastĒ. You might even give Israel a pat on the back to acknowledge a job well done. But the truth is that many of the nice neighborhoods standing today are built on the ruins of Palestinian cities and villages. The forests were planted on confiscated private Palestinian land and the trees by the road side are there to ďto cover up the crimesĒ committed by the Palmach, Haganah and other Jewish forces in the wake of the Nakba in 1948. Historical sources say around 500 Arab Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated during the Nakba. Many of them were destroyed while others were left with few residents, and others repopulated with Jewish residents and renamed. One of the towns completely depopulated is the village of Lifta.
Lifta is five kilometers west of Jerusalem. It used to be a small but vibrant Palestinian village of more than 2,900 residents on the eve of the Nakba. After terrorist attacks from Jewish forces in 1947 and the outbreak of the war in 1948, the residents fled their homes; what remains of the village today are abandoned houses hanging on the cliff. This is one of rare Palestinian villages that was fully depopulated but largely left intact. Of course, as impunity goes in Israel, thereís not even the recognition of what used to be and who used to live in these villages. There are no signs or memorials narrating what happened there. Rather, Israel tries to bury the legacy of villages like Lifta behind rows of tall trees or completely destroy them without a trace to build new Jewish settlements.
As if that history of depopulation were not enough, there has been an ongoing forced eviction of the Arab/Bedouin population within Israel. Further down south, in the Negev Desert are the Bedouins or the ĎArabs of the Negeví as they have started to call themselves. Bedouins have been living in the desert for thousands of years under different civilizations and governments. They were there before the birth or the international recognition of Israel. Yet, Israel refuses to recognize their villages and land ownerships because Zionist Israel only considers them a threat to Jewish land control i.e. a few thousand Arabs occupying a large area of land.
Since the 1970s, Israel has been promoting ďJudiazationĒ of the Negev, taking up land from the Bedouins to settle Jews and build military facilities. While Jews flock in, Arabs of the Negev are ghettoized in government-built villages that have limited public services and no accompanying industries or businesses that can offer employment for the residents. Unable to practice their traditional way of life including cattle herding, the Bedouins are at the bottom of the Israeli social hierarchy and face extreme poverty. The ones awaiting their evacuation still live in the ďunrecognizedĒ villages, are surrounded by numerous military bases and live without water or electricity while the road they leave by, the highway that stretches down south to Eilat is all well lit. And the military bases every few kilometers are oases of their own with facilities and services.
Even though they constitute about 12% of Israelís Arab population, the Bedouins are by far the ďinvisible citizens of IsraelĒ. The land they live in, the Negev Desert is not arable or naturally conducive for living but it provides a much needed space for Israelís insatiable military needs. Israel, one of the smallest yet highly militarized countries in the world, continues to eye the living space of the Bedouins for its military playground.
Lifta may be considered history, something that happened over half a century ago. The distance in time or the progress we humans would like to think we have made in our value of human equality, dignity, and sanctity of life, may lead us to believe that ethnic cleansing, systemic racial discrimination or apartheid are elements of the past. But the truth is, in Israel, it is not only the past but it is also the present. Even more alarming is the fact that itís the plan for the future: land confiscation and ghettoization in the West Bank, Judiazation of Jerusalem, systemic inequality and racial discrimination against Palestinians, racially segregated settlements on top of Palestinian villages and private lands are policies and ramification of the Israeli occupation in the present. But it should be known to the oblivious Israelis and internationals that to remember the past and to learn from history is the only way we can prevent a future of prolonged apartheid and continuous ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Itís the only way we can empathize with those that have felt the brunt of the Israeli occupation because itís easy to forget the brutality of the past if you donít bear the scars from it.
Melkam Lidet is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.