Monday, 4 March. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

There have been countless times when ignorant westerners (Americans mostly) have asked if we mean “Pakistan” when we say we are from Palestine. When we patiently explain that, no, Palestine is a whole other country and is where “Jerusalem” is, where Jesus was born, etc., etc. an even more ignorant answer often comes out of their unaware mouths. “Oh, you mean Israel, right?”

No, I don’t mean Israel. I mean Palestine.

There is such significance to a name, especially in such an emotionally-charged place like Palestine. The battle here goes far beyond the checkpoints, the separation wall and the Israeli soldiers patrolling our towns, cities and camps. This is a battle for existence, one of replacement and annihilation for which Israel employs the most insidious of tactics.

Take for example, the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Who knew that it was originally a Palestinian town named “Tel Al Rabie’” or the “Hill of Spring.” Most people have accepted that this metropolitan, seaside city is Israeli, plain and simple, asking no questions as to what was there before. Or how about Eilat, that Red Sea resort town at the southern tip of “Israel”. To Palestinians, this is Um Rashrash, a village completely wiped from existence.

But it is not just the demolished Palestinian villages that have disappeared from existence; names and places in Palestine are being replaced day after day with Hebrew titles. All one needs to do is travel to Jerusalem, perhaps the most heavily occupied city in the world (the eastern sector at least) to see what Israel has done. Road signs pointing to “Shimon Hadsidik” (b.k.a Sheikh Jarrah), the City of David (most of which is on Silwan land), and the “Malha Mall (which was once a Palestinian village bearing the same name) all give the impression that the entire area is and always has been exclusively Jewish. Beer Sheva is actually Beer Al Sabe’, Ashkelon is ‘Askalan and Akko is ‘Acca.

The examples, of course, are endless but the strategy is brutally clear. Since Israel’s birth, over the ruins of what was Palestine, its leaders are slowly trying to erase the true identity of the land. “Canada Park”, one of Israel’s so-called national parks was built over the ashes of Yallu and Imwas, two Palestinian communities wiped away in the 1967 war. Even the Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam is not left untouched by Israel, which markets it to the world as the “Temple Mount”, the place where the second temple was destroyed and third will eventually be built in its place. Just up the hill, the Ma’manallah Muslim cemetery is being quietly destroyed by Israeli authorities; a ‘Museum of Tolerance” will be built in its place. The nearby mall has been named “Mamilla Mall” in eerie resemblance to the ghost of its Palestinian past.

It has been 65 years since Israel was founded. After the initial ethnic cleansing that led to the expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians from their land and the destruction of more than 450 villages, Israel has employed various – albeit equally as sinister – means of “de-Arabizing” Palestine and altering the landscape into one that is completely foreign to this part of the world. Even in the brown and green hills of the West Bank, ugly, red-topped settlement homes stand out like a sore thumb. The structures are offensive to the land, accustomed to quaint Arab villages, to shepherds tending to their sheep and to olive trees tenderly cared for by their Palestinian owners.

The names of places have been erased, replaced with strange Hebrew names, and the history of what once was has been buried deep under the steel and bricks of Palestine’s colonizers.

Thankfully, there are many Palestinians who do remember and who will never forget. It is up to us to counter this powerful Israeli machine with awareness, education and collective memory. Palestinians name their children Yaffa, Bisan, Jenin and even Falasteen, all in an attempt to honor the place that will always and forever, remain Palestine to us.

Joharah Baker 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 mid@miftah.org.

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