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Elah Valley, Israel — Occasionally, vans filled with Palestinians rock up, often accompanied by European film crews to document their return to their village. The Palestinians are putting forward the argument that the vast majority of their destroyed villages are still today on empty land. They claim Israel has abandoned farming and they can return to their ruined homes and empty fields and not displace any Jews.
On the walls of the Ibda Cultural Center in the Dehaishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem are painted the names of 46 villages. They are all familiar to me. Creepy.
Meeting Ziyad Abbas alarmed me. Younger than I, he appeared 20 years older. Abbas is co-director of Ibda at this camp, home to 11,000 refugees, most tracing their roots to the Adullam/Lachish district.
“I learned how to throw stones before I learned how to read and write,” he said, launching into his well-oiled pitch. His words are such clichés they die on the way out of his mouth.
Abbas, 47, started leading groups of Palestinians to the grounds of their villages as part of their commemoration of their “naqba” (catastrophe).
“My mother’s village of Jeresh is destroyed totally. But when I entered with my uncle I felt the history emerging from the stones and he rebuilt the village in his mind for me,” he said, pulling out a well-thumbed photo album. “I imagine when I wake up I will see this from my window,” he said, showing me a photograph of a vista quite similar to what I see every day from my living room.
“Our villages are in the middle of parks, and then we come back to this bullshit refugee camp. The children of Israel have fresh air in a forest so they can have their barbeques and here …” he said, trailing off.
That’s true. Most of the moshavim and kibbutzim were built next to and not on top of the Arab villages. This contradicted history, where the conqueror settled on top of the vanquished. What were the early state builders thinking? That one day the Palestinians would come back?
A few years ago, before he died, I sought out Lova Eliav, one of the granddaddies of the Israeli Left. He was in the 1950s a wunderkind who established the huge expanses between the Jerusalem corridor and the Gaza Strip. It was a land that had been, well, ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.
“We did to them what all victors in every generation in the miserable history of mankind did. The victor conquers, kills in battle and those who remain are banished,” said Lova. He explained that the crowded Arab villages were not suitable for the “new Jew” farming communities designed with fields rolling out behind houses in the modern (pork chop eating) state.
“But Lova,” I argued. “The Palestinians in the refugee camps are saying they no one is living today on the rubble where their villages once stood. They claim they can come back and rebuild them and not put out any Israeli.”
“This is feigning simplicity. It’s disingenuous. But there’s cunning in this approach,” said Lova, who was eventually ousted from his party when he opposed Jewish settlements in the territories. “You know I am a peacenik. According to my conception, they don’t have any right of return and they never will. It would be the end of the Jewish state.”
And God appeared before Abraham and said: “I give to you and all of your descendants this land in which you are now a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan will belong to your descendants as an everlasting possession.”
Throughout our history as a Jewish nation we have been, as the Bible often noted, aware of the fact that we were not indigenous to this land. The father of the Israelites, Abraham, was not born here and the Torah – which defined moral and religious character of the Jewish nation – was also given on Mount Sinai, which was, the last time I looked, outside the Promised Land.