Love (of Zion) Among the Palestinian Ruins

A Transplanted Mississippi Jew Considers His Israel Roots

A Mississippi-to-Moshav Journey: An ariel view of Srigim, a village in central Israel, where the author lives.
Wikimedia Commons
A Mississippi-to-Moshav Journey: An ariel view of Srigim, a village in central Israel, where the author lives.

By Arieh O’Sullivan

Published April 25, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.