Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once famously described Israel as “a land without a people for a people without a land.” In fact there were hundreds of thousands of Arab residents in the area that became Israel and some 700,000 of them either fled or were expelled.
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The issue of Palestinian refugees touches a nerve in Israel. A 2012 law made it a crime in Israel to commemorate the nakba, although it was not clear exactly how that will be enforced. Now Zochrot, an organization that seeks to increase awareness about the nakba has organized a three-day film festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, Israel’s premier theater for independent films.
“Zochrot offered to screen this series of films and I want to show films by anyone who wants to offer them,” Alon Garbuz, the director of the Cinematheque told The Media Line. “If a Jewish settler makes a film, I’ll show that too.”
In the past, events organized by Zochrot have drawn protesters from the Israeli right. They say that Israel did not start the war, and that Israel accepted the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan that would have created an independent Palestinian state alongside a truncated Jewish state. Israel accepted the deal – the Palestinians turned it down.
Garbuz said he doubts there will be protests this time, but if there are, that would only be a good thing.
“Our independence is their nakba, and now one people is occupying another,” he said. “But controversy is always good for PR. So far ticket sales are weak, but a protest could help.”
When Israel declared independence in 1948, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria attacked the nascent Jewish State. In the subsequent fighting, some 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed, and some 700,000 Palestinians both fled and were expelled.
At the festival, there will be 12 films by both Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers. One film called On the Side of the Road, is a documentary by Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky. The film weaves together the history of 1948 via interviews with Israelis who were involved in the fighting and Tarachansky’s personal story.
“I was raised with the belief that the whole country is ours,” one woman who fought in 1948 said. “There was no such thing as an Arab national movement. We admired power. We were the strong generation, the muscular generation, the anti-European Diaspora, as opposed to the primitive Arab. They were like dust, and it was almost a good deed to fight against them.”
One older Israeli man, who had originally been hesitant to be interviewed, stands on what used to be a Palestinian village.
“Of course I remember it,” he said. “There were adobe houses, there was one with two floors and a giant palm tree. They didn’t know why we were expelling them. We told them, “go to Gaza” and women and children were screaming and crying. That’s who lives in Gaza now – their grandchildren.”
Tarachansky also goes to Ariel, a Jewish community built on land that Israel acquired in 1967. It is also where she grew up.
“My mother wanted to contribute to Zionism and to the settlement movement,” she says in the film. “Behind me is the place I grew up, the city of Ariel, also called the settlement of Ariel. It’s in the middle of the West Bank. Ariel is surrounded by Palestinian villages and all the land that the city I grew up on is actually Palestinian harvesting land.”
In an interview, she said she worked on the film for five years, financing most of it herself.
“The facts don’t matter because it’s the fear, it’s the psychology its collective memory and collective denial,” she told The Media Line. “These are psychological things we have to overcome.”
Many of the five million Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East today say they either want to return to their original homes or receive compensation. That “right of return” is one of the issues under discussion during the current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“The more I started listening to the veterans the more I realized just how central 1948 is and how painful it is and how terrifying it is” Tarachanksky said. “Once you start talking about 1948 everything starts to unravel.”
Article by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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