By: Yoav Bachar
My name is Yoav. I was born on Reines Street corner Frishman in 1949. My mother was born here, and my father and his parents immigrated from Lublin in 1930 when he was six. In October 2009, I'll be 60 years old. My 85-year-old parents still live in Tel Aviv.
On Saturday, I went on a tour organized by Zochrot to see the ruins of Simsim, a village that was destroyed in May 1948. "Was destroyed" -- note the passive voice. That's the language I'm used to from the history books. I suppose the veterans of the Negev Brigade will tell their stories in terms of heroism and the "redemption of the land." On Saturday, we met Ramadan Faraj Allah, 77, who was 16 when the Jews of the Palmach's Negev Brigade attacked his village. His story is about how, until that fateful day on 13 May 1948, he and his friends would play under the sycamore trees scattered among the hundreds of homes in the village, about its 1,500 Palestinian inhabitants, the mosque at its center, the wells and water trenches for the cattle and goats, the storage pits for the grains, the paths that led to the surrounding villages, including the village of Damra, and the Alhasi stream, the Shikma, that flooded its banks in the winter -- all that he was forced to leave behind when his family fled in '48.
Forty years ago, during my army service in the Nahal, my friends and I lived on Kibbutz Erez, 4 kilometers from Simsim, downstream from the Alhazi, the Shikma. I thought in different terms back then. I thought that Damra, on whose lands Erez was established, had also "been destroyed" in 1948 and its lands "redeemed." I thought that, in working the fields, my friends and I were realizing the vision of "Jewish labor." It was all so simple then. The terminology was accepted at face value, without question, without doubt.
In recent years I've begun to participate in the tours organized by Zochrot, and they take me to the villages. But... there are no villages. The destruction didn't "just happen," and the villagers did not "abandon" them. Without any go-betweens, Zochrot introduces us to people like Ramadan Faraj Allah, who were born here and lived only a short time before they were turned into refugees and driven from the villages while their homes were still standing, villages where life pulsated between the wells and the fields. Faraj told us that they grew wheat, corn, barley, chickpeas, and a lot of sesame from which Simsim got its nickname.
I'm going to be 60 this year, and the country is turning 61 -- us with our independence and "renewal," and the Palestinians with their tragedies, their Nakbah (catastrophe), their expulsion, and their refugees; us with the Israel "Defense" Forces that followed the pre-state "liberation" organizations -- the Palmach, the Lehi, the Etzel -- and the Palestinians with their movements of resistance against the occupation, movements that in our narrative are referred to only as terrorist organizations.
Zochrot helps us remember the Nakbah. Zochrot gives us the opportunity to listen and to see. The truth is not that the villages "were destroyed" but that someone destroyed them. The truth is that the lands were not redeemed and that the notion of Jewish labor which we so cherish actually deprived the Palestinians of work and income.
I participate in the Zochrot tours in order to try to get my friends to overcome their fear of the Palestinian refugees. Perhaps we'll be able to put a stop to the violence from which they suffer; perhaps we'll be able to ask forgiveness and perhaps they will forgive.
I participate in the Zochrot tours in order to support the right reflected from the ruins of the villages calling for the return of their people who, like us, are the sons of this land. When that happens, Jews and Arabs will no longer have to raise the cry that they refuse to be enemies, because no one will be forcing us to see each other as such. In the meantime, very few of my friends are prepared to listen.
Herzliya, 29 March 2009