For 70 years, Israel has tried to erase Palestinian history. And for 70 years, Palestinians have resisted erasure. My mother helped me understand how.
In her expansive history of Jerusalem, British author Karen Armstrong describes a peculiar pastime of Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general who, in 1967, captured the city’s eastern half. Dayan, it turns out, was “the most famous of Israel’s amateur archaeologists,” an avid practitioner with “a quasi-religious passion” for unearthing fragments of Jerusalem’s Jewish past.
This “patriotic archaeology” was more than hobby, though. Dayan saw in it a way to inspire allegiance, among Jewish Israelis, to the state. “They learn that their forefathers were in this country three thousand years ago,” he told an interviewer. “By this they fight, and by this they live.”
For the Palestinian family in exile, archaeology takes on different meaning. Deprived of the land, we sift instead through the memories of our kin, our living history held in the mesh of imagery and idiom.
I recall how, two decades into the Oslo process, I pried open a box my mother had asked me to hold in safekeeping (“in a cool, dry place,” she said). In it, I found hundreds of faded photographs — my mother’s history, hidden all those years in sepia stills. There she was outside her home in Bethlehem, a scout in neckerchief and beret. There she was, at Jerusalem’s Mamounia school, then just a bus ride away.
It was this living Palestinian history that Jerusalem’s Israeli “liberators,” Dayan at heir helm, sought to erase. In July of 1950, after he had ordered the destruction of an eleventh-century structure, said to be the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Dayan made no attempt to conceal the act: “The detonation was carried out by the Coastal Plain District,” he proclaimed, “at my instruction.”
What followed was equally remorseless. By the time this particular campaign of erasure had ended, Dayan’s army had destroyed three-quarters of the mosques that fell within Israel’s newly established borders. As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has documented, such was the fate of entire Palestinian villages, hundreds of them summarily razed by Israel’s first generation.
If the truth of that early “cleansing” has now been documented by Pappé and others, it would be a mistake to think of it as past. As my colleague Edo Konrad reminded +972 readers earlier this month, Dayan’s eulogy to...Read More