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S. African Jews in Lubya: We're here to acknowledge the Nakba

Among the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, a group of South African Jews publicly apologizes to descendants of Lubya’s refugees for their donations to the Jewish National Fund, donations that were used to plant part of the forest that covers the village’s remains.

South African Jews and representatives of Lubyan refugees at a public apology ceremony amid the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, May 1, 2015. (Sarah Levy)

In a forest glade set atop the remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya in the Lower Galilee, a delegation of South African Jews made a public apology to the descendants of refugees from Lubya and their families Friday evening.

The event, a joint initiative of the South African delegation and representatives of Lubya’s displaced persons, concerned the use of donations made by the South African Jewish community to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which went toward planting the “South Africa Forest.” This forest is part of the larger Lavie Forest that covers what was once Lubya, which was depopulated on July 16-17, 1948. Kibbutz Lavie, founded in 1949, was also established on the lands of the former village.

Witnessed by over a hundred Palestinians and Israelis, the South African delegation publicly acknowledged that the Nakba had taken place, accepted the role that their donations to the JNF had in covering up historical injustices and apologized for the personal part they played in this sequence of events.

Prior to the ceremony, participants were taken on a tour of Lubya, organized by Zochrot – an Israeli NGO advocating for awareness of the Nakba – and the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Displaced People (ADRID). Both organizations were also involved with the ceremony.

As the tour wound around paths strewn with the stones that once supported houses, Muhammad Kaial, a board member of ADRID, explained the significance of the event: “We want people to know the truth about what took place in 1948. This apology is a start, and an important step.”

Standing among the remains of Lubya’s cemetery Muhammad continued on to talk about the expulsions and dispossession that took place during the Nakba.

“There are many things we cannot forget,” he said. “My father, a few weeks before he died at the age of 83, suddenly asked me at two in the morning: ‘Didn’t they leave anything for us? Not even one dunam?'”

As he finished speaking, the sound of metal on metal could be heard: members of families from Lubya were hammering a sign into the ground to mark the presence of the cemetery.

Representatives of Lubyan refugees place a sign indicating where the school once stood amid the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, May 1, 2015. (Sarah Levy)

Representatives of Lubyan refugees place a sign indicating where the school once stood amid the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, May 1, 2015. (Sarah Levy)

In the dwelling below the cemetery, the ceremony was opened by Nayif Hujji, a representative of Lubya’s displaced persons. Greeting the participants and organizations present, he also welcomed the South African Jewish group, telling them: “You have come home, so please feel at home.”

Hujji spoke of the call issued by Palestinian refugees for the right of return, and acknowledged the descendants of Lubya’s refugees who had flown in from Denmark and Sweden for the event.

For the Palestinians and Israelis present, the event was symbolic of the process necessary for moving forward in the conflict. “We have no problem living with Jews in this country. We want coexistence […] But coexistence here can only come after racism has ended,” said Wakim Wakim, the head of ADRID. Zochrot’s Amaya Galili reiterated the organization’s call for “the Jewish-Israeli public to take responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba, and to take an active part in redressing past wrongs.”

“We are here as Jewish South Africans to acknowledge that the Nakba took place … We cannot undo the past, but we commit to undoing ‘greening’ as an act of obliteration,” said Shereen Usdin, spokesperson for the South African delegation. South African Jews “understand the importance of joint struggle,” Usdin added, calling on “Jews around the world to come here and acknowledge the Nakba.”

Nayif Hujji speaks at a public apology ceremony amid the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, May 1, 2015. (Sarah Levy)

Nayif Hujji speaks at a public apology ceremony amid the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, May 1, 2015. (Sarah Levy)

Members of the delegation read and handed out the pledge, which has been signed by over 200 South African Jews, to representatives of the Lubyan refugees. In particular, the pledge drew attention to and condemned three primary activities by the JNF:

The administration of land on which scores of former Palestinian villages had been located prior to the 1948 War in a manner calculated to destroy both the physical memory and evidence of these villages; the consolidation of land for the purposes of exclusive Jewish control, ownership and use; and active participation in the campaign to ‘Judaise’ the Negev through the forced removal of Bedouin inhabitants from their land.

The pledge continued by pledging solidarity with the former inhabitants of affected villages, noting that such an act of displacement contravenes the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and was an undertaking that “no moral society can condone.”

The ceremony ended with the singing of the Palestinian national anthem in the fading light. The participants dispersed into the remains of the day, having reached the culmination of a five-year project. There was a sense throughout that the initiative carried particular weight due to the national history that South Africans carry with them; indeed, Nelson Mandela was invoked during the proceedings, as was the shadow of apartheid.

Among the participants there was an understanding that this ceremony represented the first of many steps that must be taken in this direction, and that ultimately an official apology from Israel for the Nakba must take place. Until then, Jewish communities around the world would do well to follow the South African group’s lead. As Muhammad from ADRID said: “We want reconciliation. But before reconciliation, we need to know the truth.”

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    1. Pedro X

      “We want people to know the truth about what took place in 1948.”

      Benny Morris in his book 1948 points out the truth about Lubya. It was an Arab Liberation League Army Base. In July of 1948, Operation “Palm Tree” (mivtza dekel) was designed to surround and destroy the Arab Liberation Army, to capture Nazareth and surrounding areas in which the ALA was concentrated. Operation Palm Tree sought to preempt any offensive by the ALA’s leader Fawzi al Qawuqji. The operation was successful and pushed the ALA out of the area as a fighting force.

      In addition to ALA, Lubya had an active Arab Militia which had been engaged in military operations to prevent Jewish villages from being supplied with food and other necessaries of life.

      The ALA clashed with the Golani brigade during July 10-16, 1948 and took heavy losses. The Golani swept aside the ALA forces in Nazereth and in short order many of the villages in the area fell. The ALA removed it headquarters to Lebanon. Tens of thousands of Arabs fled in the wake of the collapse of the ALA. Many had already left when having been ordered to leave their villages by the ALA.

      Lubya served as a base for Palestinian Arab militants and for the ALA. Enemy positions would not be repopulated by people sworn to Israel’s destruction after failing a first time. This was war and the villagers waged war and lost. They suffered the consequences of their actions in not accepting the peace of the Partition Plan. Jews need not apologize for defending themselves from Arab attempts to kill them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        According to international law it is not allowed to move civilians en masse during a military conflict. This law was developed partly in response to you know who….

        There is evidence enough from Benny Morris that the Jews in 1948 were planning an ethnic cleansing; why not take the position that the Palestinians were defending themselves, and by looking at the results of 1948 say that they were justified?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Bruce, this is what Benny Morris says in his book 1948:

          “transfer or expulsion was never adopted by the Zionist movement or its main political groupings as official policy at any stage of the movement’s evolution – not even in 1948.”

          and

          “By contrast, expulsionist thinking and, where it became possible, behavior, characterized the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement since its inception.”

          The Arab Palestinians in 1947 begun a war of aggression to destroy the emerging Jewish state and to kill or expel Jews from Mandate Palestine. Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman, acting Chairman and Palestinian unofficial delegate to the UN, had told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs would drench “the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood. . . ”

          The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

          “The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.”

          Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and leader of the Palestinian Arabs stated in March 1948 in an interview with the Jaffa Daily Al Sirah that the Arabs did not intend to merely prevent partition but “would continue to fight until the Zionists were annihilated and the whole of Palestine became a purely Arab state.”

          The Palestinian Arabs intended to deliver a death blow to the Jews of Palestine but instead delivered a hammer blow to Palestinian society from which the Palestinians have never recovered nor from which they have allowed themselves to move forward.

          Israel moved forward, settled its refugees who numbered more than the Palestinian refugees, and built a state and an economy. Israel prospered while the Arab world stagnated and moved backwards. The Arab world failed to settle its refugees but stuck them in slum like camps, kept them there and made them subject to discriminatory laws which kept them, and the Arab territories undeveloped and bereft of statehood.

          Reply to Comment
          • Michael Stones

            The Arabs? they were trying to stop their lands being robbed

            Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          This is zero evidence from Morris that there was a plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Palestine. This is a bold faced Brucie lie. Cites please.

          Plan Dalet, was a military, not a political plan, that, among many other things, allowed for driving out the inhabitants of some strategic villages.
          As per Plan D, no village could be depopulated without express orders from the IDF command.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            We all know the political plan was to create a Jewish demographic majority in Palestine, and strangely enough, that’s what Plan Dalet accomplished within the Green Line. Morris has always maintained there was no concrete plan to ethnically cleanse Palestine before Plan Dalet itself. We both agree however Zionism had a vested interest in population removal.

            Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited p. 60:

            “My feeling is that the transfer thinking and near-consensus that emerged in the 1930s and early 1940s was not tantamount to pre-planning and did not issue in the production of a policy or master-plan of expulsion; the Yishuv and its military forces did not enter the 1948 War, which was initiated by the Arab side, with a policy or plan for expulsion. But transfer was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a ‘Jewish’ state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population; and because this aim automatically produced resistance among
            the Arabs which, in turn, persuaded the Yishuv’s leaders that a hostile Arab majority or large minority could not remain in place if a Jewish state was to arise or safely endure.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Dutch Oven

            Andrew, I gather from your postings that the U.S., Australia, and Israel were all born into the sin of settler-colonialism. What is your remedy for justice for all three nations? Please let me know what solutions are ideal and what is practical in 2015. Much appreciated.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            I’ll dash off something for Israel-Palestine right now: The Israeli govt. acknowledges the Zionist movement’s responsibility for the nakba to the extent I do. Hamas rescinds the charter and issues an apology for the antisemitic remarks, which includes an explanation of why the remarks are stupid. Hamas, PLO/PA and Israeli govt. sign an agreement to disband the Zionist state and restore freedom of movement and residency for all inhabitants of British Mandate Palestine and those whose ancestors were residents from the Ottoman-era onward. And yes, I’m going to say it: the disarming of all Palestinian groups will be a condition of the agreement, as will be the disposal of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. There must be a program to integrate the Palestinians into the former Israeli army.

            There will probably have to be a general amnesty similar to Lebanon and South Africa for all officials who are responsible for hitting civilian targets. However I think this should be conditional on retiring from political life.

            You asked for it. I don’t need to be told this isn’t going to happen.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dutch Oven

            Andrew, I am not here to argue with you. But you did not tell me what you had in mind for the U.S. and Australia. Given that all three are guilty of settler colonialism.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            I have more homework to do on Aus. In the case of the US for a start the govt. can honor all the treaties with the Indian nations and reverse all violations. This may not lead to the formal abolition of the United States but it will result in the federal govt. relinquishing control of much land that according to the US constitution doesn’t belong to it anyway.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Not in the 21st Century they’re not. What a tiresome, hoary old argument to trot out.

            Reply to Comment
        • Dutch Oven

          @Bruce, because their wartime tactics and strategy dictate something different.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Sam

      What the hell! They shouldn’t have to apologise for anything! What idiots, sucking up to incorrect popular opinions. They will surely regret their shortsighted decisions one day.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      I acknowledge the depopulation of the Arab villages. I do it when I’m hiking, looking over a map, or studying a history lesson.

      But is takes a moral narcissist to bow to the Arabs and apologize.

      That I will not do.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        If you only stole their land and homes there’s really nothing to apologize for. Right?

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          The land wasn’t stolen. It was fought over, and the Arabs lost. Same as the were winners and losers in World War 2. The Allies were victorious over the Axis, but if a Jew wins a victory……

          Six thousand six hundred Jews died fighting over the land. Sixty-six hundred people do not die in the course of thievery. It was a winner take all war.

          Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            So tell me, apparently I don’t know my history. How many Germans were legally disposessed after World War 2?

            And how long has the right of conquest not been invoked in international law disputes?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You also don’t have the USA, Britain and France transferring their populations into and occupying the Rhineland 48 years afterwards. The Soviets occupied eastern Germany for that long but no one told them, “ok, guys, you won, it’s ok.” Now you want to add Russians to your list of one, Jews, who “are not allowed to win.” And while you’re at it add the Serbs. It is utterly false to tell us “only Jews don’t get to win its so unfair and it’s due to anti-Semitism” — which is the self-serving falsity you’re peddling here and which is a ubiquitous all-purpose justification, it seems, for the fascist right wing in this matter.

            Reply to Comment
          • spencerhr

            Well, West Berlin remained under Allied occupation for no less than 45 years, and American soldiers there enjoyed supremacy over any local forces for that time period. The point is, settlements can and will be removed (see: Gaza, Sinai, etc) but as long as Israelis think that they are under threat, they will not give up more land.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “The point is, [West Bank and East Jerusalem] settlements can and will be removed”

            You’re quite a comedian.

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Sorry for being vague.
            Of course I meant:

            Who was disposessed in the area the German government and the international community considered legal parts Germany after WW2?

            Now go again.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Better a “moral narcissist” than an amoral narcissist.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      These complex efforts are appropriate to complexity of the origins of the refugee problem and whole problem and the complexity of the solution that is needed to the problem if reconciliation and a lasting peace are the goal. This complexity can not be erased by pedaling myths and half-truths. Nor can any true, honest reconciliation effort that avoids a massive as opposed to a symbolic actual return proceed in the face of the ongoing aggressive effort to gobble up still more of the land that proceeds apace in 2015 (in the occupied territories). It is emotionally and morally idiotic to pretend this is not the case. You can’t sit down at the kitchen table with your neighbor and say you want to reconcile your taking his front yard all the while you’re aggressively settling his back yard! No one ever said this reconciliation and lasting peace agreement was going to be easy but you can’t make it impossible and then complain. Well, you can, but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work and the world does not sympathize with you. This perennial wanting to have your cake and eat it too wears thinner than thin at this point.

      The true complexity is described in these two essays read in combination and in full:

      http://www.mallat.com/imag/pdf/DS4Sep04.pdf

      http://mondediplo.com/1997/12/palestine

      Reply to Comment
      • Dutch Oven

        More wasted time trying to extract a rational argument from Brian’s immature, emotional, hyperbole. Using big words does no pet hide idiocy, see some of the Baltimore speakers for proof.

        Anyway, a massive influx of Palestinians into Israel would only bring misery to all parties involved and would end up, you guessed it, into separation.

        Why would Brian promote such nonsense? Brian strikes me as someone who,would rather be “right” than sensible. What a pity.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You know I’m gonna guess that English is a native language of yours and so you really have no excuse for this poor reading comprehension that would lead to a dismal result on a high school SAT test. Please read this phrase again and try to understand it’s actual meaning:

          “effort that avoids a massive as opposed to a symbolic actual return”

          Thanks.

          Reply to Comment
    5. David Grant

      Bravo for these South African Jews. This is an example for all Jews to take.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bar

      I want the villagers of Lubya to apologize to me and to the part of my family that had to leave their Muslim-majority country and who lost everything in the process – their homes, their community, their livelihood and, in one instance, their life – and who never received UN or NGO assistance or any form of support from the leftist jokers who are playing up Arab losses in 1948 for launching a war of extermination against the Yishuv, for supporting Arab forces from within their community as well as far-off outsiders. Shame on the Arabs who rejected compromise in 1937, accompanying their rejection with a rebellion, and shame on them again for rejecting a compromise in 1947 and launching their wars that brought about the death and destruction they did for so many Jews inside Mandatory Palestine, inside Israel and all across the Arab and Muslim world.

      Zochrot should try to remember that there are many Jewish victims here, not just Arabs.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        What personal and direct part did the villagers of Lubya have in the expulsion of your ancestors? Which actions did they undertake that directly led to the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries?

        Just asking.

        At least you’re acknowledging that there were Arab victims.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Their village was a hub for the war against the Yishuv. Even if it hadn’t been, they belong to a larger Arab movement that sought to kill and displace Jews.

          As for the question of whether each family was or wasn’t directly responsible for the wars or their outcomes, I fail to see how that matters even one bit. Their community and their leadership, in conjunction with other Arab leaders, launched wars of extermination against the Yishuv, resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides and, ultimately, in the elimination of age-old Jewish communities in the Arab world. It’s not “tough luck” for this village that the war was lost and they ended up outside of Israel, it is the result of a war that was entirely unnecessary. If, at the end of the war, Israel created a safe space for itself and then become host to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, that is an entirely just outcome to an unjust behavior by the Arabs.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            The war was necessary to making Palestine into a Jewish state. Otherwise had the UN partition been implemented, the proposed “Jewish state” would have been almost half non-Jewish Palestinian. Of course you know the Zionist congress in 1937 rejected the Peel Commission plan and that year Ben-Gurion made clear in a letter to his son that no partition agreement would be permanent. IOW acceptance of any division of Palestine on the part of the Yishuv was tactical, not a compromise.

            Creating a colonial-settler state was a war aim to begin with. That’s why Herzl tried to get the Germans on board. If the first actual act of violence was committed by Arabs, the Zionists started the threat of violence by getting imperialist powers to intervene on their behalf. And they don’t deserve sympathy just because they were innovative enough to pursue a belligerent goal before having an armed force.

            Reply to Comment
          • PedroX

            Andrew: “The war was necessary to making Palestine into a Jewish state.”

            The war was not necessary and Jewish diplomats unceasingly tried to avoid the war by going to every Arab capital which would speak to them. Negotiations with King Abdullah and other Arab leaders showed that the Jewish state was prepared to accept as its state a portion of Mandate Palestine. Even after the war Israel tried to negotiate with Arabs for a peace based on the results of the 1948 war. The Arabs refused direct negotiations with Israel over peace and promised a return to war. When King Abdullah eventually entered negotiations with Israel, the leader of the Palestinians’ Higher Arab Committee Amin al-Husseini had him assassinated.

            Benny Morris refutes Andrew’s allegation of an Israeli tactical intent not to live by the terms of the Partition Plan. In an article published in the New Republic in April 2003 stated:

            “And in 1947, the [Zionist] movement accepted both the principle of partition and the specific United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which, positing the establishment of two states.”

            Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister stated on February 9, 1949 that Israel would have been a much different country if the Arabs had accepted the partition plan.

            “There are those who say that we uprooted Arabs from their places. But even they will not deny that the source of the problem was the war: had there been no war, the Arabs would not have abandoned their villages, and we would not have expelled them. Had the Arabs from the start accepted the decision of 29 November, a completely different Jewish state would have arisen….In essence the State of Israel would have arisen with a large Arab minority which would have left its impress on the state, on its manner of governance and on its economic life and would have constituted an organic part of the state.”

            Implicit in Shertok’s words are that Israel would have lived by its commitment to the Partition Plan. The Arabs chose violence instead of the Partition Plan. A different reality emerged at the end of the 1948 war rather than that envisaged by the Partition Plan. The Arabs had waged an existential war of annihilation against the Jewish people and changed the reality which would have arisen.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Forgive me, I stopped reading when you stated that the Yishuv rejected Peel. The Yishuv accepted Peel despite significant disagreements among their leadership. Had the Arabs accepted Peel, which they pointedly did not, then there would have been a very, very small Jewish state mostly based between Tel Aviv and Haifa. There probably wouldn’t be an Israel today of anywhere near the size of what it is. There wouldn’t have been thousands upon thousands of dead just in this conflict. There would have been a refuge for at least some European Jews in and after WWII. There wouldn’t have been a forced and coerced exodus of Jews from Arab and Muslim states. And the funny thing is that the Arabs refused this compromise deal despite not being in control of the land offered to the Jewish side or the Arab side. This would have been the first time in their history that they would have had a political entity there. The apologia for the Palestinians doesn’t serve anyone, it is more of a piece with the same apologia we see today for their continuing refusal to cut a compromise deal with Israel – and again, leading to thousands of casualties.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            The Yishuv accepted Peel despite significant disagreements among their leadership.

            This is how Morris put it: “In the end, after bitter debate, the Congress equivocally approved – by a vote of 299 to 160 – the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiation. The vote marked an in principle endorsement of the
            concept of partition.” (Birth… Revisited 49)

            I stopped reading when you stated that the Yishuv rejected Peel.

            Then you might as well read it now, because the rest of my post still works as a response to your latest. We can speculate all day on what would happen had the Arabs bent over backwards to appease the Zionists; it’s not speculation that Ben-Gurion justified partition in private by saying it would not be permanent, or that he and other Zionist leaders talked about transferring the dispossessed peasants in the abstract decades before Plan Dalet.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            So Morris agrees with me.

            Good.

            The Ben Gurion quotation is one that has been challenged and so have other statements that seek to place the blame on this conflict on Jews and absolve the Arabs who continually attacked the Yishuv, continually rejected Jewish presence anywhere near them unless the Jews paid through the nose for it, minimized Jewish prayer at the Western Wall, demonized Jews, joined the Nazis in their war, rejected Peel and 181, launched the murderous rampages of 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-1939, and launched the war of 1947 and joined in the Arab war of 1948. The point being that if Jewish leaders learned from all this violence and rejection that perhaps its nation needed to be separate from the Arab nation, that wouldn’t be a surprising conclusion. And yet, amazingly, the Jewish leadership on the right and the left was entirely supportive of the philosophy that a Jewish state could only come about through democratic means. Read Jabotinsky, father of today’s right wing.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Dutch Oven

      Written very poorly. How many negatives and tense shifts can you stuff into a run-on sentence? Still your meaning is not clear until you provide the Cliff Notes.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Harris Zvi Green

      Had the Palestinian leadership of the day acted to implement UN Resolution 181 which called for the establishment of two national states – a Jewish State and a Palestinian State, this situation, now irreversible, would never have occurred. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership still refuses to take responsibility for the well-being of their people. Clearly, those Arabs who chose to remain in Israel enjoy a much greater quality of life than those who refuse to lay down their arms in return for a peaceful solution. Israel is here to stay. The Arab world needs to come to terms with this, get their act together and begin moving forward. For as long as they choose to continue their racist and exclusionist policies, their people will be denied any hope of improving their lives and those of their children.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Joel Cantor

      What about the Jewish Nakba?
      The ethnic cleansing of 1 million Mirachi Jews by Arabs?

      I propose we make May 15th the “Jewish Nakba Day” when everyone will be encouraged to rememeber this tragedy?

      Reply to Comment
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