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Turning entire Palestinian villages invisible

Israeli signs in the West Bank not only ignore destroyed Palestinian villages, they also erase those in plain sight.

By Umar al-Ghubari

The destruction and emptying of the Latrun villages took place 49 years ago this month. The Israeli army had occupied Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba on June 5, 1967, expelled the residents of all three villages to the Ramallah district and prevented them from returning after the war, which lasted only six days. Bulldozers and soldiers began demolishing the homes, and razed the three villages. The State of Israel erased the names of the villages from its maps, and of course from traffic signs, as was its practice since 1948.

Years later, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) created “Canada Park” on top of the Latrun villages. There are many signs up inside the park, but none them mentions the names of those villages — except for one, which Israeli organization Zochrot compelled the JNF to erect to avoid legal proceedings. About a year ago the JNF put up new signs throughout the park, which erase Palestinian-Arab history altogether. It goes without saying that the entire park is located in an area occupied in 1967, that is, in the West Bank, but not one sign mentions this.

Erasing any textual remnant of the Palestinians is a familiar means of also eradicating them from the Israeli collective consciousness. Signs have the power to shape knowledge, to make an imprint on one’s awareness, to consolidate the name and identity of a place. The sign controls the kind of information that reaches the public, and the kind made inaccessible.

In the Palestinian context, the information and names conveyed in Israeli signs are of critical significance. One of the signs in Canada Park demonstrates that in addition to the past, the present reality can also be erased from the text and from public awareness. Both are absent from the text, though they straddle the hills across from it. And even if past and present do exist, they do not deserve mention.

To those wishing to better understand what it is to be “transparent,” I recommend visiting a specific hill in Canada Park, inside the occupied, destroyed and ethnically cleansed village of Yalo, to understand the way in which the transparent is made (in)visible, and to witness first-hand the brainwashing and efficiency of this powerful stance.

As mentioned in the heading of the sign there, the JNF decided to name the hill the “Ayalon Valley Lookout.” After a thorough explanation about the topography and geography comes the explanation of the demography: one and a half lines, including the mention of three Jewish settlements: the city of Modi’in, Kibbutz Shaalabim, and Mevo Horon, a communal religious settlement. Incidentally, this comes without mention of the fact that Mevo Horon is located in the West Bank, just like the signpost itself.

Naturally, it is unsurprising that an Israeli sign should fail to mention the Palestinian villages erased in 1948 and replaced with Modi’in, such as al-Burj, Barfiliya, Kharuba, ‘Innaba and Kunayyisa, or the village of Salbit beneath Kibbutz Shaalabim. But failing to mention the Palestinian villages still visible across “the stunning surrounding landscape” is an upgraded form of racist erasure, laced with arrogance and contempt for people’s intelligence.

A sign on the ‘Ayalon Valley Lookout,’ which fails to mention to villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa, all visible in the background.

A sign on the ‘Ayalon Valley Lookout,’ which fails to mention to villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa, all visible in the background. (Umar al-Ghubari)

Standing on the “Ayalon Valley Lookout,” the villages of Beit Sira, Beit Liqya, Kharbatha, Beit Ur al-Fuka, Beit Ur al-Tahta and Safa are in front of your eyes on the opposite mountain range. They are visible even more clearly than are Modi’in and Shaalabim, which you can see only by craning your neck to the north and to the south. The colonizer fails to see the natives, even though they are right there before him. The sign tells you to look at the view, and to fail to see the Palestinian; to see a purely Jewish landscape. Ignore the rest. Or better yet, make it unseen.

A sign is testimony. In this case, it is false testimony. A sign is also a document. Perhaps one day it will make it into an archive, and will be used by researchers. Here is proof, the sign will tell them, that not only were there Jews here, but that they were the only ones, and there was no other man or woman there, except for them.

There is no doubt that the process of Judaizing the space, including the Judaizing of names and knowledge, has been progressing rapidly and aggressively for decades, and continues still. It is a process that correlates with other Zionist modes of occupying land.

The example of the sign in Canada Park is one of diluting Arabic names even inside the West Bank, similarly to the process of occupation, settlement, annexation and forced expulsion of Palestinians in other parts of the territory. In this way the signs serve as a means of occupation, oppression, and erasure. Palestinians come upon these signs and feel helpless, made to understand that they are absent, erased. From a Zionist viewpoint, they are devoid of value and lacking existence.

Umar al Ghubari is group facilitator, a political educator, and he documents and photographs the Palestinian Nakba. Translated from Hebrew by Keren Rubinstein.

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    1. Average American

      I agree that disrespect is happening equally both ways, Jewish against Arab and Arab against Jewish. Yet we have to recognize both sides are not equally armed, not physically nor politically. Therefore, the better armed side always wins. This does two things: it reinforces an idea in the minds of Jews that they will always win, that they are always intended to win, chosen to win, and it ignores that their winning is happening only because of being better armed, not because of God’s Will.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Maybe it is the Divine Will that the Jews be better armed. Maybe it is the Divine Will that two countries, Syria and Iraq, that had powerful armies threatening Israel have now destroyed themselves. Did you ever think of that?

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Hmm, you hit a sore point there. Iraq didn’t destroy itself, USA destroyed it, un-necessarily, on false intelligence provided by Israel, at great cost of American sons and daughters and equipment and treasury, just because Israel wanted it as part of its Eretz Israel (“to the Euphrates”) that nobody else cares about. Which destabilized the whole region, which led to the Syria problem. Never again. Next time Israel wants something, use its own lives and equipment and treasury.

          Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            You claim “The US destroyed Iraq”? What did they do? They ousted Saddam Hussein by force, just like they ousted the Nazi regime in Germany and the Japanese militarist regime in 1945. No civil wars in those places. Saddam killed a lot of Iraqis in his time, and 99.9% of the Iraqis killed since 2003 have been killed by their fellow Iraqi Muslims. How is that America’s fault? What about Syria. They say 500,000 killed, several million displaced or external refugees. All done by Muslim butchering their fellow Muslims. Again, how is that America’s fault. Did some CIA agent go up to some good Iraqi Muslim Arab and say “I want you to go and kill your fellow Iraqi Muslim brother”. Why should they do that just because an American suggest it to him? If an Iraq agent came up to you and said “I want you to go kill you Average American neighbors” would you do it?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “just like they ousted the Nazi regime in Germany and the Japanese militarist regime in 1945”

            Nope. No way. No casus belli. Saddam did not invade the U.S. or anybody at all a the time, had absolutely nothing to do with 9-11, and pulled no sneak attack on Pearl Harbor or any harbor. The invasion of Iraq was stupefyingly fatuous and based on a pile of deceit, the most bone-headed and disastrous American foreign policy decision ever. It was in fact criminal. Bush and Cheney should be in prison.

            Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      What does Umar think of the Palestinians denying the Temple in Jerusalem ever existed? What does he think about Arab maps of the Middle East that don’t even show Israel? What does he think of the archaeological site at Sebastiyay/Shomron that was the capital of the Biblical Kingdom of Israel whose signs in English (paid for by Norway) make no mention of that (isn’t that part of Norway’s Christian heritage?) but rather refer to it only as a “Greco-Roman Archaeological site”? What does he think about how the Jordanians, when they occupied the Old City of Jerusalem destroyed over 50 synagogues and used gravestones from the 3000-year-old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives for latrines?

      Reply to Comment
      • MARK

        None of this is relevant since it is not an act of malevolence committed by Zionists.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Andrea

      I would want to shed tears, so to speak, but I can’t.

      ‘Palestinians’ have erased the whole land of Israel – as a whole – in their geography books.
      No comments.

      Reply to Comment
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