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Landscape and Memory in Israel
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כדילתרגם לעברית
Posted by Uri Zackhem on January 4, 2011

'One of our deepest needs is for a sense of identity and belonging and a common denominator in this is human attachment to landscape and how we find identity in landscape and place. Landscape therefore is not simply what we see, but a way of seeing: we see it with our eye but interpret it with our mind and ascribe values to landscape for intangible - spiritual - reasons' - Ken Taylor [1]

Sidna Ali (al-Haram)'s Famous Mosque and Shrine

I hope you took time to read the quotation above. It contains much of what I say in the following. The landscape, what we see as we walk in the city or stroll through the countryside, is both natural and man-made. The man-made landscape in Israel is very slanted ideologically towards Zionism and the history of the Jewish people. I aim specifically at historical remains and monuments and how they are preserved (or not) and the texts, the official plaques attached to them. I also aim at the JNF planted forests and what they (often successfully) hide. The Israeli landscape is highly engineered, with many features neglected or let to ruin, and extensive forestation to cover up unwanted features and give the country European character. The Zionists wished to be European but were rejected, and then they sought to build their little Europe in the Levant.

If you go to Apollonia national park you get a colourful brochure about the place. Phoenicians, Hasmonaeans, Romans, Samaritans, Jews, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks - "and the place was not inhabited ever since". The crusader remains are further emphasized by flags with fleur-de-lis. In the middle of the site there's an Ottoman lime kiln. What does it do there? The brochure stated that the location was not settled after the Mamluk period. On the south of the national park and adjacent to it there are the remains of Sayyiduna 'Ali that was abandoned in February or March 1948. In the middle there is a shrine with a tall and impressive minaret. The current structure is of the late 15th century, but the place was revered already in the old Islamic period. In the national park there is no reference to the Palestinian village whose inhabitants operated the lime kiln. The Palestinian history is ignored and the crusader history is further emphasized by using statues of medieval European knights. [2]

Yalu's's house rubble, 2009

Another case is Horshim forest. Horshim forest is a planted forest near kibbutz Horshim, Kufr Bara, Jaljulya, Yarhiv and Nirit in the Sharon area. The forest serves as recreational area for the localities in the region. There's a large ruin in its edge. There are signs for cisterns in the area, but no mention of the inhabitants and what happened to them. You guessed right - they were Palestinians. Palestinian women I met in the forest one day helped me to find the remains of Khirbet Khreish - on the edge of the kibbutz. I found there a mosque and a graveyard. And cacti. The people of Khirbet Khreish were evacuated to nearby Jaljulya on the military commander's orders in the early 1950s (long after the end of hostilities). Kafr Bara should have been evacuated as well but for reasons that I'm not aware of it luckily stayed put. [3]

Following is an event that had a wide effect on our landscape. In mid 1965 the Israel Land Administration (ILA) started in a co-ordinated action of destruction (leveling, in Hebrew: yishur, was the term that was used) of more than a hundred abandoned Palestinian villages [4]. The action continued after the six days war in the destruction of the Latrun area villages - 'Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba - nowadays-called Canada Park - and most of the villages in the occupied Golan Heights. In many places forestation followed the destruction. The chief executive of this operation was Hanan Davidsohn, an ex-paratrooper. Davidsohn was helped by the Association for archaeological survey of Israel. For a detail of surveyors to survey a village the association was paid 1000 Israeli Liras. A detail could cover up to eight villages a month. So with an income of 8000 Liras a month and salaries of 6000 Lira a month, they profited 2000 Liras a month. Most of the budget came from the ILA and after 1967 also from the ministry of education and culture (yes!). They had to quickly survey the village and point out if there is anything interesting archaeologically and then authorize the demolitions. Sometimes villages were leveled before a survey was carried out. The orders were that if it is clear from the beginning that most of the village will not be authorized for destruction then the survey must not be completed and the team should move on to the next village. This means that the association worked completely for the ILA as demolition agents.

No wonder why so many Israeli Jews believe that this country was empty before the Zionist immigrations. They hardly see anything that is old and Arab. Every old remains that might remotely be classified as a synagogue in any god forsaken ruin are well marked. So they believe in the lie, also pushed by some literature, that this country was empty, the Jews came to inhabit the wilderness, just like in the American West (there were Indians there too¿) and the Arabs inhabited Palestine only because of the amazing prosperity the Jews and their colonies created. There's another side to this. I haven't discussed it with my Palestinian friends. How do they feel when they see this? How do they feel with this alienation of the landscape?

Bayt Nabala's's cemetery, 2009

In conclusion, most of Israel's landscape is engineered, and it serves to assert the Jewish presence in the land, and negate the Palestinian presence. All this has to be changed towards a more normal country for its citizens and refugees.

[1] Ken Taylor, Landscape and Memory, UNESCO site.

[2] A walk in the site in 2005, and The encounter of Crusaders and Muslims in Palestine, I. ROLL, O. TAL & M. WINTER (eds.) 2007

[3] A walk in the site and The Present Absentee: Palestinian Refugees in Israel since 1948, Hillel COHEN, 2000.

[4] The fate of the abandoned Arab villages in Israel before the six days war and afterwards, Aharon SHAI, Cathedra, 2003, (in Hebrew).

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Posted by Webmaster on January 4, 2011 #128642

Well done Uri, well done