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Ha'aretz Daily: Searching for a sign
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כדילתרגם לעברית
Posted on April 17, 2006
By Tom Segev


The people of Imwas, Yalu and Bayt Nuba on the run soon after the 67 war.

A few days before Channel Two sent viewers of the reality show "Treasure Hunt" ?(Mehapsim et Hamatmon?) to the Canada Forest, several employees of the Jewish National Fund arrived and put up a sign describing the history of the place. This wasn't the first sign they ever put up, but Eitan Bronstein, an activist with the Zokhrot ?("We Remember" − in the feminine form of the verb?) organization, was not pleased with the first one. His organization posts signs with the names of villages that were destroyed in the War of Independence; he wanted the sign in the Canada Forest to mention the villages that the IDF destroyed during the Six-Day War. The JNF refused, as expected, because installing benches and water fountains on the ruins of the villages is a quality of life thing, but mentioning the destruction of the villages − well, that's politics, and politics, as we know, is a bad thing.

Bronstein didn't give up. With the assistance of attorney Michael Sfard, he tried to stand his ground, and he also appealed to the Civil Administration − since this is occupied territory − and when the army also refused to mention the destroyed villages, Bronstein appealed to the High Court. The destruction of these villages, during the Six-Day War, is well documented and was even filmed. Herein lays its uniqueness: Unlike anonymous villages that were destroyed in the War of Independence, the ruins of Latrun became a living legacy.

The IDF sometimes prefers to compromise − in order to avoid the need for surrender to the Supreme Court, which is what happened in this instance: The army informed the High Court that the sign would be posted. Bronstein actually wanted a more explicitly worded sign; the army agreed only to a rather vague sign, but as of this week, hikers in Canada Park will be able to see that they are exploring an area that was once settled.

The first nine lines of the sign tell about the history of the place in biblical, Byzantine and Crusader times. The next six lines are devoted to what happened in the Six-Day War: 2,000 people lived in the village of Emmaus, and 1,700 in Yalu. Today they live in Jordan and Ramallah. The sign doesn't say that the IDF destroyed the villages, but it does mention the "ruins" of Emmaus and the water wells that were preserved in Yalu: If the houses weren't preserved, they must have been destroyed.

This story illustrates yet again just how political and sensitive dealing with the past still is. This week saw the publication of a sleek new guide to the battle and memorial sites from 1948 ?("Madrikh Carta Le'Milhemet Ha'atzmaut" − The Carta Guide to te War of Independence"?).

The author is the well-known historian Yehuda Wallach.It is essentially a volume of military history, with battle maps crowded with numerous arrows, but politics still speaks from nearly every page. The Israelis, as in the standard view, are few and weak; the Arabs many and strong − it defies belief that the Israelis were able to win. Nor would a stranger be able to understand how it was decided which Israeli commanders would be mentioned by name in this book and which would be consigned to oblivion.
Only someone who to this day is living the war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness will understand why it is still necessary to obscure the Irgun's part in the conquest of Jaffa. As usual, there is no explanation of who this Kawkaji was, whose army is mentioned occasionally, always in quotation marks, of course.

The Ministry of Education is soon to be free of Limor Livnat, but this book was produced during her tenure and reflects the sort of language she wished to introduce in textbooks: The IDF liberates and cleanses, the Arabs are organized in gangs, the residents leave. Under the heading "The Liberation of Tiberias," the Carta guide reads: "The company occupied the Tiberias Hotel, opened the way to the Old City, cleansed the houses in the surrounding area and destroyed the barrier that the gangs had set up on the way to the Upper Galilee. On April 18, the Arabs of Tiberias surrendered and most of them left the city with the aid of the British Army."

Like so many wars in the history books, this one, too, exposed the good in people − and evidently at practically no cost. Here and there, some casualties are mentioned, mostly Israelis; there's no way to know the whole number. There's no way to know how many Arabs were killed. The phrase "Arab refugees" appears just once, on page 268, very incidentally. In the course of the war, a few hundred Arab villages were destroyed, but the Carta guide mentions only a few of them; the residents "left," "fled," "abandoned" or "ran away." The fate of the residents in Ramle and Lod are depicted in bold, almost post-Zionist language: "The next day the evacuation of the residents of Lod and Ramle was completed."

There's a mysterious nobility in this passive language: Who exactly "completed" the "evacuation" of the residents and how exactly was it done? Yitzhak Rabin will only be mentioned later on, in the story of the war for Jerusalem. Among other things, this chapter mentions the "tragedy of the Hadassah convoy." Dozens of passengers in the convoy, including doctors and nurses, were murdered by Arabs on April 13, 1948. The "Dir Yassin tragedy" that took place four days earlier is not mentioned.

About the decision to occupy the Gaza Strip, the guide says: "The cease-fire that was imposed on the seventh of January stole the fruits of victory from the IDF." Just think how much nicer life in this land of ours would be today had the IDF occupied the Gaza Strip in 1948, and the "evacuation of the residents" been "completed."

Terner Watch ?
(continued?)

The women of Machsom Watch, who were not allowed last week to present a photo exhibition at the Pedagogical Teachers' Center in Be'er Sheva, appealed at first to the Administrative Court in the city, and when their petition was rejected, to the High Court. Justices Miriam Naor, Edna Arbel and Elyakim Rubinstein also ruled that the exhibit shall not be displayed at the center. The Be'er Sheva municipality thought that it won, and it was right: The High Court ruled that Mayor Yaakov Terner may prohibit political activity at the Teachers' Center.

But the ruling − 18 lines in all − is phrased in the spirit of the Oracle at Delphi: After saying that it is prohibited to display the exhibit, the Justices devoted a few more words to the fundamental aspect: "At the same time, this is not to detract from our rulings regarding freedom of expression of different opinions and the exchange of ideas in public spaces in a local authority, all, of course, within the limits of the law."
The last sentence refers to a ruling that Justices Naor and Arbel, along with Justice Dorit Beinisch, composed about a year ago. An organization for equal rights between Arabs and Jews called Kol Aher ?("Another Voice?) sought to hold events in the auditium of the Misgav regional council. The council refused, arguing that the events constituted political activity. The organization appealed to the high Court, together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel ?(ACRI?), and the three Justices wrote their ruling:

"The local authority must open its facilities that are designated for broad public use, making possible the expression of different opinions, including the possibility of giving a platform for political expression, without restricting the expression to which it gives a platform on the basis of its content."
They cited, by way of example, Rabin Square in Tel Aviv: Would it ever occur to anyone that the Tel Aviv municipality would prohibit the staging of political demonstrations there?

Why then, is it not permissible for the Machsom Watch photo exhibition to be shown at the Pedagogical Center in Be'er Sheva? Eighteen lines aren't enough, apparently to explain this, and so the ruling remains without explanation.

All about Bokovza
At the start of the present school year, Or Yehuda mayor Yitzhak Bokovza announced that he would not let Ethiopian pupils into the town's schools. It was a cruel, racist move, and Bokovza subsequently apologized. For a brief moment, though, it appeared that Bokovza had achieved his end, anyway: Everyone agreed with him that he had a problem.

Or Yehuda, a transit camp that grew into a town for immigrants from Arab countries, has over the years managed to climb out of the backwardness of its past; nothing scares the Libyan-born mayor more than a return to the bad old days of grave impoverishment. About 35,000 people currently live in the city − about one-third of the residents are of Mizrahi background, and there are about 200 families from Ethiopia, most of which are in need of welfare. It is truly difficult to care for them properly, and parents in the city schools also aren't keen on having the children from Ethiopia there − just because they're from Ethiopia.

A while ago, Bokovza received a message from the Ministry of Absorption, or as he described it, a "delivery notice:" a list of names of 49 families, totaling 215 people ?(including over 100 children?) due to settle in Or Yehuda. Bokovza also has a lettere received from the Ministry of Education, containing a pledge to send the children of the Ethiopian immigrants to schools in other localities, at the ministry's expense.

Now spring is here and it's time for children to be registered for the coming school year, but so far the Ministry of Education has not given the mayor any indication of where the Ethiopian children will attend school. In a letter to the State Comptroller, Bokovza complains that the Ministry of Education is "acting with the expectation that this year, too, we'll get to the first of September and everything will fall upon me. This time, I've decided, I won't let that happen."
?(The Education Ministry responded that it will provide the information to the mayor within a few days.?)

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