Ethnic Cleansing From The Word Go
A few pages from the autobiography of a Palmach fighter way back in the 1948 war. The 'Palmach' was the elite fighting force during the time of the British occupation which led to the creation of the Israeli Army.
1949 …After our wedding, for which I got one day off from my army duties, I looked for a place to live. When I returned to my unit the next day, my army commander said to me: "Since you have just married, accept my congratulations. I imagine, though, that you don't have a place to live. I will give you and your wife a special permit to enter Jaffa. Look around, choose a house and give me the address. I will arrange with the authorities that you shall have it."
Jaffa was at that time, enclosed by the army. Most of its inhabitants had fled because of the fighting so close to the Jewish city of Tel-Aviv. Having got the permit, we were allowed in. We walked for hours in the dead Arab city. Most, if not all of the houses, were empty and abandoned. There was not a soul in the streets, except for an occasional military vehicle driving through. We could choose any house. The entire city was at our disposal. We looked at a few houses, took down a few addresses and then, worn out, went back to Tel-Aviv and sat down in a café to discuss which house to choose.
After discussing this or that house, a sort of uneasiness enveloped us. We had visited a dead city, a ghost town. The people who lived in those houses had fled because of the fighting, because they wanted to stay alive. Now, we, the victors, dividing the spoil. Since I happened to belong to the victors, I would get my share of the spoils: a house to live in. And, being luckily one of the first to arrive on the scene, I could choose the best house. The term "ethnic cleansing" had not yet been invented, but this is what it was. Having just said how I was converted to Communism, you might think that our unease was political. No, it was not. Politics never entered our heads. Not even the notion of social or political justice. I don't know about Naomi my wife, but my uneasiness was more of an aesthetic nature; I will call it a violation of my moral symmetry. There was something wrong there that I couldn't pin down. In the end, we both declined to take up the offer, and found ourselves a room in a shanty town of corrugated huts on the beach, in the north of Tel-Aviv that was known at the time as Shekhunat Mahlul.
This was not the only time that I had that feeling of upheaval in my moral symmetry. Twice more have I been offered an Arab house. The second time that it happened was only a few months later. I was still in uniform and limping, with my foot still in some discomfort and I resumed my studies at the art school. One day one of the students came rushing in with sensational news. We can all have studios. Every one of us can have a studio for himself in ancient Jaffa. All we have to do is to clean a cellar from the accumulated rubble.
Jaffa, like any other big Arab city, had an old quarter - the Kasbah. This was a burrow of very old and crowded houses, with narrow convoluted streets or alleys, many of them cul de sacs that go nowhere. It was a very good environment for people to evade detection or to run away from law and order. During the Palestinian revolt against the British in 1936, the Kasbah was a source of trouble. The authorities then decided to get rid of it. And so they did. They flattened the place and filled the cellars of the Kasbah with the rubble of the buildings above. These cellars had now been discovered, and since nobody owned them, the first one to clean a cellar, could have it.
We all ran to the ruins of the Kasbah in old Jaffa. The cellars were filled to the brim with rubble and rubbish. Not only old mortar, stone and bricks, but also simple, shit-smelling rubbish, because these holes in the ground had been the toilets of beggars, at least since 1936. But we, the aspiring young artists didn't care. To own a studio was the ultimate in artistic achievements. Every one of us chose a hole, because this was all that was left of the cellar, and started to clear away the rubble. It took me a week to clear my cellar. All I had with me to do the job was two buckets and a spade, but this was enough. After a week of hard labour I could see my studio and the light that shone through a window, far up, near the domed ceiling.
Once the place was clean and mine, I looked at it with pride. Suddenly, the same feeling of uneasiness crept into my soul. This was much more kosher than a house in Jaffa. Nobody else had owned it before; nobody had escaped from it to save his or her skin and yet... I could not understand it myself. After brooding on the subject for some time I decided not to take up the studio. Another young artist took it over. It was next to what is now a night club, which was also a dirty cellar taken over by a young painter who had cleaned it. A few years later, the young painter found it more lucrative to turn his studio into Omar Khayam, a glossy night club and a restaurant.
And there was also a third time. Some years later, in the mid 1950s, I received a letter from the Painters' and Sculptors' Association, of which I was a member, saying that the government had allocated a village at the foothills of Mount Carmel, to be a village for artists. It was called Ein Hod. All I had to do to get a house there was to pay fifty Israeli pounds as a registration fee and choose where I wanted to live. I didn't have that amount of money so I borrowed it from a friend, Hana Shofman, the daughter of a Likud MP. I paid the money and rushed to Ein Hod to choose a house in the country. I found a very nice Arab house, because this village had been an Arab village before. I kept this house as a weekend retreat. A few weeks later when I came to my house in Ein Hod, I walked around the village and strolled uphill along the main road. After a while, I met a Palestinian shepherd boy with two mongrel dogs. The dogs started barking at me while the boy tried to keep them away. By and by we started a conversation. The boy spoke Hebrew quite well. I asked him where he was from. He said that he was from Ein Hood. The same Ein Hod where I had acquired a house. The boy told me that a few years ago, the Israeli army had come to the village and asked its people to move for a week to the next Arab village, that was a few kilometres uphill, because they were going to do some live ammunition manoeuvres around the area and did not want anyone to get hurt. Since then they had not been allowed back. That is how the village had become deserted and been given to us, the artists.
I relinquished the house and asked for my £50 registration fee back, which I promptly returned to Ms Shofman.
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