The Nakba (catastrophe) recalls the traumatic episode of 1947-1949 when Israel’s paramilitary forces expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland. Two decades later, during the Six-Day War, another brutal expulsion occurred. As part of this expulsion, the villages of Imwas, Beit Nuba, and Yalo (situated in the Latrun salient) were razed to the ground. Under the terror of explosive fire, the villagers fled for their lives, having been forcibly evicted within a moment’s notice. June 7, 2015 marks 48 years since that merciless assault. The expulsion constitutes one of the most shameful incidents in Israel’s legacy of ethnic cleansing, but only a fraction of a far larger campaign of human destruction and mass displacement that resulted in the Palestinian exodus of 1967 known as al Naksa (the setback). Lest we forget, today, Naksa Day, pays yearly tribute to the victims of this dark chapter of history.
Yesterday, I heard the cardinal’s high-pitched tweet. Spring, I thought, had finally voiced her arrival in rapturous bird song, and heralded her beauty in blossoming trees. But as the cardinal’s tuneful cry pierced the air, I was reminded of another ode to spring, nestled deep in my Israeli childhood – a nursery ditty called “Ha Shkedia Porachat,” (“The Almond Tree is Blooming”). Chanted by toddlers, the song celebrates Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish festival of trees and tree planting. Like so many others in my kindergarten, I was caught under the spell of this hypnotic hymn. My peers and I would sing the lyrics, striding with spade in hand along newly ploughed earth, eager to green our ‘native’ soil and plant a sapling for the Zionist cause. We were nurtured on pastoral ideals, on the fruits of agrarian labour, and on the “heavenly” gifts of arable land, water, and sun.
I once heard it said that the lullaby is our first taste of propaganda. We are lulled into submission by our mother’s cooing voice. Our second spoonful is the nursery song. Its lyrics are the sanctimonious language of adults spouted in naïve melodies, sweet catch-phrases – easy for the child to retain, difficult for the adult to unlearn, so embedded are they in nostalgia for lost youth, so intertwined in sentimental bonds. I see it now through hindsight: the song of the blossoming almond tree, with its joyful utterances of spring, is the potent seed of Zionist dogma. Learned at a tender age, refined over time, and assimilated in countless ways at school, it is but political preaching in saccharine verse, ideology for unsuspecting youth.
They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and so the Jewish National Fund, an organization mandated to “redeem” and reclaim land for Jewish settlement, has plied its donors and devotees with the nectar of political seduction. Launched in 1901, it has since etched its fund-raising appeal into the consciousness of many a family with the words Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. Inscribed on a little blue charity box, this ‘coinage’ appears as but a modest petition; in truth it is a powerful call for financial support to secure the inviolable existence of Eretz Israel. Voicing its appeal in the moral idiom of Zionist salvation, the Jewish National Fund has thus garnered rich donations – from pennies to billions –, bringing its propagandist mottos to the impressionable child.
A song for school children, by Yehoshua Frizman, makes this plain.
The box is hanging on the wall
The blue box
Each penny put inside
Redeems the land
Like all ideology, the Jewish National Fund’s discourse exploits inversion as its rhetorical sleight of hand. Early in the 20th century, Russian-born Zionist leader (and head of the Jewish National Fund) Menahem Ussishkin declared: “The coin the child contributes or collects for the redemption of the land is not important in itself; it is not the child that gives to the Keren Kayemeth, but rather the Fund that gives to the child, a foothold and lofty ideal for all the days of his life.”
Such logic is deceitful, but it pales beside the Jewish National Fund’s more recent history. For years the organization has paraded as an ethically worthy body, promoting ecological sustainability and “laudable” settlement while simultaneously abetting the illegal expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. Early on, it assumed the guise of a virtuous trustee, acting on behalf of all Jews, but its interests were driven by expansionism and racist ideals: a homeland for Jews only. Throughout, it retained its private status to obscure its political clout and quasi-state power, and, not least, its intimate ties with Israel’s brutal acquisition of Palestinian land.
Among the Jewish National Fund’s most blatant offenses is its cover-up of a violent assault on three Palestinian villages shortly after the Six-Day War. Under the directives of Yitzhak Rabin, the villages of Imwas, Beit Nuba, and Yalo (situated in the Latroun salient) were razed to the ground and obliterated; their inhabitants had been forcibly expelled within a moment’s notice. Indeed, on June 7, 1967, ten thousand inhabitants were terrorized into rapid flight. Blasted out of their homes by military warnings of an imminent assault, they fled – most with little garb and few belongings, and many barefoot, staggering for 27 km with babies in arms to Ramallah. Meanwhile, the Israeli army flattened the entire villages, turning homes into rubble, and seizing 80,000 acres of privately owned land.
In the early 1970s, and on this very terrain, the Jewish National Fund and its Canadian donors established a sanctuary of pine forests, varied Middle Eastern flora, and Roman ruins. Over the scattered remnants of Palestinian villages, and under the pretense of environmentalism, the park was conceived as a tourist site to entertain the public, while burying a sordid history of expulsion beneath aromatic vegetation and European pines. Designated “Canada Park,” this tourist spot is currently open to the entire world, except to most Palestinians. Once owners of this land, their access to this pastoral refuge is now forbidden. Canadian visitors, who have wandered through the park, report that the sanctuary harbours a sinister silence. It refuses the onlooker any access to its violent past just as it forbids Palestinians access to their old haunts – the ground upon which the park now stands.
“Ha Shkedia Porachat” rings in my ear once more. The seemingly blithe song of my childhood is now a discordant tune, a tormenting earworm. It clashes with another song, irrepressible and anguished, a ghostly cry of innocent men, women, and children who perished during the expulsion of 1967 – Palestinians chased off their land, left scrambling for safety amid formidable explosions.
Some might say that this narrative is far removed from our shores, and of no interest to Canadians. But I say it is a chapter in the history of every Canadian, of whatever faith or ethnicity. And it behooves all those with a conscience to tell it as it is, to condemn the odious deeds of ‘67, both publicly and unabashedly, and, not least, to demand that the survivors of that episode at last be granted the right to reclaim their most beloved hearth.
Michelle Weinroth is a member of Independent Jewish Voices – Canada.