Steve August 22, 2020
how-israel-wages-war-on-palestinian-history

When the Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri made a documentary about Jenin in
2002 – filming immediately after the Israeli army had completed rampaging
through the West Bank city, leaving death and destruction in its wake –
he chose an unusual narrator for the opening scene: a mute Palestinian youth.

Jenin had been sealed off from the world for nearly three weeks as the Israeli
army razed the neighboring refugee camp and terrorized its population.

Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin shows the young man hurrying silently between
wrecked buildings, using his nervous body to illustrate where Israeli soldiers
shot Palestinians and where bulldozers collapsed homes, sometimes on their inhabitants.

It was not hard to infer Bakri’s larger meaning: when it comes to their
own story, Palestinians are denied a voice. They are silent witnesses to their
own and their people’s suffering and abuse.

The irony is that Bakri has faced just such a fate himself since Jenin, Jenin
was released 18 years ago. Today, little is remembered of his film, or the shocking
crimes it recorded, except for the endless legal battles to keep it off screens.

Bakri has been tied up in Israel’s courts ever since, accused of defaming
the soldiers who carried out the attack. He has paid a high personal price.
Deaths threats, loss of work and endless legal bills that have near-bankrupted
him. A verdict in the latest suit against him – this time backed by the
Israeli attorney general – is expected in the next few weeks.

Bakri is a particularly prominent victim of Israel’s long-running war
on Palestinian history. But there are innumerable other examples.

For decades many hundreds of Palestinian residents in the southern West Bank
have been fighting their expulsion as Israeli officials characterize them as
“squatters”. According to Israel, the Palestinians are nomads who
recklessly built homes on land they seized inside an army firing zone.

The villagers’ counterclaims were ignored until the truth was unearthed
recently in Israel’s archives.

These Palestinian communities are, in fact, marked on maps predating Israel.
Official Israeli documents presented in court last month show that Ariel Sharon,
a general-turned-politician, devised a policy of establishing firing zones in
the occupied territories to justify mass evictions of Palestinians like these
communities in the Hebron Hills.

The residents are fortunate that their claims have been officially verified,
even if they still depend on uncertain justice from an Israeli occupiers’
court.

Israel’s archives are being hurriedly sealed up precisely to prevent any
danger that records might confirm long-sidelined and discounted Palestinian
history.

Last month Israel’s state comptroller, a watchdog body, revealed that
more than one million archived documents were still inaccessible, even though
they had passed their declassification date. Nonetheless, some have slipped
through the net.

The archives have, for example, confirmed some of the large-scale massacres
of Palestinian civilians carried out in 1948 – the year Israel was established
by dispossessing Palestinians of their homeland.

In one such massacre at Dawaymeh, near where Palestinians are today fighting
against their expulsion from the firing zone, hundreds were executed, even as
they offered no resistance, to encourage the wider population to flee.

Other files have corroborated Palestinian claims that Israel destroyed more
than 500 Palestinian villages during a wave of mass expulsions that same year
to dissuade the refugees from trying to return.

Official documents have disproved, too, Israel’s claim that it pleaded
with the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return home. In fact, as the archives
reveal, Israel obscured its role in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by inventing
a cover story that it was Arab leaders who commanded Palestinians to leave.

The battle to eradicate Palestinian history does not just take place in the
courts and archives. It begins in Israeli schools.

A new study by Avner Ben-Amos, a history professor at Tel Aviv University,
shows that Israeli pupils learn almost nothing truthful about the occupation,
even though many will soon enforce it as soldiers in a supposedly “moral”
army that rules over Palestinians.

Maps in geography textbooks strip out the so-called “Green Line”
– the borders demarcating the occupied territories – to present a
Greater Israel long desired by the settlers. History and civics classes evade
all discussion of the occupation, human rights violations, the role of international
law, or apartheid-like local laws that treat Palestinians differently from Jewish
settlers living illegally next door.

Instead, the West Bank is known by the Biblical names of “Judea and Samaria”,
and its occupation in 1967 is referred to as a “liberation”.

Sadly, Israel’s erasure of Palestinians and their history is echoed outside
by digital behemoths such as Google and Apple.

Palestinian solidarity activists have spent years battling to get both platforms
to include hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank missed off their
maps, under the hashtag #HeresMyVillage. Illegal Jewish settlements, meanwhile,
are prioritized on these digital maps.

Another campaign, #ShowTheWall, has lobbied the tech giants to mark on their
maps the path of Israel’s 700-kilometer-long steel and concrete barrier,
effectively used by Israel to annex occupied Palestinian territory in violation
of international law.

And last month Palestinian groups launched yet another campaign, #GoogleMapsPalestine,
demanding that the occupied territories be labeled“Palestine”, not
just the West Bank and Gaza. The UN recognized the state of Palestine back in
2012, but Google and Apple refused to follow suit.

Palestinians rightly argue that these firms are replicating the kind of disappearance
of Palestinians familiar from Israeli textbooks, and that they uphold “mapping
segregation” that mirrors Israel’s apartheid laws in the occupied
territories.

Today’s crimes of occupation – house demolitions, arrests of activists
and children, violence from soldiers, and settlement expansion – are being
documented by Israel, just as its earlier crimes were.

Future historians may one day unearth those papers from the Israeli archives
and learn the truth. That Israeli policies were not driven, as Israel claims
now, by security concerns, but by a colonial desire to destroy Palestinian society
and pressure Palestinians to leave their homeland, to be replaced by Jews.

The lessons for future researchers will be no different from the lessons learnt
by their predecessors, who discovered the 1948 documents.

But in truth, we do not need to wait all those years hence. We can understand
what is happening to Palestinians right now – simply by refusing to conspire
in their silencing. It is time to listen.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His
latest books are
Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine:
Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

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