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Sacred Landscape The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948

  • by Meron Benvenisti (Author), Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta (Translator)
  • February 2002
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
    $34.95,  £27.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 376
    ISBN: 9780520234222
    Trim Size: 6 x 9
    Illustrations: 23 b/w photographs, 2 maps

Read Chapter 5

5 ñ Uprooted and Planted

One day in July 1949, members of the Abu al-Hija family living in shacks on al-Wastani hill on the Carmel ridge noticed a group of people wending their way up the steep path from the Haifa-Tel Aviv Highway and disappearing into the empty, abandoned houses of their village, Ein Hawd. The Abu al-Hija family had been uprooted about a year before, along with the rest of the village's 700 inhabitants, following its occupation by the Israeli army. In contrast to most of their neighbors and relatives, who migrated (or were expelled) across the border, the family's dozen or so members had remained within sight of their land. The head of the family, Muhammad Mahmoud Abu al-Hija, spent some time in an Israeli prisoner-of-war camp along with scores of men from nearby villages. This tall, strong, dignified man bore on his broad shoulders the glorious tradition of his ancient family and of its revered ancestor, Emir Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija, a high-ranking officer in the army of the fabled Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). Emir Abu al-Hija, whose title was Isfahslar (Generalissimo), was commander of the Kurdish force that took part in (fellow Kurd) Salah al-Din's conquest (1187-93) of the Crusader kingdom.


Hussam al-Din was extremely stout, whence his nickname, "Hussam the Fat." It is said that his obesity was so phenomenal that when he rode, his belly would brush the horse's back. When he served as governor of the Irbil District in Iraq, potters from Mosul designed an especially wide eating bowl in his honor, to match his ample dimensions. Bowls of this design were henceforth known in the pottery trade as "Abulhejas." The emir was renowned for his bravery, which earned him the additional nickname "Abu al-Hija" ("the Daring"). Hussam al-Din commanded the garrison of Acre at the time of the Crusader siege of that city (August 1189 to July 1192), subsequent to its capture by the Muslims in July 1187. In the last stages of the siege, Abu al-Hija's forces engaged in combat with those of Richard the Lionhearted, king of England, and King Philip II of France, winning universal admiration. Salah al-Din's biographer, Beha al-Din (1145-1234) writes of Abu al-Hija: "Hussam was distinguished both for his munificence and [his] valor; he was of high rank amongst his own people (the Kurds), and the plans he formed bore witness to the stoutness of his heart." Following the reconquest of Acre by the Crusaders, Emir Hussam continued to command the Kurdish force in battles with the army of Richard the Lionhearted. In July 1192, as the Crusaders were threatening to retake Jerusalem, Sultan Salah al-Din convened a council of war at which his commanders were asked for their recommendations on how to defend the city: whether to prepare themselves for a siege or to launch a battle. Hussam al-Din went to the consultation, although he was barely able to move because of his weight "and was obliged to sit in a chair in the Sultan's tent." Despite his huge girth, he was as daring as ever. He opposed the army's hiding behind the city's walls, saying, "It would be better to risk a pitched battle rather than to shut ourselves up in the city." In the end the need for this decision did not arise, since Richard was forced to forgo his plan to attack Jerusalem. However, Salah al-Din, fearing that Hussam would prefer to remain in the field with his forces rather than repeat his experience of the siege of Acre, ordered him to leave a member of his family in command of the Kurdish force in Jerusalem: "For the Kurds will not obey the Turks, and the Turks in like manner will never obey the Kurds."

Shortly after these events, once the danger to the Holy City had passed, Hussam al-Din returned to Iraq, but several members of his family remained in the country under orders from the sultan and settled on spacious tracts of land that they had been granted in the Carmel region, in the Lower, Eastern, and Western Galilee, and in the Hebron Highlands. One of these land grants became the village of Ein Hawd. Other villages inhabited by families claiming kinship with Hussam Abu al-Hija included Hadatha and Sirin in the Lower Galilee and Ruweis and Kawkab in the Western Galilee. Although they profess to be blood relations of Emir Hussam, these villagers' claims are based solely on tradition. Hussam al-Din apparently died in Iraq and was buried there, but because of his part in liberating the Holy Land from the infidels, family members who stayed in the country designated as his burial place the village of Kawkab al-Hija in the hills of the Western Galilee, where several of his descendants, too, are buried.

Ein Hawd

The al-Hija tradition is deeply rooted in the village of Ein Hawd. One of the village elders recounts how the land on which it is situated was granted to the emir: "When Salah al-Din requested that Abu al-Hija designate the boundaries of the village, the emir took his walking stick and threw it. The stick landed on the rocks near the coast at "Atlit and left a clearly visible mark on one of them. That mark exists to this day." Ancient letters carved into the sandstone, still visible in the area that served as a quarry providing stone for the construction of the Crusader castle in "Atlit, have been the source of many a legend.

Ein Hawd was famous for its healthful air and the healing qualities of the many springs in the vicinity. Especially renowned was a small spring that flowed from a boulder, of which it was said that if someone afflicted with sores poured its water on his body, he would be healed. On the hillsides grew carob trees from which honey of outstanding flavor and aroma was produced. The farmers of Ein Hawd—a village with landholdings of approximately 12,000 dunams—raised field crops, sesame, and olives. During the 1948 War the village's inhabitants took part in armed attacks against Jewish vehicles on the Haifa-Tel Aviv Highway and, along with other villagers from the area, at first held out against the Israeli army; but in July of 1948 they fled the village, apparently without a battle. The villagers scattered, some finding their way to refugee camps in the West Bank and Transjordan. The other al-Hija villages in the north of Israel were captured and destroyed. A number of the refugees from these villages succeeded in remaining inside the country and gathered at the village of Tamra, near the venerated (supposed) grave of Emir Hussam al-Din in Kawkab.

Although the dozen remaining members of the Abu al-Hija family who stayed close to Ein Hawd received Israeli citizenship, they remained "absentees" according to the law, since they had left their homes (even if less than one mile away). Nor was their possession of the hill where they had found refuge recognized by the authorities. However, efforts to dispossess them by legal means, or to make their lives difficult in hopes that they would leave, did not succeed, and the number of inhabitants of the small village grew steadily.

Pioneers "On a Different Level"

The group of people who climbed up to the abandoned village that July day in 1949 had no idea of the history of the place to which they had been sent to make their home; it is not known whether they had any notion that the people whose houses they were taking over were so close by. The group was made up of new immigrants who had arrived a few months previously from Tunisia and Algeria and had been recruited by the Moshav Movement to establish a moshav in Ein Hawd. This was one of the first three groups of immigrants from North Africa to be recruited for agricultural settlement (the second group, new immigrants from Morocco, settled nearby, in a place at first called North "Atlit and later, Megadim; the third was directed to the abandoned village of Rantiyya, near Lod, the former Lydda). The leaders of the Moshav Movement were unsure whether the "immigrants from the Orient"—that is, non-Ashkenazis—were suitable "human material" for cooperative agricultural settlements. After all, they and the overwhelming majority of older moshavim were Ashkenazis who had come from Europe. In their estimation, the immigrants from North Africa and the Arab world were, "from an anthropological standpoint and from the point of view of historical development, on a fundamentally different level than are the immigrants from countries in Europe, from among whom the first twenty organized groups that had founded new cooperative settlements since July 1948 were recruited."

This appraisal was delicate in comparison to some of the harsh pronouncements that could be heard at the time regarding the caliber of the immigrants from North Africa. Tom Segev quotes some of these in 1949: The first Israelis: "The primitiveness of these people is unsurpassable. They have almost no education at all, and what is worse is their inability to comprehend anything intellectual. As a rule, they are only slightly more advanced than the Arabs, Negroes and Berbers in their countries. It is certainly an even lower level than that of the former Palestinian Arabs," wrote a respected Israeli journalist. The immigrants from Algeria received only slightly higher marks than those from Morocco.

The Moshav Movement leadership thought that the North Africans "require[d] different treatment, a different approach," and in fact assigned instructors to the Ein Hawd settlement group to give them social guidance because of the "difference in [its] human composition, family structure, lifestyle, and outlook on life." The group received the same financial grants as the other immigrants who settled in abandoned villages: after the houses worth refurbishing were designated, each settler family received a sum of money for repairs to their new home as well as for starting up a small farm, plus two cows and a plot of land for raising crops.

The original group of seventy families had grown to ninety-two by October 1949. They were quite satisfied with Ein Hawd (which by that time had obtained the Hebrew name Ein Hod), but the Moshav Movement decided that the abandoned village was not a suitable site on which to establish a permanent settlement: "The shape of the Arab village is not at all suitable for the form of settlement toward which we have been striving. . . . not that it was a mistake; on the contrary, it served as an impetus and a lure for the immigrants [to] escape from the crowded immigrant camps, which lacked either privacy or any sort of conveniences." "However," wrote Moshav Movement leader Yitzhak Koren, "as long as these people were sitting in the abandoned village, they would not be able to develop their farms or [build their] community." In his opinion only the established settlement model—of scattered dwellings, each adjoining a twenty-five- to thirty-dunam plot of land—"the very foundation of Jewish settlement in the country"—could suit. Therefore a new moshav was built for the Ein Hod group—called Tsrufah (a mutilation of the name of the abandoned Arab village of Sarafand)—on the plain between Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea, six kilometers south of Ein Hod. The new, permanent settlement was built adjacent to a Turkish immigrant moshav, which had also been established in 1949, on the land of the abandoned Arab village of Jab"a.

Superstitions and Rational Fears

Ein Hod, then, was deserted yet again, a year and a half after its Arab inhabitants had been forced to abandon it. Its houses, partially repaired, again fell into a state of neglect, and some of the walls collapsed. The members of the Abu al-Hija family who watched what was going on did not understand why the Jews were abandoning their homes. Because they could not comprehend how people could despise these houses—for which they themselves longed—they imagined possible explanations. One villager told the writer David Grossman:

They put people from the Oriental communities in our houses, but they didn't last there. They believe all sorts of superstitions and they used to say that at night they could see eyes watching them from the hills, or that rocks fell on them from the sky, or all sorts of ghosts, or that the earth was crying out to them, or that they could see the village people returning to take back their houses. So they weren't able to hold out.
The reabandonment of abandoned Arab villages took place in other locations as well—where new immigrants had been settled and within a short time were withdrawn because the villages were "not suitable for Jewish settlement." Thus, in those places too, the displaced villagers who were still living close by spun similar tales. For example, the Arabs who had been uprooted from the village of Tantura, finding refuge in nearby Furaydis, say that the inhabitants of Moshav Dor abandoned the Arab houses of Tantura because everyone who lived in them was struck by serious illness. They also reported that every time a Jewish bulldozer attempted to destroy the grave of the local saint, Sheikh al-Majrami, its blade broke.

But the beautiful village of Ein Hod was too attractive to remain empty. The authorities were preparing to demolish its houses, as they had done in the neighboring villages of Ein Ghazal and Jaba, but painter and architect Marcel Yanco, who had already conducted a successful campaign against the destruction of the houses of Old Jaffa, hoping to turn it into an artists' colony, took a liking to the picturesque village. He persuaded the authorities to refrain from destroying this architectural gem. In 1953 he succeeded in obtaining the rights to Ein Hod for himself and a group of artists—writers, painters, and sculptors—and with the assistance of the Haifa municipal authority founded an "artists' village" there. The village mosque was converted into a restaurant and bar, and the al-Hija family homes became galleries and summer homes. Sons of displaced villagers worked on the renovations to their fathers' former homes; some even developed close ties with new residents of the village, many of whom held leftist views and participated in demonstrations for peace and coexistence. Meanwhile, the Abu al-Hija family had grown and its hilltop refuge had become a real village. It was not, however, recognized by the authorities, who did not supply them with basic services, prohibited the expansion of the residential area to accommodate natural increase, and refused to build an access road, claiming that improving the physical infrastructure "would spoil the landscape and destroy the forest"—the very forest that had been planted on their fathers' land with the explicit intent of preventing them from cultivating it.

Part of the Ein Hawd cemetery was made into a parking lot, but one has to be thankful that it didn't become the regional garbage dump, as had that of Ein Ghazal. When the al-Hijas asked the artists of the village for permission to fence the remainder of the cemetery, it piqued their fears. These were not the "fears of superstitious members of the Oriental communities" but "rational" concerns: "If you give them a toe-hold here," said one of the artists to writer David Grossman, "you are immediately acknowledging thereby that some sort of—I don't know—injustice took place and turning them into unfortunates who were uprooted from their land. . . . Their having a new hold here would undermine our right to the place and our possession."

Painful confrontations between displaced villagers and settlers, between natives who had become refugees and refugees who had become "natives," were not limited to Ein Hod. In Israel live the displaced residents of some sixty villages, including forty or so where, or beside which, new immigrant moshavim were established. After fifty years of daily contact the wounds are scarred over, but they have not healed. People have learned to live with the pain, and over the years have found many and varied ways of articulating it.

The pain of the displaced villagers is undeniable, but the settlers, too, bear scars that have not healed, owing to their traumatic experiences while being integrated into Israeli society and putting down roots in the country, and their violent encounters with members of the displaced Palestinian population. Approximately 700,000 Arabs abandoned their homes between 1948 and 1951, a period in which a similar number of Jews immigrated to Israel. This "exchange of populations" entailed immense human suffering. There will be those who object to the mention in one breath of the suffering of the defeated and dispossessed, who were uprooted from their homes and homeland—sent to refugee camps with no one taking an interest in their fate—and that of people who found refuge in their sovereign homeland, received land, housing, and monetary assistance, and whose suffering was a result of the temporary travails of absorption. Emphasizing the suffering of the one, however, does not mean that the other's feelings are less real. Nor is the despair of a person cast onto the ruins of an abandoned and desolate mountain village to build a new life less bitter because the heartache of those who were cast out of that village, to find shelter in a cave or in leaky tin-roofed shacks, is greater.

In late 1949 the leaders of a group of immigrants from Yemen, who had been settled in the ruins of the village of Tarbikha (which later was given the Hebrew name Shomera), sent a petition to "the directors of the Moshav Movement in Tel Aviv," headed, "Alas, the Yemenites." It read, in part:

We are in great distress for we lack everything, we have no water to drink, we have no water to wash ourselves. . . . There is nothing, just dry bread. . . . We have [already] been two weeks without money, and the instructors have left the village and gone their own way. . . . Do us a kindness, for G-d's sake, and request other instructors who speak clearly, so we will know what they're saying, and who will come and put the village in order and show us the work and how to work and who we are working for, because we are new in the Land of Israel and don't know anything.
This group of Yemenite immigrants, comprising fifty families, moved in to the houses of the isolated Galilee village in the summer of 1949, less than one year after the approximately 1,000 inhabitants of Tarbikha (and of two small neighboring villages) were evicted by the IDF forces that took over the territory along the Lebanese border. The Tarbikha refugees spent the freezing Galilee winter living in temporary shelters and making unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate back into their village.

Internal Refugees

In the ocean of suffering that was the lot of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs, two groups stand out as exemplifying the painful process of "population exchange" following the 1948 War: the "internal refugees" and the Jews who were settled in those abandoned villages that were turned into immigrant moshavim. These two groups were more or less equal in size: about 30,000 internal refugees and about 30,000 immigrants (in the relevant years, 1948-52). The internal refugees were those displaced Palestinians who left or were evicted from their homes during the war and in its aftermath; they were not permitted to go back but remained within Israel (or returned there) and became citizens. This category of displaced persons came into being because a large proportion of the people who had been uprooted in the wake of the hostilities were not allowed to return to their home villages and were forced to seek refuge in other Arab communities—near or far. They were classified as "absentees" under the Absentee Property Law, which stated that anyone who had left his or her place of residence at any time from the outbreak of hostilities until their end was "absent" as far as the property—which was transferred to the care of the custodian of absentee property—was concerned. But these "absentees" were also "present," in that they were granted Israeli citizenship and supposedly had equal rights under Israeli law. Hence they were referred to by the cynical oxymoron "present absentees."

To the ranks of refugees who had left their homes or had been evicted from them during the war were added those expelled by the Israeli armed forces after the cessation of hostilities. By May 1949 the number of internal refugees stood at 17,000. figures of a like order of magnitude are provided by Charles Kamen, the most reliable source of statistical data on the Arab population in Israel following the 1948 War. Kamen estimates the number of internal refugees at 23,000 by the end of hostilities. United Nations sources place their number at 46,000. The number of internal refugees grew considerably between 1949 and 1952 as a result of "infiltration" from across the armistice lines, "family reunification" allowed by the authorities, and the issuing of entry permits to small groups of refugees. The collection of more up-to-date data raised these estimates even higher. Although some internal refugees were allowed to return to their former places of habitation (especially to Haifa) and thereby supposedly ceased to be refugees, their return did not alter their status as "present absentees." I estimate the number of internal refugees of all categories (those displaced by war, those expelled during and after the war, transborder infiltrators, those permitted to return, and released prisoners of war) who became citizens of Israel but remained "absent" under the law (even if they returned to their communities of origin), as 30,000 to 35,000 souls, or 17 to 20 percent of all Arab residents of the State of Israel in 1951 (who totaled 180,000). There are other estimates, both higher and lower, but no official figure. As Kamen explains:

The lack of attention to the internal refugees is consistent with the general neglect suffered by the Arabs in Israel during the first decade of statehood. An additional reason was probably the unwillingness of official circles in Israel to draw attention to the existence of the internal refugees and their situation by providing means of identifying them. Primarily, Israel was not interested in having UNRWA [The UN Refugee Relief and Works Agency] operate within its borders, and this activity was indeed terminated in July of 1952.
The internal refugees constituted only some 5 percent of the Palestinian refugees, but they originated from some eighty villages, or 20 percent of the total number of abandoned villages; thus they were representative of the scope of the general exodus that had taken place. The number of villages of origin given here is my estimate and is higher than those given by Kamen, who cites data from the northern part of the country only. About sixty of these eighty villages were reduced to ruins, and twenty-two continued to exist (after part of their population had fled). The geographical distribution of the internal refugees' villages of origin give an indication of the nature of the exodus: the vast majority are situated in the country's north, where most of the Arab villages that remained untouched by the war are located. The villagers moved out when the war reached their villages and found refuge in neighboring communities, in many instances with close or distant relatives. When all available accommodations in those villages were full (including the houses of people who had left), the refugees began building temporary structures on the fringes of the built-up area. When the war again reached their doorsteps, their fate was the same as that of the inhabitants of their villages of refuge: when the latter either fled or were forcibly evicted, the internal refugees left with them.

It often happened that refugee families passed through many "stations" before finally finding sanctuary. Mustafa Kabha and Ronit Barzilay describe the difficult journey of one family from a village near Nazareth, who passed through no fewer than thirteen "stations" before finally settling down in a village in the Lower Galilee. Other refugees had better luck, and their villages of sanctuary were not attacked. Nonetheless, they too were prevented from returning to their village of origin—no matter how close by, or from cultivating their land, even if they were living at its edge.

The number of internal refugees whose origins were in the central and southern parts of the country was very small, evidence of the policy of massive expulsion that was, as described previously, carried out in those regions during the war. A few families who had been uprooted from villages in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area took refuge in villages that were later annexed to Israel in the context of the armistice agreement with Jordan, making them "present absentees" in Israel. In fact, the refugees scattered in all directions. Kamen found, for example, that people displaced from Haifa had found sanctuary in no fewer than twenty-six Arab communities, residents of Safuriyya (the historical Sepphoris) in seven villages, and those from Damoun in six.

Classification of the internal refugees according to the factors that precipitated the abandonment of their villages produces the following results: inhabitants of twenty-two villages fled in wartime (sometimes following acts of intimidation by the Israeli army); residents of eighteen villages were victims of preemptive eviction during the war; in the case of fifteen villages, the people were evicted after the war; the inhabitants of seven villages were expelled and transferred to empty abandoned villages. The populations of ten villages escaped being evicted because their expulsion order was not carried out (these last are not included in the enumeration of internal refugees). Some of the villages in the two first categories have been described earlier, in accounts of the hostilities and the general exodus. Here I shall describe the fate of the internal refugees in the remaining categories through examples of some particularly prominent cases.

The majority of the internal refugees who were evicted after the war were but the sparse remnants of communities that had for the most part fled their villages during the hostilities. Exceptions to this rule were those from Bir"im, Iqrit, and Khirbat Jalama (which have already been mentioned), as well as the inhabitants of Faluja and "Iraq al-Manshiyya (who were expelled from the country and are therefore not counted among the internal refugees). Kamen gathered data on internal refugees who originated from forty-four abandoned villages and found that they had constituted 8 percent of their villages' prewar populations. No more than 100 souls from each of these forty-four villages remained inside the country, and in the case of only eleven villages did there remain more than 200 people who had originally come from that village. About twenty of these villages, and others for which Kamen had not obtained data, were evacuated after the end of the war. This was, indeed, the eviction of only a few remaining inhabitants, but the circumstances deserve closer examination.

The reasons that some people had stayed behind rather than join in the exodus of the majority of their community were many and varied. Some were unable to pull up stakes because they were old, sick, or women whose husbands had been taken prisoner and were being held in prisoner-of-war camps and who were caring for small children on their own. Kamen reckoned that the prisoner-of-war camps held thousands of Arab villagers who had been arrested in the course of the conquest of their villages or were "infiltrators." In March 1949, 2,500 prisoners remained in captivity, most of them heads of families, which they rejoined when they were eventually released.


Others remained in their homes because they hadn't panicked but instead had stood firm against Israeli attempts at intimidation. Among these were numbered 400-odd inhabitants of Safuriyya who stayed behind following the flight of some 4,000 villagers soon after the capture of this large village on the night between 15 and 16 July 1948. Safuriyya had gone down in the annals of the Yishuv as a "village of murderers"; that is, it had a long history of armed struggle against the Jewish community and the British. Since 1929 it was the home of the most important rural terrorist cell of "Izz a-Din al-Qassam's Black Hand organization. Its members were involved in the murder of Jewish settlers in the Jezreel Valley, and two of them were caught and hanged. Following the disbanding of the Black Hand in 1935, several of its members continued to take part in acts of violence against Jews, and six Safuriyya men were senior commanders in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. Hence the Jewish community had a long list of bloody accounts to settle with Safuriyya.

In the 1948 War Safuriyya was one of the only villages whose inhabitants had weapons, ammunition, and trained fighting men. According to Nafez Nazal, there were between 135 and 150 fighters in the village, each with a rifle at his disposal, as well as fifteen machine guns and one cannon (owned by the mukhtar). But this local militia by itself was, of course, incapable of standing up to the Israeli army, and the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) did not come to its aid. The village fell after putting up a strong resistance, and its noncombatant inhabitants, who had fled to the orchards and woods even before the commencement of the battle, scattered in all directions. Some went to Lebanon, and some found refuge in surrounding villages or in Nazareth. About 200 souls, among them the families of several of the village notables, returned to their homes immediately following the conquest and were counted as local residents in the first Israeli census, conducted in November 1948. Safuriyya's population doubled in the course of 1949, as former inhabitants who had been living in nearby villages returned home. The Israeli authorities worried that this "infiltration" would result in all the houses in the village being occupied once again, making it impossible to house Jewish immigrants there or to confiscate the land. The authorities thus decided to evict all the remaining residents of the village, and, on 7 January 1949 everyone in Safuriyya was loaded onto trucks and expelled to surrounding villages, literally bordering their own fields. In November 1951 the High Court of Justice rejected the villagers' petition to return home—having accepted the Defense Ministry's position that Safuriyya was located in "a closed military area." At the time a moshav already existed there (established in 1949), populated by eighty-five immigrant families, who had come from Rumania and Bulgaria (see later discussion). Over the years, the "present absentees" of Safuriyya built themselves homes in a Nazareth neighborhood named after their village (Hart al-Safafra), which looks down on their lost home from several kilometers away.

About a month after the eviction of Safuriyya's remaining inhabitants, the remnants of the populations of the Upper Galilee villages of Faradiyya and Kafr "Inan were also evicted. These villages, too, were evacuated because of the authorities' anxiety that additional refugees would slip back to them, thereby thwarting plans to settle Jews there. Their inhabitants were expelled to several other villages in the area, but most of them came back and gathered on the outskirts of the village of Ramah, whose fields bordered their own, so as to stay close to their villages. Agricultural settlements for new immigrants were established in 1949 on the expropriated land. Some of the (former) residents of Faradiyya and Kafr "Inan are today employed as laborers in the olive groves that were the glory of these villages. A similar fate befell the remaining villagers of Zakariyya (near Beit Shemesh in the Shephelah), Khirbat Jalama, Umm al-Faraj (close to Nahariya), Khirbat Husha (near Ramat Yohanan in the Zebulun Valley), and al-Zib (Akhziv), all of whom were evicted a few months after the war—since their presence impeded the establishment of Jewish settlements—and compelled to find sanctuary nearby or far away.

A large number of internal refugees stayed in their homes, since they believed that their good relations with the Jews, both before and during the war, would ensure that no evil befell them. Some—who had cooperated with the Jewish Intelligence Service or who had had economic ties with Jews, especially those who had helped in the sale of land to the JNF, feared that if they moved to areas under Arab rule, they would be executed, as indeed did occur on some occasions. These were isolated individuals, entire families, or even whole villages, and some actually were treated well by the authorities and not harmed. In some areas of the country one can still find lone houses with farm buildings, surrounded by agricultural land, belonging to Arabs who were allowed to stay put because they enjoyed the protection of the authorities in return for "services rendered." Quite a few internal refugee families either were not evicted from their villages or were moved to other villages with the assistance of the authorities for the same reason. Their neighbors in their villages of refuge knew or suspected that they were spies for the Jews or collaborators, but over the years the feelings of hostility toward them faded.

Upper Galilee

Many other internal refugees felt they had been betrayed. Despite their being collaborators, their fate was no better than that of those who had not been, and they were evicted from their villages without a thought to the service they had rendered to the victors. One of the most blatant examples of this ingratitude was the way in which the Israeli authorities treated the remnants of the populations of three villages in the Galilee Panhandle: Qaytiyya, Khisas, and Ja"una. When these villages were captured in May 1948, some of their inhabitants were left in their homes, despite the fact that widespread "ethnic cleansing" was being carried out in the Huleh Valley and the Galilee Panhandle. The inhabitants of Khisas and Qaytiyya had maintained close ties with the Jewish settlements in the area, supplying them with intelligence and helping them purchase land. These close relations had a significant influence on the dispute among Jewish leaders regarding the retaliatory raid on Khisas at the start of the 1948 War. The village of Ja"una was essentially an Arab neighborhood adjacent to the long-established Jewish colony of Rosh Pina, and its inhabitants worked for the Jewish farmers. The 300 residents of these villages lived under Israeli rule for over a year and became citizens of the state.

On the night of 5 June 1949, the villages were encircled by the Israeli army, and their residents forcibly loaded onto trucks and conveyed to a bare hilltop south of the town of Safad, beside the abandoned village of "Akbara. There they were dumped, with no shelter and without the minimal necessities of life. This arbitrary eviction aroused a public storm and lively discussion in the Knesset. It also gave rise to a spate of newspaper articles, on both the evacuation itself and the inhumane manner inwhich it had been carried out. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, however, gave his full backing to the deed and defended the army's actions. The Huleh Valley expellees remained on their bald hilltop and refused every offer of proper housing. Only after eighteen years did they agree to move to a permanent settlement in Wadi Hamam, near the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where they have established a thriving village.

A visitor to Wadi Hamam, seeing the typically Israeli-style single-family homes, the straight, wide streets, and the large mosque and the school, could not imagine what hardships the residents had been through on the way from their distant villages to this beautiful location. The villages of Khisas and Qaytiyya were razed. Kibbutz Hagoshrim, which was built on the land of Khisas, opened a lovely hotel in the abandoned manor house of Emir Faour, the leader of the al-Fadel tribe and landlord of the village (see chapter 3). "In the past," states the hotel fact sheet, without elaborating, "this was the winter palace of Emir Faour." Emir Faour's summer palace was also captured by the Israelis—in 1967—and destroyed. It stood eight kilometers (five miles) west of Quneitra in the Golan Heights and is designated on Israeli maps as "The Emir's Ruin."

During their stay in "Akbara, the refugees from Khisas met those from the village of Qadita (west of Safad), whose fate had been even more bitter than their own. They, too, had been collaborators for the Jews, and the ALA—which controlled their village at the time—had expelled them to the neighboring village of Jish. After Qadita and Jish were occupied by the Israelis, some of the Qadita refugees returned to their village but then were moved to Ja"una, whose original inhabitants had already been evicted, and lived there for seven months. From there they were moved to another abandoned village, and finally they, too, arrived in "Akbara (the others from their village remained in Jish). The Qadita villagers, along with individual refugees from other locations in the Galilee, built themselves a prosperous village on the slopes of the bald mountain on the outskirts of Safad. Their abandoned village was turned into a "rural style" vacation spot.


The village of Ijzim, on the western slopes of Mount Carmel, is the last place one would expect to find people who had been collaborators with the Jews. This large, wealthy village, whose population in 1948 was close to 3,000 and whose landholdings covered more than 40,000 dunams, was the hub of the "Little Triangle," the group of villages whose inhabitants had blocked the main Tel Aviv-Haifa Highway for many months during the war. The Israelis succeeded in capturing Ijzim only after two failed attempts. Even on the third and last attempt, on 24 July 1948, the Israelis succeeded in gaining control of the village only after employing cannon fire and air strikes, in a fierce battle that lasted two days. Ijzim was thus continuing its long tradition of armed struggle against the Jewish community and the British Mandatory government. A prominent member of the village's leading family—the influential al-Madi clan—was among the foremost activists in the Palestinian nationalist movement, and several villagers had been guerrilla commanders in the Arab Revolt.

With the conquest of Ijzim (and of neighboring Jab"a and Ein Ghazal), the majority of the villagers either were expelled or fled. Most of them made their way to the Jenin area, across the armistice lines, while others found refuge in the nearby Druze village of Daliyat al-Carmel. Several dozen people, however, were allowed to remain in their homes, since they had connections with influential Jews, particularly in Haifa. They continued working their fertile land and sending their agricultural produce to Haifa, were registered in the first Israeli census, and received Israeli identity cards. In December 1948 a dispute broke out between the Jewish protectors of the residents of Ijzim and the Haifa district military commander over the villagers' continued presence there. The dispute culminated in the decision that the villagers would remain and that those who had taken refuge in Daliyat al-Carmel would also be permitted to return home. However, the district commander later went back on his word and ordered the eviction of the villagers, who subsequently found shelter in the nearby village of Furaydis.

There is no doubt that one of the considerations leading to the eviction was the interest shown by settlement agency officials in turning Ijzim into an immigrant moshav. And indeed, in the summer of 1949, just a few months after the villagers had been ousted, a moshav whose members were immigrants from Czechoslovakia and Rumania was established in Ijzim. In contrast to many other abandoned villages—where the permanent Jewish settlement was built adjacent to the houses of the Arab village, which were demolished—the homes of this wealthy village were judged to be worthy of permanent habitation. The al-Madi family's luxurious seventeenth-century madafeh became first a museum and then the mansion of a Jewish family, the school became a synagogue, and the cemetery beside it, a public park. The large and magnificent village mosque, which had been built in the nineteenth century, was left to slowly crumble. Some of the villagers held on to their land and lived for a few years in tin-roofed shacks and other temporary structures, but eventually all of them—with the exception of one family—broke down and agreed to exchange their holdings for building plots in the village of Furaydis. The one Arab family that withstood all the pressure to leave now lives in its own house beside a sacred spring called Sitt Maqura, where both Arabs and Jews come to pray and light candles.

The village of Furaydis, as well as the neighboring Jisr al-Zarqa, were not touched at all. The inhabitants enjoyed the strong support of their patrons, the farmers from the neighboring Jewish villages of Zichron Ya"akov and Binyamina, whose agricultural livelihood depended on the work of laborers from these Arab villages. These places thus became a refuge for individual families from abandoned villages in the area who had been permitted to remain in the country (although not in their own villages), including some 150 refugees from the adjacent village of Tantura. But even the fate of Furaydis and Jisr a-Zarqa hung by a thread. The military authorities attempted to secure a decision to evict their inhabitants, but they did not succeed. Plans and even official decisions to evict villagers, demolish villages, and repopulate them with Jews existed regarding ten still-occupied villages: six in the Upper and Central Galilee (Jish, Tarshiha, Fassuta, Mi"ilya, Hurfeish, and Rihaniyya), one in the Western Galilee (Nahf), and one in the Jerusalem area (Abu Ghosh), as well as Furaydis and Jisr a-Zarqa. For various reasons that will not be elaborated upon here, however, these plans were not carried out.

Thus a population that to start with numbered approximately 30,000 to 35,000 and in 1998 reached approximately 150,000—all of them citizens of the State of Israel—lived in the immediate vicinity of their home villages and their land but were not permitted to return to them. Regulation number 125 of the Emergency Regulations designated their houses and land as "closed areas," and anyone entering them without written permission as being guilty of an offense and liable to be punished to the full extent of the law. With their own eyes these displaced villagers saw others entering the "closed area," taking over their houses, and working their land. For the internal refugees, exile was not to some far-off place; it was exile within their own homeland. It does not require a great deal of sensitivity to understand the intensity of their everyday pain and frustration. This group, an insignificant minority amid the sea of expellees, is the very embodiment of the Palestinian catastrophe. I shall deal elsewhere with the emotional aspects of the internal exiles' experience, but this is the time to confront the "present-absent" villagers with the Jewish settlers who took their places, often without any inkling that from just over the next hill they were being observed by the original residents of the houses they were living in.

"A Moment of Grace"

"In a moment of grace, one summer's day at twilight, toward the end of the War for Independence, the idea of populating the abandoned Arab villages with Jewish immigrants was born." Thus was described—in words befitting a spiritual revelation—the moment when Levi Eshkol, head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency, conceived of the plan that was to radically alter the landscape of the country and the lives of thousands of human beings. The description of this moment, as recorded by Eshkol and quoted religiously in nearly every book dealing with the settlement of the immigrants, suits the solemnity of the occasion; it merits being quoted here at length:

These were the last days of the War for Independence. The People and the Land had not yet recovered from their amazement to realize, and especially to sense, that political independence had indeed been achieved and that now we were the masters of our own fate. The old Yishuv was still bent over the casualties who had just now been laid to rest, and the torrent of immigrants had begun streaming and flooding in. The immigration came without our having sought to control its nature or its dimensions, without our having prepared ourselves for suitably absorbing the immigrants and making arrangements for them, as we were preoccupied with the war. . . . We were concerned, in those days, with seeking practical solutions for coping with absorbing this great wave and with channeling it in constructive and productive directions, as has been our way in building our country since the days of the Second Aliyah. . . .
The great expanses of the Land had brought forth thistles and thorns. Brambles and prickly plants had extended their dominion. . . . Only the howl of the jackal disturbed the stillness of desertion and dejection. We used to enter the abandoned villages, wander about their crooked streets, and try to comprehend the way of life recently past and still vivid [in our memories] which had preceded the panicked flight. . . . All the abandoned villages had become mute witnesses to a battle of titans, to the cruel vicissitudes of fate, their plots to annihilate us thwarted. Now the villages stood desolate, orphaned, mute. . . . Emptiness peeped from every corner with a myriad of eyes; emptiness seeking its [own] eradication; seeking to have life breathed into it. . . . Here a lone and frightened dog—who was left behind—miserably prowls, sadly and loyally guarding what has gone with the wind and with the storm of battle. These impressions were soaked up . . . they fermented and sizzled, struggling and crying out for us to do something.
After the victory over our enemies, what was required was an act of conquest by settlement, an act of ingathering of exiles and of rooting our exiled brothers, in their multitudes (in the soil of the homeland). I sensed that in the desolation of the Land lay buried the solution to the human desolation that was arriving from all ends of the earth. . . . It was incumbent upon us to open the gates of the country and of its land to all of these.
. . . The man had yet to arise in this country who would attempt to take charge of all the neglected places calling to us from every direction. . . . We passed close to Bariyya, a small village atop a rocky hill. . . . Its houses were of stone and the impression they gave—solidity. An idea flashed in my brain. I stopped the car—"Come, let us visit this village, I have an idea that could help us out of our distress. We left the car. . . . In every corner were relics of the former inhabitants: cushions, mats, jugs, broken pieces of furniture, cisterns hewn in the stone. . . . After touring the entire village we found several dozen houses that might, after certain repairs, provide shelter for immigrant families, here in the Arab village, amongst the fields. . . .
In this country there are hundreds of deserted villages, and even if we exclude from our reckoning those whose buildings are of adobe, which certainly would not be suitable for housing Jews, dozens and perhaps hundreds of villages remain, with houses built of stone, as in Bariyya. We must take them and prepare them for the coming winter, bring scores of families to each one, with instructors to guide them, . . . equip each group with work tools, and begin the cultivation of the fields. This balance sheet is all on the credit side: the immigrants are sitting in camps and supporting them costs the Jewish Agency a considerable sum, whereas these fields must not be left desolate. . . . That very evening I contacted the settlement movements, invited engineers, sought the advice and know-how of the engineering corps, and began to get the great wheel in motion, something which helped us that very same winter (1948-49) to turn more than forty-five abandoned villages into settlements bustling with renewed life.
At the very time Eshkol was coming to the realization of how the "desolation of the Land" could provide a solution for "the human desolation that was arriving from all ends of the earth," nearly 100,000 people were crammed into immigrant camps and into houses abandoned by Arabs in the larger towns. In the estimation of this pioneer founder of Kibbutz Degania Bet, close confidant of Ben-Gurion, and eventually prime minister himself, these people were "human refuse, remnants from the displaced persons' camps, fragments of communities . . . like a flash flood in the wadi on a rainy day." He believed it would be possible to take "thousands of immigrant families from the big camps and thereby rescue from a life of decadence the former inmates of the European death camps," to steer them " in constructive and productive directions," "in physical contact with the soil—mother of all solutions."

Magnitude of Immigration

The magnitude of this wave of immigration was astounding. From the establishment of the state to the end of 1951, nearly 700,000 immigrants arrived in Israel (100,000 in 1948, 240,000 in 1949, 170,000 in 1950, and 175,000 in 1951). By the end of 1951, the number of new immigrants had exceeded that of those who were taking them in, and the machinery of immigrant absorption was bent over beneath the weight of this burden. This great human drama has already been portrayed many times and will not be repeated here; I shall concentrate instead on the fate of those who settled in the abandoned villages-turned-cooperative-settlements.

The leaders of the Moshav Movement and the heads of the settlement establishment liked to believe that they held in their hands the cure for the misery of the immigrants "who had lost their families in the holocaust and who were striving to rebuild their shattered family lives and who had a powerful longing to stand on their own feet." Organizing them into settlement groups for moshavim would not only solve "the two central problems in their lives: creating a normal family life and making possible a reasonably independent existence, it would actually be the fulfillment of their 'longing for renewal and for rootedness in the soil of this Land.'"

The official history of the Moshav Movement recounts that the first group "recruited by Gershon Gilad in the Pardess Hannah Immigrant Camp" was a haphazard collection of new immigrants who did not know one another. Gilad explained to the small group that came to the meeting that had been announced over the camp public address system that "they were being offered a priceless opportunity to join the elite of the Yishuv: the agricultural settlement movement occupies the pinnacle of public regard, and not everyone has succeeded in fulfilling the supreme halutzik (pioneering) mission to this degree." The immigrants were not interested in social status, but they aspired "to get away from the moldy bread that [they] ate in the camps and to begin living normal lives." Some of them signed up for the settlement group, which arrived at the abandoned Arab village of "Aqir, near Rehovot, on 7 December 1948.

Settling Arab Villages

The group was installed in the houses of this large village, which had been captured in May of that year; over the past six months the deserted houses had been vandalized and were falling apart. The group's members were not aware that they were not the only ones who had been placed in "Aqir, as the Absorption Department of the Jewish Agency had earlier brought in a collection of immigrants who were not slated for agricultural settlement. The settlement group was given dilapidated houses—and set to work renovating them. Relations among the group members and between them and their nonagricultural immigrant neighbors were tense, and the difficult living conditions were not conducive to good humor. The village had only one well in operating condition, the rest having been wrecked and their equipment stolen. There was no electricity, and the renovations collapsed with the winter rains. A Moshav Movement instructor who visited the village "saw in one of the old houses, in a large, dark room—damp, with peeling walls—several women and children who had gathered in order to relieve the oppressive loneliness. The women sat wrapped in heavy overcoats, exchanging few words. . . . 'We're unhappy here,' said one of them in Yiddish." Another instructor writes: "I encountered a highly depressing phenomenon: a total lack of trust in one another. . . . They did not believe in people's sincerity or their honesty in public work. They did not believe that it was possible to divide work impartially, without favors. In short, they had no faith in humankind."

Staying in the old houses of the abandoned village was disheartening for the settlers, and the Settlement Department made an effort to obtain new homes for them. These were small cinder-block structures, which the group members built themselves adjacent to the village site. One of the settlers commented, blaming the hardships and the mass desertion by members of the group on their initial housing:

For a short while we thought that a poor nation should feel blessed with the existing houses [of the Arab village]. But it turned out that the attitude of the settlers toward the abandoned village was as that toward a piece of used clothing, which—no matter how good it is—is not loved by a self-respecting person. Many settlements were emptied of their first and best settlers because of the necessity of living like the Arabs.
When the "Aqir settlers sought to erect their cinder-block houses, they encountered an unexpected obstacle. The members of nearby Kibbutz Giv"at Brenner refused to let them have the land, saying that "it would be a waste of good farmland to hand it over to people with no knowledge of agriculture." The object of the dispute was a parcel of 2,600 dunams of land belonging to the Arab village of "Aqir, which the kibbutz had leased on a temporary basis and now wished to take over permanently. Some of the moshav members hesitated to confront the kibbutz members, since they were employed in Giv"at Brenner's fruit-juice factory and feared that they would be fired—which indeed they were. When the moshav members brought the blocks—which they had made with their own hands—to the disputed area, "teenagers from Giv"at Brenner came and smashed them. The conflict heated up and there was an exchange of blows." "Here you are, living in the [Arab] houses," argued the kibbutznikim (kibbutz members), "and working for us. What do you need land for?" finally the dispute was brought before Eshkol, who ruled in favor of the "Aqir settlers, whose moshav was called Beit Elazari. This incident was immortalized in the chronicles of the Moshav Movement as "the first land dispute between an immigrant moshav and an established agricultural settlement." It was not the last.

Intense arguments and conflicts between new and veteran agricultural settlers broke out in many places, leaving a legacy of bad feeling. Eshkol took an unambiguous stance:

I reject the intention to reserve land for the older settlements at this time. This demand seems to me un-Zionist. Look here, the entire Upper Galilee is empty; it has ample reserves of land, but no one is leaping on them. . . . An examination of land allocations during the period I have been responsible for settlement will not lead to the conclusion that kibbutzim received . . . rocky ground and hillsides, whereas immigrants—"ordinary Jews"—were given the best soil. The data will reveal that the opposite is the case. The new immigrants have been directed to difficult places and to [temporary] workers' villages, because circumstances dictated that. The abandoned villages demand to be settled; is it necessary to set aside some of their land in reserve so that maybe somebody would want to settle there?
Joseph Weitz was even more blunt than his colleagues. He expressed his disappointment with the old guard of the agricultural settlements in these words:

This is the great revolution in the annals of Zionist settlement. The kibbutz and kvutza (small kibbutz) and the older moshav have ceased to be in the vanguard of settlement development, save in areas of irrigated crops. But there, too, the simple laborer will be better adapted. The conquest of the wilderness and the renaissance of the land will apparently be accomplished by the Jews of Yemen, Iraq, and Morocco.
Weitz did not conceal his opinion that the Oriental immigrants, who came from a "primitive background," were well suited for settlement in rugged terrain because they would be satisfied with little and prepared to work hard for low pay, unlike workers from Europe who were "accustomed to a high standard of living." This attitude fit in well with the Ashkenazi establishment's perceptions of how immigrant absorption should proceed. The "absorbers" would ultimately pay the price for this attitude.

But the Oriental immigrants were not infused with the sense of mission that those who sent them out to the settlements tried to imbue them with. Further, they felt they had been deceived. "They had difficulty understanding why they had to live under harsh conditions in the hills of the Galilee or the area outside Jerusalem, or in the remote Negev, far from the center of the country with its vibrant cities, while other, European, immigrants had a better fate than that." "In certain cases," reports the Moshav Movement historian, "some of the immigrants refused to leave the trucks and vigorously demanded to be returned to the immigrant camps." The instructors who accompanied them resorted to varied methods to persuade them to get down. At one settlement the truck driver "staged" a breakdown, and once the passengers had alighted, he "managed" to get the vehicle moving and made haste to get out of there. In another place the immigrants were told that there was a town "just over the hill." "When they got up early the next morning they realized that everything around was desolate and deserted."

An instructor from the Moshav Movement relates his experiences:

On the way . . . [they came to a place where] level fields, free of stones, stretched off [into the distance], apparently fertile soil. In the distance [Arab] villages could be seen, emptied of their inhabitants. Someone among the immigrants dared to ask, "Why did you show us a village whose land is all rocks and stones and why isn't it possible for us to settle here, on the plain?" Of course I could not give him an answer to put his mind at ease: "We must settle in every part of the country. . . . We must conquer the mountainous frontiers that are already sown and whose [Arab] inhabitants lived relatively prosperous lives, as their spacious homes testify." . . . That night I did not sleep. . . . I lay on my cot with a half-cocked rifle by my side, and in my mind's eye I saw the people of this village, who had fled in panic and who were surely not far from here, waiting for the first opportunity to return to their village, to their houses. Who would prevent them from doing that, especially once they found out that Jews had come to take possession of their property? . . . The night passed. The following day we made a tour of the village. We got the impression that the houses are not suitable for a Jewish settlement, they are scattered in no particular arrangement among twisting alleyways, impassable by cart. . . . But there is no choice. We'll have to clean out the living accommodations and settle in somehow.
The villagers who had "fled in panic" occupied the minds of the immigrants residing in their houses, who fabricated histories of the various villages for themselves. Thus, for example, it is said that in Zippori (the former Safuriyya), "Efforts were made to bring the [Arab] villagers back." But the attempt failed, and the man who had been sent to try to persuade the refugees to return had no success and

was barely able to escape, and come back to inform us [the Jews] that the people of Zippori had no desire to live under Jewish rule. . . . Despite those who fell victim to Arab murderers sent by the former inhabitants, the [Jewish] residents' spirits did not fall. Zippori continued to prosper and to arouse the envy of its former inhabitants. Some of them used to visit the village or observe it from afar, and later employed legal means to attempt to regain the village that they had refused to return to before.
The Zippori immigrant moshav was built right beside the houses of the destroyed village, "and stones from the demolished houses are piled in heaps. Walls are on the verge of collapse and the dust of generations and pulverized manure rises in the air. Among the ruins of the abandoned houses, small, shapeless cinder-block structures were put up, as usual with no conveniences [bathrooms]." Later a large forest was planted on the remains of the Arab houses, to adorn the tourist site of ancient Sepphoris, with its magnificent mosaic floors.

The dense pomegranate orchards that had been the pride of Arab Safuriyya were an annoyance. "Pomegranates from the ancient trees are not fit for marketing," writes Shmuel Dayan, one of the founders of the Moshav Nahalal, a leader of the Moshav Movement, and father of Moshe Dayan. "We shall have to lay out tens of thousands of pounds [old Israeli currency] to uproot them. The residents expect the trees to be uprooted, and will afterwards use the land for growing cattle fodder." To Dayan, the only tried-and-true method of agriculture was that of the classic moshav, and the glorious pomegranate trees interfered with the production of fodder. Before long it became clear that agricultural planning based entirely on dairy cattle and chickens was wasteful. Large surpluses of produce (eggs, milk and dairy products, certain fruits and vegetables) occurred; the agricultural settlements needed to be heavily subsidized, and when subsidies were cut, the immigrant moshavim were thrown into a state of crisis. But the olive and pomegranate trees of the "primitive" Arab village were no more.

Modern planning, too, which suggested a linear layout for settlement, without deference to topography, caused severe problems. Shmuel Dayan recalls:

A deep and wide wadi did not stop the planners from designing building lots on its other side, on the assumption that the ground would be leveled and a bridge built. The moshav was built according to plan. . . . The houses across the wadi were not connected to the main road, and the access road to the village didn't reach them. This section was higher than the rest of the village, and when the lower plots were being irrigated, there was no water for the higher plots.
The push to eradicate the Arab landscape, houses and orchards and all, led to the demolition of most abandoned villages, "which weren't suitable for a Jewish settlement." Hence the vision of Levi Eshkol, that hour of grace at twilight in the abandoned village of Bariyya, was not realized. Settlement of immigrants in the houses of the Arab villages was but a passing episode—a kind of bad dream—and the settlers neglected and wrecked them like some "unloved hand-me-down garment." The ancient orchards were uprooted to make room for chicken runs and fields of cattle fodder—but primarily to create "clean land." In this context, Shmuel Dayan tells a story with an allegorical flavor:

One summer day at dusk, a man and his wife sat on the tiny porch of an ancient stone house in Zippori . . . surrounded by dense thickets of sabra bushes. . . . "It was hard," said the man. "Every day when I opened my eyes I encountered that detestable sabra. I kept on digging it up, because I couldn't stand to look at it. And even at night in my bed, when I closed my eyes I saw the sabra falling under my saw and hoe. Every bit of additional land it was cleared from made me feel better—until I saw before my eyes in my dream 'clean land' and I fell into a deep sleep."
The "detested" Arab sabra gave way to the Jewish "garden, orchard, and greenery"; "houses arranged according to plan. . . . The old ruins of Zippori stand to one side, as a reminder of bygone days."

Ghosts and Infiltrators

The "old ruins" of villages did indeed stand "to one side," but their inhabitants, the displaced Arabs, stood at the center of the Jewish settlers' lives. From the very moment the Jews set foot in the abandoned houses, they were pursued by the ghosts of those who had gone. Nor were these abstract fears, inspired by the ruins of the houses and the desolation of the abandoned orchards; this was a terror of flesh-and-blood "infiltrators," of villagers who sneaked into the settlements with the aim of robbing and taking revenge for their expulsion and for their lives of hunger and deprivation in the miserable refugee camps into which they had been cast.

The official conclusion of the 1948 War did not bring about the cessation of hostilities; instead, it heralded the beginning of a miniwar that lasted more than six years (1949-1956). Thousands of Arabs crossed the armistice lines almost daily and entered Israeli territory. They usually encountered Israeli military forces, who shot at them or captured them and later expelled them again brutally. Groups of armed refugees attacked Jewish settlements, killing men, women, and children. "Retaliatory raids" by the Israeli army against villages on the other side of the armistice lines increased tensions and provoked reprisals. Penetration of Israeli territory by Palestinian guerrillas (fadaeen), organized and equipped by the Egyptian army (as well as by radical elements in other Arab countries), brought hostilities to a peak and contributed directly to the outbreak of the Sinai War in October 1956.

The settlers, like the entire Israeli people, regarded the miniwar as a campaign against the young state's very existence, launched by loathsome murderers who attacked peaceful citizens—farmers tilling their land. The Israelis referred to the intruders as "infiltrators," that is, people trespassing on someone else's land. The connection between "infiltration" and the fact that most of the infiltrators were former inhabitants of the abandoned villages and that their reasons for returning were in most cases personal and economic or even sentimental was suppressed and concealed, for had that not been the case, people would have been liable to understand their motives. Such recognition of the connection between infiltration and the infiltrators' dispossession, it was feared, would undermine the country's morale, cast doubt on the unshakable right of the Jewish people to the land, and lead to the justification of acts of murder and robbery by former villagers.

The scale of penetration of the borders was immense. Statistics were not kept during the first years (1948-49), but the number of incidents was very high. At that time it would have been hard to speak in terms of "infiltration from across the border," since the armistice lines were not drawn until early April 1949; even then the border itself was unmarked, and in many areas it was undefined, to all intents and purposes. There were numerous areas of no-man's-land and disputed territory along its length. During that period most "infiltration" was undertaken in hopes of returning to the abandoned villages with the intent of remaining in Israel, or to take back possessions that had been left behind, and especially to gather crops from fields and orchards abandoned in the war.

Infiltration with the aim of taking up permanent residence was anathema to the Israeli authorities, who reacted to it with a firmness bordering on brutality. Tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians who had found refuge in territory that remained under Arab control, whether in Palestine itself or in neighboring countries, succeeded in infiltrating the front lines to return home. And if their homes had been destroyed or were occupied by Jewish immigrants, they took shelter in Arab villages that had not been abandoned. The authorities worried that the return of the refugees would nullify the greatest achievement of the 1948 War—the "retroactive transfer" that had made Israel a state the overwhelming majority of whose inhabitants were Jewish and had opened up the massive expanses of abandoned land to settlement.

The army, under government orders and settler pressure, began making sweeps of Arab villages, culminating in the wholesale arrest and expulsion of any "infiltrators" found to be in the country illegally. These people were loaded onto trucks and immediately taken across the armistice lines. Those who infiltrated into Israel a second time (and there were many) were held in detention camps for a few months before being expelled again. A particularly brutal expulsion operation, late in May 1950, generated shock waves both in Israel and, more especially, abroad. More than a hundred "infiltrators" were dumped in the middle of the Arava (an exceedingly hot and dry region of the Negev) and ordered to walk to Jordan—without food or water—with soldiers firing over their heads to speed them on their way. About twenty died en route, in the midst of the desert. After this scandalous incident, sweeps of Arab villages became less frequent, and by 1952 they had ceased entirely. Thousands of erstwhile infiltrators managed to stay in the country, joining the ranks of the "present absentees." Efforts to apprehend "infiltrators" had a direct bearing on the destruction of the abandoned villages and the eviction of the remnants of their populations: the houses were leveled so as not to provide shelter for returning refugees; the remaining inhabitants were "concentrated" in other villages so that family members who "infiltrated" would not be able to return and reunite with them in their home villages thereby sabotaging the possibility of settling Jews in them.

After the signing of the armistice agreements, the incidence of infiltration increased rather than decreased. The boundaries with Jordan were drawn without a thought to the villages whose territory straddled them. As a result, great chunks were torn from over sixty villages in the (Jordanian-held) West Bank and handed over to Israel: fifteen villages on the border near Beit Shean, in the Ta"anach Valley, and Wadi "Ara; twenty-five in the region between Wadi "Ara and the Latroun Salient; twenty in the Jerusalem Corridor, and five in the south.28 The West Bank villagers were furious about the forfeiture of their land. They were particularly incensed by the fact that the Jordanian Legion officers who had negotiated the armistice were Jordanian Bedouin who were not conversant with the topography of the country and had underestimated the value of land and of water sources, and out of ignorance had relinquished stretches of agricultural land, springs, and orchards, leaving many villagers with nothing. One villager railed at Abdullah, king of Jordan, during a royal visit to Jerusalem in 1949, claiming that the armistice agreement was "a new Balfour Declaration." The residents of these villages tried time after time to cultivate and harvest their fields, but on each occasion they encountered Israeli security forces who chased them away, sometimes shooting at them randomly and without warning. The killing of women and children who penetrated a few hundred yards into Israel to gather crops aroused considerable protest and resulted in sharp international condemnation of Israel.

Robbery and Murder

According to figures given by Benny Morris, infiltration reached its zenith in 1952, when 16,000 incidents were recorded. The number subsequently decreased from one year to the next, falling to 4,350 in 1955. All were regarded as "armed hostilities," even though in the main they involved unarmed people. "Apparently," Morris sums up, "fewer than ten percent of all infiltrations in the period between 1949 and 1953—almost certainly far fewer—were politically motivated or had violent aims." Morris, however, qualifies this statement: "From time to time it happened that economically motivated infiltrators sabotaged Israeli property or wounded or killed Israelis during their infiltration. . . . Some undoubtedly felt . . . that by stealing Israeli property they were also taking revenge on Israel." Even in the years between 1954 and 1956, the character of the infiltration did not change fundamentally. It was still "for theft, harvest, smuggling, pasturing, reestablishing residence (by refugees), and family visits (to relatives who remained in Israel)," although that was when guerrillas operating under the aegis of the Egyptian army (fadaeen) were active. The murders and acts of sabo-tage they committed received wide coverage, however, leaving the impression that all the infiltrators were terrorists.

Indeed, to the immigrants living in the abandoned villages, the motivation for the infiltration made no difference. Robbery, theft of livestock, loss of a day's work, shooting attacks, murder under cover of darkness, and the planting of explosives made their lives hell. A sense of insecurity, anxiety, and fear of infiltrators paralyzed the settlers, whose hardships in adjusting to their new lives in the frontier areas were in any case severe. "These immigrants, because of the nature of their wanderings, their disconnectedness and weakness, are like a blown leaf that trembles before every unfamiliar wind. Much time will yet pass before they become accustomed [to life here] and learn to be self-confident and able to defend their settlements," wrote Levi Eshkol to David Ben-Gurion in April 1950.

The following account exemplifies the prevailing atmosphere in the immigrant border settlements:

When Nini, the Nahalal-born instructor, came to Giv"at Ye"arim [in the Jerusalem Corridor], an atmosphere of dread prevailed in the village. It was Sunday. The previous night there had been a "visit" from the infamous Samwili, an Arab robber who instilled terror in the corridor's inhabitants. Many had abandoned their houses and crowded together in the center of the village, trembling with fear. The day after the night that Samwili shot the village guard, the entire village went up to Jerusalem to demonstrate at the offices of the Jewish Agency. The demand of the demonstrators: "We want to move to the city." . . . And the following morning, when they found out that a mule had been stolen, they organized another demonstration; this time they demonstrated at the Moshav Movement headquarters in Tel Aviv. . . .
During that period, not one night went by without a battle. In the village of Zakariyya, the infiltrators blew up a house along with its occupants—and the fear grew even more . . . and the acrimony in the settlements increased. Anyone who dared go outside in the evening and saw the distant Shephelah bathed in an abundance of light was unable to acquiesce to this blatant discrimination. Many maintained, "We have been living here for five years—let someone else settle here now."
The Arab bandit who "instilled terror" was Mustafa Samwili, from the village of Nabi Samwil in the West Bank, bordering on the corridor. Samwili, nicknamed "Bigfoot," had worked as a laborer in the Jewish village of Motza, near his home village, before the war. After the war he began infiltrating for the purpose of robbery, but in 1952 one of his relatives was killed by the Israeli security forces, and he swore to avenge his blood. Samwili recruited a gang, which operated in the Jerusalem Corridor for more than four years and was responsible for the murder of twenty Israelis, both in immigrant settlements and in the heart of Jerusalem. In July 1953, following the murder of two soldiers in an army camp, Major Ariel Sharon, who had already been retired from active duty, was called upon to put together a group of his friends (also reservists) to do away with Samwili. The group made a night raid on the village of Nabi Samwil, intending to blow up the gang leader's home, but did not succeed in its mission. Nevertheless, this raid by "Unit 101," as it was called, became a myth that fueled the army's "reprisal raids" for years after and advanced Sharon's military career. Samwili himself became a myth among the Palestinians, continuing his murderous acts until he was finally shot and killed by the Israeli police in March 1956, after murdering a settler.

The actions of the infiltrators were a determining factor (albeit not the only one) in the abandonment of the immigrant settlements. It was one of a long list: difficulty in making a living, housing problems, lack of educational facilities and health care services, internal disputes, and problems in adjusting to agricultural work. Above all, the immigrants (who in some cases had been placed in remote border settlements against their will) were attracted to the thriving cities of the Coastal Plain. By the midfifties, only twenty-seven of the forty-nine moshavim founded by Jews from Yemen remained. According to incomplete data gathered by the Jewish Agency, about half of the original inhabitants of settlements in the Galilee, the Jerusalem Corridor, and the south had gone by then; sometimes there were hundreds of empty houses in these settlements. Some of them were eventually filled by other settlers, but replacements for those who left could not always be found.

Settlers who had emigrated from Asian and North African countries ("Orientals") were more exposed to the miniwar with the Palestinians than were others. Two-thirds of the immigrant moshavim were populated with immigrants from these countries, and only a third with Europeans; it was chiefly the Oriental immigrants who were placed in the border settlements, which put them unwittingly on the front lines in the battle with the Palestinians—and they paid a disproportionate price. This experience not only nurtured a powerful sense of having been discriminated against but also reinforced their hostility toward the Arabs, feelings that have not disappeared even after fifty years.

Stabilization and Prosperity

Little by little the immigrant moshavim stabilized, thanks to the enormous investments that were poured into them. Whereas in 1958 approximately half of the moshavim populated by immigrants from North Africa were classified as "failing," 38 percent as "moderately successful," and 14 percent as "developed," at the end of five years, in 1963, the proportion of "failing" Oriental moshavim had fallen to just over one-quarter, 63 percent were classified as "moderately successful," and about 11 percent as "developed." Raanan Weitz, sums up: "The traditional ethnic groups were capable of adjusting themselves to village life—a fact upon which doubt had been cast by certain elements when the placement of immigrants in settlements was first begun. . . . There are essentially no differences in the level of development of the moshavim that can be attributed to the [ethnic] origin of the settlers."

The severe economic crisis in the agricultural sector in the eighties (see chapter 4) affected everyone but did not prevent members of the moshavim from improving their standard of living dramatically, generally while accumulating huge debts. A considerable portion of their funds was invested in the construction of multilevel homes in the eclectic, ornamented "Israeli" style. These spacious homes changed the face of the moshavim, many of which became suburbs of neighboring cities. It is perhaps ironic that the new style of construction in the immigrant moshavim that have become well off bears a striking resemblance to that of the "present absentee" neighborhoods on the outskirts of those Arab villages that were not abandoned in 1948. After all, it was the "present absentees"—and other Arab construction workers—who built the Jewish "villas." They copied this style in their own villages, where the new houses bear witness to the standard of living they have achieved by virtue of their integration into Israel's thriving economy.

Settling in Sanctuary Villages

The internal refugees (or "present absentees") have come a long way since the bitter day when they abandoned their homes and found sanctuary in other villages. Because they believed their absence would be temporary, they left all their belongings behind. They spent many long months in the tents and tin-roofed shacks on the outskirts of their villages of refuge, where they had gone because they were close at hand or because they had relatives there. Some took up residence in houses that other refugees had left; others joined the households of friends or relations, who hosted them "for a short while." In the early 1950s, when the internal refugees realized that their hopes of returning to their village had come to naught, they began searching for permanent accommodations. At the same time, most of them were tied to their sanctuary villages: the authorities prohibited them from returning to their villages of origin (which, in many cases no longer existed) but also forbade them to move from one sanctuary village to another. Only in 1966, with the termination of the Military Government over Arabs in those parts of Israel where they lived in large numbers, were the internal refugees able to relocate to other villages, and many did so. Their reasons for moving were varied: better chances of finding a means of livelihood, proximity to their village of origin, the chance of joining groups of refugees from the same village, who had been scattered in all directions. Some families moved to the outskirts of towns, such as Haifa, Acre, and Nazareth, that still had Arab populations.

The spatial pattern of the internal refugee neighborhoods in the sanctuary villages was set by the midsixties: few refugees settled in the old village core, whose younger and economically well-off residents had left to build themselves new houses in the green areas surrounding the village. Most of them built their permanent residences on the outskirts of the village, replacing the tents and tin shacks they had lived in when they arrived. They purchased the land, which was agricultural, from its local owners; in some cases they obtained it through deals arranged by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), whereby they received title in exchange for relinquishing their rights to property in their villages of origin. Initially most refugees refused to agree to deals with the authorities, since this would be tantamount to abdicating their hopes of returning to their villages of origin and was regarded as treason against the Palestinian people. Nonetheless, as the years passed, increasing numbers of refugees became willing to exchange scores of dunams of "absentee land" for a half-dunam plot and a building permit. In July 1958 the government announced a plan for "Resettlement of Internal Refugees," which entailed "exchange of lands" and compensation, but this plan was very slow to be put into practice.

The internal refugees were concentrated primarily on the outskirts of the villages, with little access to building lots near the village core, where only the original inhabitants of the village lived, not just because of the availability and low price of the land but also because of social factors. The refugees segregated themselves from the others, both out of a desire to maintain family and neighborhood ties from their home village and because the inhabitants of the village that took them in imposed this seclusion on them. The alienation between refugees and villagers was more pronounced in the case of Muslims than among Christians. Said Mahmoud writes: "The refugees were not well integrated because the traditional Arab village was closed to strangers . . . in such a way that the attitude of the locals led to the segregation of the refugees and to the preservation of social ties among themselves, and even reinforced them." He quotes one refugee: "'Upon arriving in the village we were quite amazed. The very people whom I had known beforehand were the first to dissociate themselves from us. . . . One very close friend of mine vigorously opposed my living next to him. I then decided that I mustn't stray far from where people from my own village were concentrated.'" Hence the refugees established homogeneous neighborhoods for themselves, within which they endeavored to nurture the traditions of the abandoned village. Many changed their family names to reflect the name of their village of origin. "The internal refugees assert," writes Mahmoud, "that in this way their children will not forget their abandoned village and will continue to maintain allegiance to it." This segregation is also reflected in the family ties between refugees and old-timers: two-thirds of the sons of refugees are married to local women, but "there is a reluctance among the locals to marry daughters of refugees that have been absorbed by their villages." The reasons for this are economic as well as social. According to one survey, 60 percent of second-generation refugees (i.e., those born in the sanctuary village) "complained that their children are discriminated against by the local people, especially in school and other social contexts." Another found that "ninety-four percent of the internal refugees identify themselves as refugees to this very day."

Alienation and Hardships

The difficulties of social integration were accompanied by tremendous economic hardships. The refugees, virtually all of whom had been subsistence farmers, were now bereft of the means of earning a livelihood. A few were initially entitled to paltry aid from UNRWA, but this was discontinued by order of the Israeli government. The severe restrictions on travel under military rule barred them from access to employment opportunities in the Jewish sector, and the unemployment caused by the wave of Jewish immigration in the early years of the state meant that even those who had found jobs in Jewish agricultural settlements lost them. The refugees were forced to lease plots of agricultural land at exorbitant rates from landowners in the villages where they were living, or to work in their fields for minuscule wages. Simultaneously, the whole Arab agricultural sector was in the process of disintegration as a result of continuing massive land expropriations, water shortages, and the inability to become integrated into Israel's market economy.

As mentioned previously, most of the Arab-owned land (whether owned by absentees or citizens) in the country had been transferred to the state for settlement and development by the Jewish sector. Nevertheless, massive land expropriations continued until 1976, especially in the heavily Arab Galilee and Negev. On 30 March 1976 ("Land Day") Arabs in Israel revolted against the expropriations, and Arab civilians were killed or wounded in violent confrontations with the police. In the wake of Land Day the massive expropriations halted, but more sophisticated methods of "Judaization" continued to be pursued—and new ones were added: small Jewish settlements were established in the midst of Arab areas in order to fragment "Arab blocks"; Bedouin tribes in the Negev were "concentrated" in "planned towns" so their pastureland could be taken over; Jewish-dominated regional councils were set up in mixed rural areas, giving the Jewish representatives control over municipal services (notably planning) for the Arab villages under their jurisdiction; approximately 100 Arab villages, both large and small, were designated as "unrecognized" and thus deprived of basic infrastructure (such as provision of water and electricity) and municipal services (schools, building permits, etc.); the municipal boundaries of Arab towns and villages were drawn in such a way that no space remained for their expansion, and construction outside them was defined as "illegal" and subject to demolition. Arabs control only 2 percent of the municipal jurisdictional areas in Israel, although they constitute approximately 20 percent of the population.

The accelerating pace of investment in infrastructure and the construction of Jewish housing, which began picking up steam in the midfifties, opened up employment opportunities for the rural Arab population, and the first to go out to work at these unskilled and semiskilled jobs building Jewish settlements were the landless refugees. They were followed by landowning villagers who were no longer able to support themselves from traditional nonirrigated agriculture and had no means of developing more profitable economic ventures. The percentage of Arabs employed in agriculture fell from 60 percent in the midfifties to less than 10 percent in the eighties.

The discontinuation of the Military Government in 1966 brought an end to the travel restrictions (which had already been eased somewhat), and the trickle of Arab commuters heading for jobs in the Jewish sector grew to a torrent. In some villages as much as two-thirds of the workforce was commuting regularly to jobs located at increasingly great distances from home. The majority of workers from the villages were employed (as mentioned above) as unskilled and semiskilled laborers. Their wages were low, but cumulatively they raised the standard of living in the Arab villages and neighborhoods. The most conspicuous reflection of this newfound prosperity was the construction of spacious homes: and consequently the built-up area of the villages grew at twice the rate of natural increase. Eventually, the internal immigrant neighborhoods "were swallowed up in the relentless process of urbanization that was turning the Arab settlements into dormitory communities of workers, situated in the ring of habitation farthest from the (Jewish) metropolises, where people had farms to temper their dependence on the economic activity of the metropolitan centers." This activity accelerated greatly following the 1967 war and the establishment of economic ties with the Occupied Territories, which resulted in many Arab-Israeli workers' moving out of unskilled and semiskilled trades and into independent entrepreneurship in a number of fields, including contracting, commerce, and service industries.

Deserts of Concrete and Asphalt

The Arab settlements kept on expanding, and adjacent villages merged and became neighborhoods in a very large built-up area. Two-thirds of the Arab population now live in communities of more than 30,000, and the traditional village of fewer than 2,000 souls is fast disappearing. Yet no Arab urban center worthy of its name has been created. The vibrant political, economic, and cultural city life that dominated the Palestinian community before 1948 has not reemerged. The vast urban expansion has taken place with practically no orderly planning and with minimal investment in physical infrastructure. As a result, thousands of large, ornamented houses copied from those in the Jewish settlements have been built, crowded together without access roads, sewers, or landscaping. A comparison between land use in neighboring Arab and Jewish towns is illuminating. In Arab towns, 82.3 percent of the land is residential, 1 percent industrial, 0.5 percent for public institutions, and 8 percent for parks. In the Jewish towns, the distribution is 49.6 percent, 8 percent, 3.6 percent, and 22 percent, respectively. The demographic growth of the Arab population, from 180,000 in 1949 to almost 900,000 (excluding Arab Jerusalem) in 1998, the great improvement in the standard of living, and the trend toward modernization have utterly altered the Arab rural landscape and have ravaged this unique cultural environment to a greater extent than has Jewish urban sprawl. Arab settlements where any effort has been made to preserve historic or architecturally unique buildings are few and far between, and the hunger for land on which to build housing has outweighed all concern for conservation. "Everything was poured into construction of one's home," writes an architect who worked in Arab village planning in the sixties and seventies.

And because of that, they sought to glorify its external appearance, and even added all sorts of decorations to the interior of the house. Efforts to convince [people] that one should preserve the local atmosphere and style . . . did not bear fruit. The majority, including the educated, disagreed. . . . they all wanted to ape the city people and western society in custom and way of life, and they built what they saw there.38
The sense of loyalty to the vanished landscape has spawned many literary expressions of a folkloric and nostalgic character, but the present absentees, like their Arab neighbors who did not leave their homes, know that what's done is done. Many of them also would not wish to turn the clock back fifty years.

The Arab and Jewish landscapes—so different from each other—which have long stood cheek by jowl, in hostility and mutual disregard, have now merged and been engulfed by a wasteland of cement, stone, and asphalt. The Jewish landscape triumphed, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.