On 20 March 1941, Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund wrote: “The complete evacuation of the country from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”
On this day in 1948, almost two months before the first “Arab-Israeli war” technically began, the 1,125 inhabitants of the Palestinian village Umm Khalid fled a Haganah military operation. Like their brethren from more than 500 villages, they likely thought they would return to their homes within a few weeks, after the fighting blew over and new political borders were or were not drawn.
Instead, more than six million Palestinian people remain refugees to this day, some in refugee camps not far from their original towns, others in established communities in Europe and the US, all forbidden from returning to their homeland for one reason: they are not Jewish.
Yosef Weitz’s wish was granted. In my name, and in the name of Jewish people throughout the world, an indigenous population was almost completely expelled. Village names have been removed from the map, houses blown up, and new forests planted. In Arabic, this is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. In Israel, this is called “independence.”
Last month I went with a man from Umm al-Fahm (a Palestinian city in Israel) to his original village of Lajun, only a few miles away. Adnan’s land is now a JNF forest “belonging” to Kibbutz Megiddo.
As we walk the stone path he points to each side of the road, naming the families that used to live there: Mahamid, Mahajne, Jabrin. The land there is not naturally rocky; the stones that we walk on are a graveyard of destroyed houses. Adnan was only six years old when the Haganah’s bullets flew over his head and he and his family fled. But he remembers. He tears up as we stop at the site of his destroyed house and says, “Welcome to my home.”
Adnan is an Israeli citizen, yet the land that was stolen from him has been given to a body that refuses to let him live on it. As an American Jew, I could move to Lajun/Megiddo tomorrow, gain full citizenship rights, and live on the land that Adnan’s family has tended for centuries. Adnan, who lives just a few minutes away, is forbidden from doing so.
As we approach the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, let us remember Adnan. Let us remember the inhabitants of Umm Khalid. Let us remember more than six million people whose basic human rights have been deprived for 60 years, and let us, as Jewish people with a history of oppression and a tradition of social justice, work for the right of indigenous people to return to their land. This is our only hope for true peace and security in the region.
Hannah Mermelstein is a co-founder of Birthright Unplugged and lives in Boston, Philadelphia and Ramallah. This essay was originally published by The Jewish Advocate and is republished with the author’s permission.