Time to tear down the fences

Israeli soldiers patrol the fence between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

I spent a part of my youth in a kibbutz very close to southern Lebanese village Maroun al-Ras, where the historic march of return of Palestinian refugees took place earlier this month.

The kibbutz was surrounded by fences and more fences. Every night in the children’s house, another member of the kibbutz was guarding us, sleeping with an Uzi gun nearby his bed. In this house, away from our parents, boys were raised Spartan tough to be the next pilots and elite unit warriors of the Israeli army, and the girls were raised very freely, in order to supply the needs of the future warriors. Growing up in such an unorthodox environment appears to be natural if you do not know any other type of life.

Living on the lands of the Palestinian village Kafr Birim, some information about its expelled inhabitants was leaked to us through the demonstrations that demanded the right of return. Hanna and Atallah, expelled from the village, actually built the kibbutz. Atallah’s handsome sons, who worked with him, were transparent to us. We were raised not to see them. I noticed the elder because he looked exactly like my cousin from Jerusalem.

As a teenager I was distressed by the Ikrith and Birim expulsions. The Israeli military occupied the two villages toward the end of 1948 and asked the inhabitants to leave for a period of two weeks only, and then come back. They left their villages and were never allowed to return.

It was obvious to me that the villages’ residents should be allowed to return. Meanwhile, nothing was mentioned about the other refugees, the vast majority who were expelled during the Nakba — the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Some said that Birim and Ikrith residents could return, for they are Christians. But what about the “legal precedent?” Precedent for what? That was not a question to ask. Ikrith and Birim functioned as a perfect camouflage over the entire story: the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Last week, images from Maroun al-Ras took me back to my youth, when after learning exactly what happened since 1948, my solidarity crossed all the way over to the “other” side. Visiting my remaining family in the kibbutz, I am now met by electric fences, and the automatic gates no longer look natural. By committing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the kibbutz’s founders predestined their grandchildren to live behind fences forever. According to an Arabic proverb, a thief does not sleep at night, and will not allow anyone else to sleep.

Last week, behind the fence of my childhood, Palestinian refugees gathered to demand return. They protesters looked and sounded exactly like the revolutionaries of Cairo’s Tahrir square. As with the uprising that began in Egypt on 25 January, I could not stop watching the exciting events in Maroun al-Ras, Majdal Shams, Qalandiya and Gaza, wishing I was part of it. Just take down the fences, I thought.

The refugees will one day return, but I am afraid that rivers of blood will be flooded by then. Declaring the immediate return of all refugees and replacing the apartheid state with a democratic state looks to me the most reasonable thing to do right now. But the supremacist will never give up his privileges voluntarily.

And that is exactly what one of the bravest refugees that we saw this month, Hassan Hijazi, told the Israeli press: Palestine will return to its owners only by force.

Hassan Hijazi crossed the Syrian border to the heart of the Zionist project: the white city of Tel Aviv. For a day he wandered around his hometown, Jaffa, a few years before its expected complete Judaization (gentrification) by demolition, expulsions, kicking out its Arab residents — most of them already displaced from the neighboring villages that Israel demolished in 1948.

The new residents are liberal Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis. Fake co-existence projects were the first steps of this latest invasion, serving the new white inhabitants of Jaffa. Now these new residents complain about the voices of the mosque muezzin and the Orthodox church band.

Hassan Hijazi reminded Israelis that he is not going to give up his hometown of Jaffa. For now, Tel Aviv exists as a European colonial bubble protected by the human shield of Sderot, the violent settlers in the West Bank and Jewish-Arab Mizrahim pushed by white gentrification to settlements such as Maale Adumin and Pisgat Zeev. But that bubble, surrounded by fences and more fences, is soon to pop.

Welcome home to Jaffa, Hassan Hijazi — the first returning refugee!

Rahela Mizrahi is a member of a family of Arab Jews which has lived for several generations in Jerusalem. She has a degree in fine arts from the Betzalel Academy in Jerusalem and a degree in Arabic literature and language from Tel Aviv University. In 2006 she signed the petition calling for the cultural boycott of Israel. She lives and works in Tel Aviv.