Author Noga Kadman stopped into Fredericton on October 14 to launch the English translation of her landmark book, Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948.
Kadman is an Israeli researcher in the field of human rights and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose main interest is to explore the encounter between Israeli and Palestinian presence in the landscape and history of the country.
“Before the war of ’48, when Israel was established, there were 100s of Palestinian villages (that were) depopulated during the war and in its aftermath. After Israel was established, it had over 400 empty villages within its boundaries,” says Kadman.
The depopulation is known in Palestinian collective memory as al-Nakbah, which translates to “disaster” or “catastrophe.” The events of al-Nakbah saw between 700,000 – 800,000 Palestinians cleared from their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
“For the most part, (Israel) demolished (Palestinian villages) physically. What I describe in the book is how Israel erased them from the awareness of Israelis,” Kadman explains.
Kadman performed thorough research into historic records of demolished sites and how these sites are being named today. Much of that information was found through an Israeli government body called the Names Committee.
“I checked whether the ruined sites received any official names from Israel because according to the (Israeli) policy, every feature on the ground, including ruins, are supposed to receive an official name in Israel. But the villages, for the most part, didn’t receive official names … even if they are historical places in the country for hundreds of years. ”
Kadman examined maps for further evidence.
“I checked if Israel put them on official maps. Most of them appear on official maps, but the names of most of them are not there.”
In her presentation, Kadman explains the significance of naming as a political act. Places that once had Arab names, if renamed at all, generally have been renamed with Hebrew titles.
“In national conflict, it’s another arena of the conflict. Often an occupying power erases the local names and forces its own names and language on the places that it occupies, as a way to declare ownership and to marginalize and erase the former ownership.”
In an explicit example of this principle, she quoted Israeli President in 1949, Ben Gurion:
“We must remove the Arab names due to political considerations. Just as we don’t recognize the political ownership of Arabs over the land, we don’t recognize the spiritual ownership of the names.
Beyond the names alone, Kadman looked into the descriptions of the demolished sites.
“I wanted to check what information is delivered to the public who visit these places, about the villages, if at all. In most cases, the village is not mentioned at all in the signs and brochures, and if it is mentioned, it’s without many details of (how the village was depopulated).”
Kadman explains how the distorted version of history shapes the consciences of the Israeli population.
“(It creates an) ideological conception that it’s a Jewish country, with minor Arab history and geography. The villages are … reminders of the Nakbah … which Israel doesn’t want mentioned. For the most part, what happened in 1948 … the loss, suffering, (by Palestinians), all this does not have weight in the political picture that Israelis have.”
Kadman warns that such a polarizing ideological tactic as erasing Palestinians from the historical and geographic landscape will have long term and negative effects.
“If we want to reach a long-lasting, real solution to the conflict, we have to look with open eyes at what happened in ’48 and since ’48. (We have to) take responsibility for our part in it …This has to be the first step.”