Here are the comments received from readers to the text Under the forests from September 2013.
Dear Rafi Shtendel, Greetings:
What you wrote moved me greatly. Better late than never!
Let me share two anecdotes about the places through which you journeyed. First, Ein Zeitoun: At one time Jews lived in the village who were characterized as being “Arabized” – though not in today’s meaning of the term, with its violent connotations. These were the descendents of people who had lived in the country since the days of the Second Temple and who, during the Moslem conquest, had adopted their neighbors’ customs, and in their habits, dress and language seemed no different from Arabs to the early Zionists who encountered them at the end of the nineteenth century.
As part of the wave of pilgrimage to, and settlement in, Eretz Yisrael after the Ottoman conquest, Rabbi Moshe Basoula, the Cabalist (b. 1480, Pissaro, Italy – d. 1560, Safed), who spent time in the country between 1521-1523, came to the Galilee and celebrated Passover, 1522, in Safed. He wrote: “I took a house in Ayn Zeitun and lived there.” Note that he employs the location’s Arabic name. Some forty Jewish families lived in Ayn Zeitoun at that time; the Rabbi also found thirty families of “Arabized Jews (who had lived in the country for generations)” in the village of Anan. It seems, therefore, that Jews and Arabs had lived together in the country, and that Zeitoun and Zeitim were able to see eye to eye [in Hebrew this is a pun – the first letter of both Zeitoun – the Arabic word for “olives” – and Zeitim – the Hebrew word – is “’ayin,” which is also the Hebrew word for “eye”] and together plant roots in common ground.
The second anecdote leaves a slightly more bitter taste. The website of Kibbutz Giv’at Brenner includes the following story about Giv’at Mrar, from The History of Building G”B (here, as you’ll discover, “building” means “building the country,” or building on the ruins of the villages): “After the war of independence, much of the surrounding area became vacant” (note the use of the passive voice to describe the expulsions, which was also how the old signs were worded). “The nimble kibbutz members hurriedly planted trees on M’rar’s hills, hoping that those hills would become part of the kibbutz” (my emphasis). From which we learn that the (old) JNF was not alone in its idea of planting trees in order to appropriate land, and like many of Zionism’s injustices, what the government did at the national level was also done by individuals acting on their own initiative.
Ami Asher, Translator, Jaffa
Important for the young pupils
The new signs moved me greatly. It’s very important to me, as an Israeli educator, to enable pupils to deal with the past. Nature hikes which also provide information that has, until now, been hidden from us are an excellent way to do so. Well done!
Ruti Atsmon, Educator, Tel Aviv
Dear Chairman of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael,
I think your cooperation is miraculous, a development I hadn’t dared to hope for a long time, a soft, calming layer over tattered nerves and unrelieved open wounds, a cautious awakening of hope that not all is lost, that part of the artificial structure (whose imminent end is visible to all who have eyes to see) may in the future alter its moral course, become generous, modest, accept responsibility and truly desire reconciliation while relinquishing all the stories we told ourselves, convincing ourselves of our superiority and righteousness, the ridiculous vision of being the ultimate guardian of a culture that sees itself as progressive and possessed of more privileges than one viewed as inferior and threatening – in short, abandoning all that made Zionism unique.
There are, of course, aspects of your proposal that stem from the long-term, consistent, ongoing, sophisticated and uncompromising instilling of this worldview by the invention a language and a narrative appropriate to its political goals and which aren’t necessarily objective descriptions, such as your reference to residents of a particular captured village as “a gang of rioters/terrorists,” etc., but that’s not what’s most important.
Two aspects of your proposal contain what I see as its principal message:
1. As the head of the country’s most racist organization, you demonstrate to everyone the need to recognize and admit that Zionism has no future.
2. You propose a retreat from one-sidedness and from ignoring the other, recognize the possibility of an alternative perspective and signal the start of a process that may lead to reconciliation.
I congratulate you on your courageous step. I hope it will pull back the curtain blinding (most of) Israeli society and anticipate developments with optimistic excitement following a long period of viewing with despair what’s happening.
Claire Oren, teacher at Brener Regional School
Like in Australia
I was tearful reading of your change of heart. It reminded me of the Australian experience of white settler descendants facing what our forbears did to the Aboriginal people of this land. Reconciliation is slow and painful and takes a long time, but it can be done. There is room for a new national consciousness that can include shame for our past, and continued efforts to provide hope and opportunity for those whose lives and culture were taken from them. In our country, we regularly learn of Aboriginal history and the deleterious effects of European settlement. I wish you every success in your efforts to promote a more accurate history of Israel / Palestine, and a more reflective Israeli Jewish consciousness.
Dr Katie Attwel, Perth University, Australia
Thanks from the diaspora
Dear Rafi Stendel,
It is inspiring to read about your new KKL initiative to “face the forests”. The New KKL’s re-sign-posting of a few of the KKL forests and parks planted over destroyed Palestinian villages is a critical step to re-connect the forests to the debt of history, the Palestinian Nakba, to which Jewish people across the world must find a way to respond.
From my perspective in the Jewish diaspora, the KKL’s afforestation projects are at the centre of its claims to represent our naturalised “right” to the land in Israel and to enter the political community that has been created on the land. To a large degree it succeeded in inculcating Jewish nationalist values in many of us as from a very young age through the educational strategies of its fund-raising mechanisms, such as putting our coins into the “Blue Box”. The KKL has become an intrinsic part of Jewish cultural identity in the diaspora connecting us to the geo-political body of Israel as part of a great Jewish tree of life. Each time that we contribute to a KKL forest, grove, or a single sapling we reaffirm that connection between “nature” and nation. We reaffirm that Israel is “our” land, and we are part of its nation even when we are citizens of other countries. The roots of “our” trees in the soil represent our “birthright” to live there. Even if we do not take up that right in our lifetimes, our trees remain there, staking our ethnically exclusive and eternal right to the land.
A few years ago I became aware for the first time that destroyed Palestinian villages even existed inside Israel. During that time, I also learned that many KKL forests have been planted atop the physical remains of the villages. So I began to look at older KKL pamphlets, brochures and documents in the local Jewish library. I took out my Ulpan photographs and my KKL tree-planting certificates. And I began think about the connection between the locations of the KKL forests, the KKL signs, tourism and educational maps, and the national narratives of Jewish history we learn in the diaspora. I started to look at the connection between the KKL’s role in establishing the new state’s land regime and its shaping of nationalist narratives of history in which there has been a deliberate erasure of the existence of the villages and, therefore, of the Palestinians who have lived there. So, instead of contributing to the “blooming” of an uncultivated wilderness, we in the diaspora have participated in the creation of the very myth that the land was not cultivated. In funding the forests that cover the physical remains of Palestinian villages, we have contributed to one of the founding myths of modern Jewish nationalism: that the land was empty, abandoned and uncultivated. In this, we have participated in covering the links between Palestinians who lived in the villages and cultivated their lands, and the very existence of the villages. Your courageous work in the New KKL signposts opens a new space for the process of acknowledgement and of accountability to begin.
You mention that the final phase of your New KKL project is an act of parrhesia, of frank speaking and courageous truth-telling. An important quality of parrhesia is the risk that it poses, in different ways, both to the speaker and to the listener who would be “wounded” by such a truth. I think that is why it is so difficult to speak the truth of the forests, of what they have covered-up. The forests touch the core of what we have assumed in the diaspora about our exclusive right to the land. Since the KKL is so tied to promoting Jewish diaspora affiliation to Israel, your courageous act as part of the New KKL challenges us to think about the assumptions we hold as natural, that are now also part of our bodies. In your act of courageous truth-telling, you ask all of us who have contributed to the forests to see, hear, consider and be response-able to what the forests hide. Thank you for offering us this possibility.
Heidi Grunebaum, South Africa
I’m with you as I went through a similar process
I’m addressing you this way because what you wrote affected me and I feel so very close to you because of your text and what you describe.
Like you, I also gradually came to see and understand a process that overwhelmed me. I know it’s not simple, and want to encourage you to continue on your courageous path.
The fact that you’re the head of an organization like the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael must serve as an example for others to follow you.
Norma Musih, PhD student in visual culture at Chicago University
I was swept away by your enthusiasm
Dear Chairman of the KKL,
It was fascinating to read what you wrote about changing the signage. At first I had reservations: it seemed you were exaggerating the business about hiding villages – as if the KKL’s main purpose, including in its afforestation projects, was to conceal the remains of Arab villages. And, of course, that’s not true. Although these and other KKL activities do, in fact, push Arabs off their lands, the KKL also has other, much more neutral, goals, which benefit all the country’s residents – such as creating shade in our land burnt by the sun and developing tourist areas accessible to the population at large. To write something suggesting that all this huge organization does today is to cover the few remaining ruins from sixty years ago seems somewhat lunatic.
But as I read on, I too was caught up in your feverish enthusiasm, because of your important insight that “the KKL must be the one to lead the change and begin showing us all that beneath the evergreen forests lie the remains of entire lives that were cut down violently in 1948.” Wow! That’s right. I agree. After all, KKL’s tasks also involve heritage and history, and it’s impossible to deny that the Arab villages – and what happened to them in 1948 – are part of the country’s heritage and its history.
The examples you display of changes to the signs are enlightening and fascinating.
I have one comment – regarding the pictures. You show the “Ashkenazim” versus the workers – the Russian and the black. But many of the Ashkenazim are Russian. That bothered me a little.
Noga Kadman, Ramat Gan
You show us we were wrong
The text moved me very. The way you describe how you erected the signs and tell about the events that occurred in ’48 and following the nakba, which Israel calls the War of Independence, expresses great feeling and insight. It demonstrates how we should act according to our values and teach later generations about what we did wrong, not only what we did right – when were we victors, when were we victims. We must recount the times we murdered, the times we erred, the times we didn’t think twice. I believe this story can lead to many future changes, and the signs will help spread the message that the state of Israel isn’t always pure and correct. You deserve all due respect for your efforts, for your great courage, for the wonderful documentation. You’ve changed the face of the Land of Israel, shown it in a new light – a better, more pleasant, more haymish light.
Michal Marko, High School pupil, Tel Aviv
Better late then never
Contratulations to Keren Kayemet. Better late than never. The past can’t be ignored any longer. We can’t stay ignorant. We have to know the past in order to have a future. Two peoples live in this land, and we must courageously confront the crimes of the past in order to create a better, shared future. God willing that we also see the refugees return speedily, and in our day.
Inbal Sinai, a freelance journalist, Tel Aviv
More than statistics
Dear Rafi Shtendel, chairman of the new Keren Kayemet,
I’d like to congratulate you on the welcome new initiative to erect signs that provide information about this silenced aspect of the Israeli landscape. But I’m afraid that your project hasn’t gone far enough. The new signs, unfortunately, like the old ones, aren’t particularly interesting. They’re limited to dry military history and statistics. While the obsessive description of population size in each census, and the amount of land in each village, makes clear that people lived there, it doesn’t do much more than that. Moreover, the attempt to present the other side of the coin regarding the 1948 war is as misleading as presenting only one side would be. The attempt to reduce history to a single event, to a war, to dry statistics, is unfortunate. People lived there! They had stories! They lived, loved! I want to see signs celebrating the fullness of the lives in these villages. Signs that transcend our tedious national history. And who if not the Keren Kayemet could do that – the organization dedicated to the love of humanity and of nature.
Amir Harash, a writer
Is it false or true?
It’s well written, but didn’t really speak to me. I didn’t understand the point of the first academic passage; it was hard to follow.
The visuals at the end were more relevant. But mostly I didn’t understand what was false and what was true.
Where’s the sarcasm; where’s the reality. And whether everything is true except the authorship,
And whether those are real pictures or a photomontage.
Could someone explain?
Eran Shahar, Editor, Yedi'ot Hakibbutz
Palestine is not only under the forests
Dear Rafi Shtendel,
People undergo processes of change in different ways. You seem to use Zochrot’s work as a crutch to help you learn to walk again. “To walk,” meaning “to think.”
While every human society behaves this way, I think that Israeli-Jewish society has excelled in its effort to program our thinking, which is why we should respect every attempt by someone to break through their normal way of thinking.
I’m sure it’s not easy to do, and if you persist you’ll face difficult choices, including the issue of your privileged ethnic status.
As you proceed toward your new incarnation I’d be happy for you to avoid a common mistake people make who are undergoing these kinds of changes. Palestine isn’t only found beneath the forests. Palestine is with us today as well. Not much has changed since your predecessors buried the Palestine that had been destroyed. That’s why your awareness of the Palestine that has been destroyed must be accompanied by awareness of how Palestine and the Palestinian people are also treated today by most Jews and by their country.
So we’re not simply talking about “recognition” in order to put an uncomfortable past behind us. I hope the change you’re sharing with us will also find expression in actual behavior today.
Marcelo Svirsky, University of Wollongong
It reduces anxiety
The new signs KKL proposes to erect in place of the old ones are tangible examples of how history can be presented more straightforwardly. Erecting signs describing what happened in 1948 can expose more and more Israelis to the historical truth.
I think one of the challenges we face is to expose our society’s past injustices while reducing the anxiety that past evokes in most Israeli Jews. Most of the Israeli Jewish public knows something about the past but prefers not to deal with it because it arouses existential anxiety. That’s why questions such as, What’s the significance of recognizing the Nakba? What does it mean to say that Zionism is a colonial movement?, must be asked and be answered in a way that makes clear that knowing the past is in fact the way for society to become more moral today. Fundamental changes in the regime are necessary today as well as relinquishing privileges we have as Jews, but that doesn’t mean annihilation, death and extinction of the society.
I hope many people will read your text.
KKL has to fall when the COE’s Conscience call
Trees have been stuck there and signs now in front
You don’t prevent horrors, you simply report
The names, the descriptions, counting all those who die ,
Lovely tree, evergreen of the “planting and cry”
Ecological balance upended, demolished
Of native vegetation almost everything perished
Oak, terebinth, Judas tree, buckthorn and broom,
All persecuted, cut down, runaway from their doom.
Hide all traces, erase those who fled
The past to the refugee camps has been led,
With the low income of the ditch digger
The Profits made the masters’ bellies bigger
For each unknown village – so little remains
The barbarous conquest – they cried while they fired
CEOs panicked at memory’s demands
The new song they sang was: “They wept while they planted.”
Expropriation by the Zionist machinery of destruction
Congratulations for your act of presenting, commemorating and making visible everything that is systematically marked for erasure and expropriation by the Zionist machinery of destruction.
Dr. Sigal Oppenhaim Shachar, Department of Gender Studies, Bar Ilan University
Thank you for restoring my faith
I was moved and a little awed by your text. Thank you for restoring my faith in the power of activism!
For many years now, through my work in the Program in Cultural Studies at the University, I have been supervising students who work on the traces of Palestinian memory and material culture. I would be happy to share their texts and to circulate yours to them. My commitment to this arises from my emplacement as a “long-distance South African” (in poet Denis Hirson’s phrase). My intellectual project is strongly shaped by the legacy of the struggle against apartheid. If you would like to read more, I have an essay on the Zochrot website which is easily accessible.
Dr. Louise Bethlehem, Senior Lecturer, English; The Program in Cultural Studies
It’s about time and maybe, just maybe it’s a beginning of a new friendship. Well done.
Angry video responds by KKL tree – Watch
KKL tree responds to New KKL project. Watch
Is it going to be distributed among KKL workers?
Appreciate the artistic satire
I salute your honesty, conviction and courage in taking the course of action you have taken. I hope other Israelis will now recognize the terrible wrong that was done to the Palestinian people as a result of the Nakba and will strive to achieve peace and reconciliation with them. It is the only way that true peace and security can ever be achieved among the peoples living in historic Palestine, whatever name it may come to be known by in future.
It’s a truly amazing article. I read it all from top to bottom and left a supportive comment. This is one of the rare occasions when I believe someone – Rafi Shtendel – should be nominated for a Peace Prize. The reported responses of the two young joggers were also truly elevating. They seem to indicate a genuine desire for peace among ordinary Israelis. Let us all hope their sentiments will win out in the end.
I now see where this campaign is headed – very clever !! I had reservations about the spoofy nature of the initial approach but I now appreciate the artistic satire on the way in which the historic role of the JNF/KKL has been misrepresented to everyone around the world, with many poor innocents still unable to comprehend the truly evil nature of the JNF activities in covering up the war crimes associated with the Nakba and what has followed ever since. Well done !!!
Just wanted to complement you on a job well done sign-replacing and past-uncovering! Very important these things occur, or it will one day be too late to salvage the history of Palestine. I noticed New KKL shirts being advertised, I certainly need to buy one and help this cause!
Like the Damascus experience of Paul
Dear Mr. Rafi Shtendel,
with great respect I noticed your change of mind as chairman of the Jewish National Fund to the establishment of the New KKL.
For you it is a remarkable, also personally far reaching change – like the Damascus-experience of the Apostle Paul.
You are e.g. recognizing the Nakba, the catastrophe for the former Palestinian inhabitants, their ongoing expulsion and dispossession.
This a courageous step for an Israeli, especially for a KKL-Chairman. Because as far as I know as a German, the truth of the Nakba, the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians is not much liked in your beloved, but troubled country Israel.
Seriously hoping that your stand-up for the New KKL will promote understanding and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I greet you respectfully with Shalom – Salaam!
Karl Schmidt, Pastor ret. – Previously active in the struggle to overcome the South African Apartheid.
To break the barriers of forgetting and silencing
Very important to raise questions about the obvious, to make room to other stories except for the known, to break the barriers of forgetting and silencing. Planting trees by KKL is not limited only to hiding destroyed Palestinian villages but continues today as a tool of displacement and dispossession of Palestinian citizens in Israel as the destruction of villages at the Negev and planting trees over their ruins. It’s a cynical use of a seemingly environmental friendly act, an act that presents the Bedouins as taking over state lands while in fact Israel is taking over the Bedouins lands, preventing them existence as farmers and trying to force them moving to cities and towns without existence for economical, respectful and independent existence.
Like Sasha Baron Cohen’s movies
Congrats, Rafi, for your new website that’s making a lot of noise like you wanted it to. I read the various comments and saw how they reflect the tension that you enjoy so much – and rightly so – between truth and fiction. This confusion that a little like (forgive the analogy) Sasha Baron Cohen’s movies exposes a traumatic, confused society, that hardly knows right from wrong, a society that has already believed so many fictions and indeed so many horrors, that it cannot imagine that forgiveness and atonement can actually happen in reality (even though in fact they are imaginary, but only due to circumstances so twisted that they themselves border on the imaginary). A society so prepared for disaster that would find it hard to recognize redemption even if it were to come and knock on its door.
Tomer commented that the text should be in Arabic. Perhaps an Arabic text should be written, and perhaps it should be a different text, rather than a direct translation of the intra-Jewish discourse. I feel that many commenters did expect something more of an apology towards the Other, the Palestinians, and perhaps failed to internalize the approach that privileges inner moral reflection combined with the memorial act on the ground as a necessary prelude or complement to the act of asking forgiveness which often, as rightly noted by some commenters, is empty and meaningless on its own.
Ami Asher, translator, Jaffa
Who is this guy anyway?
I didn’t get it Amir. Is it real? Fabricated? Who is this guy anyway?
Roi, asking his brother on facebook
KKL is involved with the dispossession of the Bedouins
And of course any writing about KKL without mentioning its involvement with the dispossession of the Bedouins is not complete. In the past and nowdays KKL is involved in “afforestation” of villages and in Praver plan.
Signs by Photoshop?
It sounds like a good initiative but I must say that the “new” signs seemed to be designed by Photoshop.
A human required act
We don’t know each other but your text made me feel close to you, maybe our destiny proximity, of those awaking to additional truth, and to understand that acknowledging the Nakba is the human required act, and also the only way to change the situation for the better of all of us. And there are more and more of us. Your deed raises joy, inspiration and hope. We’ll keep on.
Thank you so much,
Breaking the wall of silence
It’s about time.
Give my money back!
During my childhood I contributed every Friday 10 cents to KKL for planting trees.When I grew up I discovered that money is used to displace people from their land because they aren’t at the right religion and nationality.If I’d know it at the age of 6 I wouldn’t contribute the money but rather spend it on better things.
I’m asking you to return all the money I’ve contributed with interest. Until today you are displacing Palestinians from their lands, now in the Negev and God knows where your long hand reaches.Give my money back immediately!
Is there signage at Arab states reminding the Jews?
KKL should be closed but regardless – do you think in the former Jewish neighborhoods in the Arab states there is signage indicating the existence of much larger and older Jewish communities? Or the reason to the fleeing of the Jewish refugees?
Keep the Jewish past on the signs
One comment – I think it’s better not to delete the Jewish past from the alternative signs as you did with Ayn Zaitun and Mghar. Better to add the recent Arab past to the ancient Jewish past. Otherwise it gives a feeling of switching one sided narrative with another.
It will be more subversive to emphasize the continuity from the Jewish village 2000 years ago to the Arab village up to 1948, and to mention that in many cases the Arabic names are exactly or almost exactly the same as in the biblical times. So it’s the same village with same inhabitants who settled the place with the same culture heritage, even though changed the language and religion. The Zionist movement and Israel have amputated brutally this continuity in 1948. So instead of ignoring the Jewish past we can put it in a different context then the Zionist one.
To Yonat: The Jews didn’t run away from Arab countries
The Jews didn’t run away from Arab countries. As to signs – in some places they exist, in other they don’t.
Brought the truth to light
Thank god, thank destiny, and thank Rafi who is courageous and moral to bring the truth to light. The righteous will be blessed.
Sima Sason, Tivon
To EPK: The Jews were banished and had to run away
1 – Almost a million Jews lived in hundreds of communities in Arab countries. Apart from limited number of synagogues (Cairo and Aleppo for example) all the private houses, businesses, bank accounts belong to Jews were nationalized and disappeared by the rulers with no traces.
2 – The Arab Committee’s decision to deprive the rights, property and independence of the Jews has brought to their escape, which were absorbed in Israel as Aliya (Jewish migration).
3- KKL has to be shut down; it’s true, but from other reasons.
To Yonat: Their property was taken but they didn’t run away
1. My mother, my grandparents immigrated to Israel. And all their property they couldn’t bring with them was taken. Nothing from that stuff remained. So – were they were driven from their land? No. Indeed, they migrated on the background of discrimination and racism, but they did not flee and dispossessed.
2. What is the “Arab Committee”? If you mean the Arab Higher Committee, then this is an institute of the Palestinians, which could not make such decisions as you described.
3. JNF should be closed because it takes part in the Zionist takeover of Palestine, which is an initiative that was carried out before the Jewish immigration from Arab countries and its relation to them is very loose.
Thank you for this important work
It takes a nobility of mind and character
Thank you for your love and humanity. It takes a nobility of mind and character to admit one’s faults and attempt to correct them. I strongly believe that such acts no matter how rare and singular and difficult they seem right now, open a broad road to justice, peace and reconciliation.
With my respect,
Mrs. Lillia Musleh
Watch a Real News report on KKL – JNF and New KKL
Watch a video report by Social TV following our work
Adri Nieuwhof wrote about us
Bless you for a courageous act, the right act!
Need a New World Jewish Congress too
I love your website on the New KKL.
Reading all this, I see the need for a New World Jewish Congress too :)