On March 8, 2007, we gathered to mark 5 years since Zochrot's founding. About 70 friends and supporters were with us, and a number of them shared their thoughts on Zochrot's importance both politically and to them personally. Staff members introduced the various speakers and Raneen Geries sang a moving song by Ahmed Kaabur, a Palestinian in Lebanon. Salman Abu Sitta and Salah Mansour also sent their remarks. Zochrot also received many birthday greetings by email.
If Zochrot did not exist – it would have to be invented.
Because it is difficult to think our lives in this dark reality here over the past five years without Zochrot, without the existence of a framework, however small and modest, in which it is possible to think outside the lie and beyond its shadow... The term Nakba, which Zochrot stubbornly and insistently forces onto the Hebrew language, serves as a barricade in the face of the language of occupation which threatens to swallow up all opposition... Zochrot, through its various actions and the new discourse that it puts forward, is another necessary step on the path to a civil state, a state in which nationalism is separated from the state, in which all subjects are citizens and all citizens are equal.
Zochrot is an important organization for Israelis and for Palestinians... It gives Palestinians hope, because it is the first time that we see that Israelis really care about us. It is a very important feeling. Not to be alone, that there is empathy, that there are Israelis who know what we went through... And it is also very important to you, the Israelis... Your presence is important, particularly in Israel, because you bring awareness to Israelis of the subject that is the heart of the conflict.
Canada Park was a story that opened my eyes in a tremendous way. An attorney who works on a particular case lives with it for a period. He thinks about it even when he does other things, and oftentimes in his mind's eye he sees his client. But here the client was something very amorphous... Therefore when I thought about Canada Park and when I drafted the petition, I tried to imagine the same people who lived in what is today Canada Park. When I tried to imagine it and when Eitan started to forward me materials and photographs and testimonies and other such things, suddenly this past that is no longer there became very alive for me... Suddenly sabra bushes grew in a way that no longer seemed coincidental. Suddenly piles of stones that were tossed aside haphazardly, appeared to me to be remains of something... I felt as if Eitan was marching behind me and placing villages on the side of the road... Today I cannot look at the country where I live in any other way... In everything I do I see the past of this place. It's not easy. It makes life difficult. Very, very difficult...
I cannot end my presentation without reading from a letter that has a place of honor in my office. I am a compulsive collector of all kinds of letters – interesting ones, funny ones, sad ones... This was the first response from the office of the legal counsel of the JNF [which manages park]: "Unfortunately the JNF does not see itself as dealing with subjects that have political significance. Therefore we suggest you turn to the relevant bodies."
I am often in the West Bank, primarily in connection with the fence... People tell me that they know my name from the story with Canada Park...
I know who I was before Zochrot and who I am after Zochrot. A few years ago I went online to look for material about Salame. Every time I googled "Salame" I would see a website of people holding a key and something written about Zochrot. I asked myself, 'Who are these nutcases?' I was on the center-right of the political map and if I saw a photograph of a woman holding a key, the meaning from me was that I had to leave my home, because it belonged to someone else. It scared me very much.
A year and a half ago I decided to do a film about the village where I grew up. We used to play soccer in the Salame mosque. I saw the mosque as a soccer field, while other people saw this mosque as something very holy to them. When I started to make the film, I wanted to make a film about the people who once lived in Salame. About the people who prayed at that mosque... I was born in Salame, I was born in Kfar Shalem which is the new name of the village, but it's still Salame.
What architecture students know is what they have been told. None of them has heard, none of them knows, none of them even asks... We realized at some point that we were doing an injustice to our students and in fact perpetuating the same educational system...
It was hard for the students to accept this, because suddenly they were forced to listen to things that they didn't want to hear. But I must say that it doesn't happen anymore and in fact the opposite, we receive lots of encouragement from the students themselves and they tell me that their worldview has changed very much. It cannot be that an architecture student... passes by Charles Clore Park and not know what was there. It cannot be that he will enter Jaffa and not understand what it is, besides what he learned in school. That is our primary work. We continue to collect materials and I hope that in a few generations there will be enough sensitive architects who will not help the establishment erase our past but that we will be able to live with it in peace and move on.
Badil started working in the West Bank in the mid-90s. Our purpose is to create resources in order to bring to life the questions of the refugees and refugee rights... We succeeded in doing many things in terms of research, publications, networking. We organized conferences for refugee organizations in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Syria, in Europe, in Cypress and others. What was missing in the 1990s was the address of an Israeli organization in Israel. Oftentimes we were asked, "So what are you doing on the Israeli side?" We responded, "We would like to do something, but we have no address." We knew Israelis, private individuals, but there is a difference between a group initiative of an organization that takes on the issue and works on it in the day-to-day and private individuals, as good as they may be. Therefore for us, when we met Zochrot there was no question whether to be in contact with them... It was clear that there was now an address that we could work with...
People on our side talk about the dream of return and we always struggle and say that it's not a dream, it is a right. But the gap between the right and the dream is the product of reality... Zochrot for us is something that offers hope, that it is possible to close this gap between the dream and the right.
Mennonite Central Committee is the Relief and Development Organization of the Men and Brethren in Christ Churches. We came to work here soon after the Nakba, in 1949. In Israel Zochrot is our beacon of hope and all of you serve as a source of enlightenment for us. Many of the Mennonites themselves in North America are refugees, either from the Ukraine or from Russia, who moved because of religious persecution in Europe. And so it's a very natural and appropriate combination that we have working with Zochrot and Badil on refugee rights and on a just peace. Because we talk about peace a lot but we strongly believe that unless there is justice that is married to peace it will not be a sustained peace and it will not be to the benefit of everybody including our Israeli friends.
When Memory Runs
When willed acts of demolition cannot be consigned to the distant past, to confront the detritus of memory is to come up against some of the most intractable dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Memory is variously etched into or expunged from the landscape which surrounds us. Its consequences depend on a certain point of view. Who is looking, and why?
The Palestinian experience of the Nakba and the Israeli erasure of it translate into two diametrically opposed reservoirs of memory, the first dominated by loss and the second by repression. This is no abstract matter. The traces left by these different courses of memory are tangible, material. They are inscribed on the landscape—in the form of grave, monument, orchard, nature reserve, stone terrace, barbed-wire fence, concrete wall—and call very different subjects into being in response to their spatial utterances.
The Jewish Israeli, bound to a narrative of possession that will not admit to the dispossession of the Palestinian, assimilates the ruins of evacuated Palestinian villages into a Biblical vision poised between pastoral tranquility and the assurance of domination. The Palestinian looks and sees rift and rupture. Sees, indeed, that they are ongoing. The activist, committed as Zochrot is, to making the past speak to those who have gained most through forgetting, is answerable precisely to the ethical and political imperatives that arise when memory finally runs to ground.