Among the towns that have been evacuated is Ein Hod, a bohemian artists' colony nestled in the hills to the north and east of Haifa. This is not the first time Ein Hod was evacuated, however. The first time was in 1948, when the town's original Palestinian inhabitants were driven from their homes by a manmade disaster known as the Nakba.
Most of the original inhabitants of Ein Hod, which was called Ayn Hawd prior to the expulsions of '48, and was continuously populated since the 12th century, were expelled to refugee camps in Jordan and Jenin in the West Bank. But a small and exceptionally resilient band of residents fled to the hills, set up a makeshift camp and watched as Jewish foreigners moved into their homes.
In 1953, a Romanian Dadaist sculptor named Marcel Janco convinced the army not to bulldoze Ein Hod as it did the scores of nearby Palestinian towns it had ethnically cleansed five years prior. He proposed establishing an art commune to generate tourism and contribute to the culture of Zionism. Today, the rustic stone homes that once belonged to Palestinians are quaint artist studios, while the village mosque has been converted into an airy bar called Bonanza. Visitors to the town are greeted at the entrance by Benjamin Levy's "The Modest Couple in a Sardine Can," a sculpture depicting a nude woman and a suited gentleman in a sardine can, which was unveiled by Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2001.
After the catastrophe of 1948, the original Palestinians of Ayn Hawd set up their own village three kilometers away from what is today known as Eid Hod. For decades the villagers resisted attempts to dispossess them and were surrounded by a fence during the 1970s to prevent them from expanding according to natural growth. But they finally won official recognition in 2005. This meant that for the first time since the establishment of Israel they could receive electricity and trash service. Meanwhile, more than forty other Palestinian villages inside Israel remain "unrecognized." The 80,000 or so residents of the villages, which lay mostly in the Negev desert, are tax-paying citizens of Israel. However, they have few rights; their homes are routinely demolished to make way for Jewish settlements and they are deprived of basic services.
I visited both Ein Hod and Ayn Hawd in June. When the residents of the Jewish village Ein Hod saw me filming, they reacted with a mixture of suspicion and hostility. "I know what you're doing!" an elderly woman sneered at me, insisting that I not film her. Inside the bar, I asked patrons if the place was in fact a converted mosque. "Yeah, but that's how all of Israel is," a woman from a nearby kibbutz told me as she sipped on a beer. "This whole country is built on top of Arab villages. So maybe it's best to let bygones be bygones."
I provoked another annoyed reaction when I began filming a tour guide leading a group of elderly Israelis around the village. Speaking in Hebrew, the guide told the tourists as she took them through the art studios that they were inside "third generation houses" -- forget the Arabs who lived in them for hundreds of years. In the studios I noticed that much of the art being produced was Judaica kitsch for sale to foreign tourists -- generic shtetl scenes from the long lost, distant world immortalized in films like Fiddler on the Roof.
Later, before taking her group to the town's Hurdy Gurdy museum, the guide mentioned a "welcoming committee" that vetted potential residents. Presumably this was how Ein Hod kept the pesky Arabs down the road from returning home. That and the Absentee Property Law of 1950 which placed all "abandoned" Arab property in the hands of the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Land Administration, a provision that consolidated what the exiled Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament Azmi Bishara called "the largest armed robbery in history."
During a break, the tour guide pulled me aside and demanded to know who I was. It was clear the villagers had grown wary of curious outsiders. Introducing herself as Shuli Linda Yarkon, a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University, the tour guide told me she the leading authority on Ein Hod. She said I had to allow her to review all the footage I shot. She claimed that this would ensure that I not mistranslate words she used like kibbush, a Hebrew term that means "conquest" but is commonly used to refer to the occupation of Palestine.
"So what about the conquest you mentioned?" I asked her. "Why didn't you tell the tourists who lived in the houses before 1948?" Visibly irritated, Yarkon remarked, "I've concluded after years of research that there are really no facts when you discuss this issue. There are only narratives." She assured me that Ein Hod's Jewish population maintained excellent relations with the expelled residents: "Go ask them. They will tell you how they feel."
So I did. After following a winding dirt road around a hillside for several kilometers, I was inside Ayn Hawd, the Palestinian village. There was no installation art here, just ramshackle houses, dirt roads, a mosque with a tall minaret and lots of kids playing in the streets. Almost immediately some of the town's residents appeared from their homes to greet me. Abu al-Hisa Moein, a village council member and schoolteacher, invited me to spend the rest of the afternoon with his family on a patio beside his home, which appeared newer and more stately than those of his neighbors. He told me his ancestors arrived in the village more than 700 years ago from what is now Iraq. His relatives who were expelled to Jenin in 1948 told him they would be too angry to even lay eyes their former homes with the new occupants inside. When I mentioned the bar built into the old mosque, Moein shook his head in disgust. "It's very bad. It's an insult," he said.
Moein took me inside his home for a tour, showing me the spacious, immaculately clean parlor and the picture window with a sweeping view of the valley below. He had built the whole place, he said with pride. Down a hall, his 13-year-old daughter, Ansam, was reclining on the floor of her room reading John Knowles' classic bildungsroman, A Separate Peace. She leapt to attention when I entered and spent the next ten minutes showing me her library of literature. With night setting in, Moein and his family took me back on the patio. There, he unfurled a map of Mandate-era Palestine and ran his fingers over the names of scores of villages destroyed on the coast between Jaffa and Haifa by Zionist forces in 1948. He pointed to towns like Kafr Saba, Qaqun, al-Tira and Tantura, the site of a horrific massacre of unarmed Palestinian prisoners on the beach just one month after the Deir Yassin massacre. Moein was a history teacher, but Israel had forbidden him from discussing these events in his classroom, and is in the process of criminalizing any public observance of them.
As darkness blanketed the hills, I realized that I had lost track of time. I told Moein that I needed to get back to Tel Aviv. With that, his wife rushed into the house and gathered a bundle of grapes she had picked from a tree in the family's yard, packing it for me in some tupperware from their kitchen. Then Moein walked me to my car and hugged me goodbye.