I have been reading Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree lately. It’s a slow process and I usually end up reading only a few passages at a time. Although, I haven’t finished the entire book yet, but I came across a passage that really stuck out to me.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental organization responsible for developing land provided low-paying work for the Jews from Arab lands. Between 1948 and the mid-1960s, hundreds of former Arab villages were demolished aggressively to build new cities, kibbutzim or JNF forests.
Sandy Tolan writes, “the forests, part of what the JNF called “total redemption of the land Israel for the entire Jewish people,” were part of a legacy of “BOULDER-STREWN mountains, stagnant swamps, hard, arid soil, and sterile sand dunes [that] must be redeemed from the neglect of twenty centuries.”
This gesture to rebuild on rugged terrain and Arab villages, isn’t just and act of reclaiming the land, it also serves to erase a part of the history of the land, as if the Arabs never existed in that space. It denies the Palestinian Arabs their claim to the land, as well as a part of their identity. The Arabs don’t just become the malignant Other, they cease to exist in the context of an Israeli time and space.
The physical and structural violence conflate, and they are both hidden beneath the illusion of normalcy. Within Israel, the Arabs get pushed out of the land and history and the same happens in Jewish settlements outside the 1967 borders where a manufactured sense of normality prevails.