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Cycle ’48: Remapping the Nakba

Cycle ’48 is an ongoing project remapping erased histories on two wheels. Last week we left Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and joined the Jewish National Fund cycle trail from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in order to uncover the hidden stories on its path.

We are standing outside ‘Derech Eretz‘, a swish wedding venue nestled between rolling green hills, the ground is littered with red poppies and bright yellow mustard flowers. An immaculate green lawn stretches out before the wood-paneled modern building. In the far corner there is a bar/DJ booth, its walls decorated with irregular golden stones. A few feet above it, higher on the hill, is a beautiful golden ruin with arched windows and doorways.

The Derech Eretz wedding venue in the ruins of the Palestinian village Deir Aban.

The Derech Eretz wedding venue in the ruins of the Palestinian village Deir Aban.

The manager rests one arm casually on the entrance of the venue, where chairs and tables are adorned with beautiful fabric and set ready for a celebration feast. His other arm gestures wistfully in the air as he tells us what he knows of the land we are standing on.

“There’s lots of Roman history here”, he begins, avoiding the issue for some time.

“What about ’48?” we ask, the year of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). “Do you know the name of this village?”, we point to the ruins which are now fitted with dramatic lighting.

“Mmm”, he strokes his chin. “No, I don’t know the name,” he shrugs. “The Arabs ran away – there were some rumours spread and they left.”

“Nobody died”, he is quick to add. “That’s the story, nothing to cry about”.

The remains of Deir Aban

The remains of Dayr Aban

We are standing on the site of Dayr Aban where, in January 1948, the village was surrounded by armed Jewish forces. The village was later completely occupied by Jewish militia in October 1948, all of its inhabitants were expelled, and prevented from returning.

Now a wedding venue stands on its ruins.

The manager, casually leaning in the doorway takes the time to listen to the Israeli guide we are with, who recounts what happened on this land in 1948. The battles that took place here, the refugees who fled, and yes – the Palestinians that were killed.

“That’s another story”, he says, and flails his arms wider, “but they are just stories”.

The beauty of Dayr Aban.

The beauty of Dayr Aban.

We steal a glance at each other, remembering the cups of tea we have drunk in the past few days with different refugees in camps across the West Bank. They are not just stories. People are still living with the consequences of 1948. In Dheisheh camp, where many of the refugees from Dayr Aban now live, over 13,000 people live in one square kilometre. Poverty is rife in these overcrowded conditions. The children of 1948, who began their lives in the luscious fields and hills of what is now Israel, have grown old among concrete walls. Without space to grow food, without space to play, and without freedom to move.

The golden stone ruin behind us is now fitted with expensive lighting and decorated to create a beautiful wedding ‘backdrop’, a romantic space for newlyweds’ first night together. But it is not just golden stone. It is not just a ruin. It was a home, that someone somewhere still dreams of returning to.

All over what is now Israel, there used to be Palestinian villages. Many of these once thriving communities have been completely erased from the map; others – like Dayr Aban – are recognisable because some ghostly, stone structures still remain. However, even when there is a Mosque in the middle of Malha, or abandoned homes right on the roadside, the meaning of these stones is studiously ignored or distorted. In Israel, the Zionist historical narrative, which dominates school curriculum and national memory, has no space for these Palestinian remains.

Cycle ’48 is a project to uncover these stories that lie buried under forests, parks and wedding venues. To remap the Palestinian villages that were cleansed of their inhabitants, to remember a history that is denied, and to promote the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

We came to this country with massive privilege, with British passports and white skin – one of us is also Jewish, which affords extra privilege at this time. We want to see equality here, universal human rights, rather than freedom granted on the basis of skin colour, nationality, or religion. We want to respond to the realities of occupation and apartheid, and to resist the erasure of a people from their land.

Why by bike? Well, as environmental and bicycle enthusiasts, we all cycled to Palestine/Israel from the UK. We think bicycles are the most empowering form of transport, and we want to use them to change the world!

We believe in grassroots action to effect change. This injustice will not stop because politicians develop a conscience or decide to start abiding by international law. This occupation will end, the wall will fall, the refugees will return, when we – all of us – make that happen. We heed the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); we have to hold Israel to account for its brutal regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid because the United Nations and global leaders have failed to do so.

As environmentalists from the UK, we were particularly drawn to the campaign against the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which is part of the broader BDS movement. The JNF (known as Ḱaren Kayemeth LeIsrael or KKL in Israel) enjoys an international reputation as an environmental charity; it largely works through the seemingly innocent guise of tree planting. According to its website, “Planting a tree in Israel is the perfect way to show you care. You can plant trees for many different reasons and help green the land of Israel while sending a special gift to a friend or loved one.” This campaign to ‘green’ Israel, however, has much darker foundations. It is part of a deliberate strategy to destroy the remnants of historic Palestine, to obscure the villages that once stood, and deny the existence of the indigenous population.

The Jewish National Fund was established in 1901; it was at the forefront of the Zionist project to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Following the mass ethnic cleansing in 1948, the JNF acquired 1,000,000 dunam (250,000 acres) of land that belongs to the Palestinians who had been forced from their homes.

Since its inception, the JNF has been instrumental in the ‘de-Arabisation of Palestine’. More than two-thirds of JNF forests and parks – 46 out of 68 – conceal or are located on the ruins of Palestinian villages demolished by Israel and until today the JNF refuses to re-sell any of its land to non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

While serving as a fundraiser for Israeli policies of displacement of Palestinians, erasure of their memory, and destruction of the natural environment, the JNF enjoys charitable status in the UK (through its affiliate organisation, the JNF UK) and in 50 other countries throughout the world.

Cycling along the JNF trail.

Cycling along the JNF trail.

So, armed with outrage that the JNF raises money in our country to deny Palestinians access to theirs, we climbed back on our bikes. We decided to use the JNF’s own bike trail to remap what they are trying to erase.

The bicycle trail is utterly beautiful. We wound through parks, scenic forests, and nature reserves. Along the way there were signs, plaques and monuments; commemorating the history of suffering of the Jewish people, and celebrating the support of Jews around the world in the creation of a green Israel. A perfect narrative – formulated through shining signs glistening in the sun and solid stone steadfast in the rain – of victimhood to victory.

A JNF memorial to Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, along the trail. The Stern Gang helped carry out the Deir Yassin massacre on April 16, 1948.

A JNF memorial to Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, along the trail. The Stern Gang helped carry out the Deir Yassin massacre on April 16, 1948.

With the marks of officialdom and authority, the JNF signs are persuasive, gently pushing you to remember the victims of the Holocaust whilst forgetting those of the Nakba. They have not just planted trees over the remains of villages, destroying any physical reminders, they have planted a new historical narrative on the space. Jumping from the Roman period, to the oppression of the Jews in Europe, to the generosity of the global Jewish community in helping the JNF ‘make the desert bloom’.

The JNF cycle trail from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is built on the land of dozens of Palestinian villages; communities that were growing and thriving until 1948 when they were abruptly, violently destroyed. Forced out at gun point, or fleeing due to the well-founded fear of attack, Palestinians left their homes and lives – hoping to return soon. We stopped at the sites of some of these villages, places that are ingrained in the memory of Palestinian families we have met, yet are now determinedly wiped off the map, and out of the history books.

Whilst their history is so cleverly and coherently erased, there is no hope for justice on this land. The Nakba is at the heart of this conflict, to gloss over it, plant some trees, declare it ‘just a story’, only condemns everyone here to more violence and suffering. Just as Germany is working to come to terms with the tragic history of the Holocaust, providing public space for commemoration, and challenging Holocaust deniers; so too must Israel face up to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Just as the anti-Semitism that is still rearing its ugly head across Europe must be challenged, so too the racism and oppression of the Palestinians must be stopped.

We called this project Cycle ’48 because we believe that a just solution begins with the recognition of the war crimes during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 – the catastrophe for Palestinians. But the ethnic cleansing of Palestine did not start and end in this year. Today Palestinians are still being forced from their homes. The Nakba continues.

As the powerful JNF/KKL puts up its signs and monuments, attempting to create new associations on this land and to control its history, we will get on our bicycles and tell a different story – remapping and remembering Palestine of ’48, until the Palestinian refugees themselves can return to this land.

Follow our blogfacebook and twitter for the full story and more bike-powered justice pursuits.​

Remember, in Hebrew, on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Ajjur.

Remember, in Hebrew, on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Ajjur.

Sara Moon Bella Crowe and Ruth Kappe
About Sara Moon, Bella Crowe and Ruth Kappe

Cycle '48 is a collective of 3 British women -- Sara Moon, Bella Crowe and Ruth Kappe -- who all cycled to Palestine from the UK. The project aims to remap the erased histories of the Nakba, promoting the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees whilst exposing the role of the Jewish National Fund in their ethnic cleansing.

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18 Responses

  1. benedict
    February 23, 2015, 2:49 pm

    Your ideology doesn’t make any sense. At the one hand you resist any form of privilege based on nationality. Yet you insist that the only legitimate solutions to the problem of Palestinian refugee descendents most take a nationalistic form – the “return” of those descendents to a particular location based on the fact that there forefather used to live there 70 years ago.
    If nationalism is bad why not find non-nationalistic solutions like settling Palestinians in other parts of the ME (plenty of empty space) or assisting there emigration to the west as Millions of Muslims have been doing in the last two decades?

    • italian ex-pat
      italian ex-pat
      February 24, 2015, 7:21 pm


      I’m afraid it’s you – or rather your zionist ideology – that doesn’t make sense.

      You find it absurd that the Palestinian refugees are claiming right of return to the land from which their fathers and grandfathers were forcibly expelled 70 yrs ago, but you believe the Jews have the (divine?) right to establish a Jewish state on a land their forefathers left TWO THOUSAND yrs ago. Do I have this about right?

      • benedict
        February 25, 2015, 10:00 am

        [email protected]
        I don’t believe in perpetual rights of any kind. I am a pragmatist.

        If the year was 1900 I might have agreed with you that the preferable solution to the problem of Jewish refugees is to have them settled in America (as millions of them actually did). I also happen to believe that if other venues beside Palestine where open for Jews between 1920-1930 Zionism would have developed in a very different direction.

        None of this makes a difference since we are now in 2015. The existence of Israel does not depend on events that happened 2000 years ago but on the fact that there are 6 million Jews currently living in Israel. It’s the present that creates Israel, not the past.

        “Returning” millions of Palestinians will cause enormous turmoil in an already unstable area. Since the authors of this piece obviously don’t think that nationalism is a valid parameter for action, I see no reason that the obvious misery of stateless Palestinians must be solved by moving them to Israel, a step that will only cause more trouble.

        Stateless Palestinians should be relocated to myriad locations: Israel, Palestine, Arab countries, Europe, Canada, USA etc. Compensation should be paid for Palestinian property. That is the most human and reasonable solution. Only a nationalist will insist on the “right of return”.

    • Mooser
      February 24, 2015, 8:51 pm

      Thanks benedict! I understand it much better now! 70 years and actually kicked off your own land, bad. 3,000 years ago Bible stuff, good, virtually a deed to the property! Can’t understand why I never understood that before, thanks.

      Edit: Ok, benedict did some Googling, and now I’ve got the story straight. Israel, all the people and all the stuff were there all the time, they were just in hiding until 1948.

    • RoHa
      February 24, 2015, 11:27 pm

      “If nationalism is bad why not find non-nationalistic solutions like settling Palestinians in other parts of the ME (plenty of empty space) or assisting there emigration to the west as Millions of Muslims have been doing in the last two decades?”

      Alternatively, instead of sending the Palestinians to places they don’t want to go, why not send the Israeli Jews to the lands of their forefathers? Quite a few are going to Germany already, and there is plenty of empty space in Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine.

      Or what about assisting their emigration to the US, as millions of Jews have been doing for the last century or so?

      • Mooser
        February 27, 2015, 5:58 pm

        “Or what about assisting their emigration to the US, as millions of Jews have been doing for the last century or so?”

        If they have the old dual;-passport, and dual citizenship, what assistance do they need except a ride to the airport? Good old Israel, which puts itself in the hands of people who can make a hasty exit if things don’t work. And it doesn’t get any hastier than dual-citizenship, you are simply coming home.

      • Kris
        February 27, 2015, 9:54 pm

        Mooser, it may not be that simple. Check out this story, and the two videos in it. A Canadian woman, who is pregnant, moved to Israel with her two Canadian sons, and now Israel won’t let her leave!

        “Hana Gan, 36, is five months pregnant. She has lived in Canada since early childhood and is a citizen of that country. Her two sons were born in Canada.

        “Ms Gan’s parents immigrated to Israel over 10 years ago, and persuaded her to come to the “Garden of Eden” and live a better life. Hana, a single mother, eventually decided to immigrate to Israel, where she was rapidly given Israeli nationality.

        “Upon arrival, Ms Gan discovered that her parents had turned to religion, and almost from the outset began to curse and abuse her. Within only a week after she had arrived, she realised she had made the biggest mistake of her life. She told her family she wanted to return to Canada, and duly booked a flight home.

        “Using the accepted weapon of choice in Israel, her father placed a No Exit order upon her and the children, and proceeded to make false claims to the welfare department to try to gain guardianship of her children. This is frequently done, and requires no proof. Her parents destroyed the children’s passports and prepared to make a case to declare her an unfit mother. “They found religion, and decided I was worthless,” Hana explains.”

        The two videos are convincing–real Israeli cop car, apparently real Israeli cops speaking Hebrew. Are Jews treated like this in Israel? (Of course, I mean healthy, young Jews, since I already know how badly Holocaust survivors have been treated in Israel.)

      • RoHa
        February 28, 2015, 2:07 am

        The Canadian Government should mount a military operation in Israel to rescue these persecuted Canadian Jews and take them back to Canada where they would be safe.

  2. Bornajoo
    February 23, 2015, 6:56 pm

    Sara, Bella and Ruth
    Kudos to you all. Great idea and great work.
    The destruction of Palestinian villages and olive trees and the replanting of other trees in order to erase the identity of Palestine is all part of the very sick zionist ideology. Thank you for helping to expose it.
    Stay safe

    • just
      February 23, 2015, 7:34 pm

      Big ditto! Your effort is much appreciated and needed!

      In pitiful news:

      “A Haifa Cinematheque film festival dealing with the nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe” and the term Palestinians use to refer to their fate when Israel was founded in 1948, has been canceled, with the city and the organizers disputing the reasons.

      The group Zochrot, which organized a similar event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque in November, said it had arranged to have the Haifa Cinematheque festival in April, just prior to Israel’s Independence Day.

      Zochrot, which aims to make Jewish Israelis more aware of what happened to the Palestinians during the War of Independence, says Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav last week withdrew a commitment to fund the festival.

      Zochrot’s Rosenberg says the Nakba festival in Tel Aviv attracted capacity crowds.

      In an apparent reference to the large number of Arab residents of Haifa who were displaced by the War of Independence, Rosenberg added, “It’s actually in a city such as Haifa that it is appropriate and important to hold such a festival, first of all as a promise not to forget and not to push the disaster that struck the Palestinians in 1948 to the side, turning 70 percent of the Palestinians into refugees. …

      “[Yahav’s intervention] is not to the point and is mostly regretful. It is based on panic and fear, and it’s proper for the Haifa public to protest the decision.””

  3. bintbiba
    February 23, 2015, 7:34 pm

    Sara, Bella, Ruth !
    it is way past midnight and I just came upon your story!

    I have no words……. Just my grateful enduring silence.

    It has been a difficult day ,and it ends with the story of 3 brave young women who dare to challenge and wish to expose the apathy and indifference that masks that beautiful godforsaken land.
    My thoughts accompany you along your journey.

    • just
      February 23, 2015, 7:38 pm

      +1 bintbiba!!!

      ( I hope that you sleep well, and that your tomorrow is a better day.)

      • bintbiba
        February 23, 2015, 7:50 pm

        Just, thank you !

        Your presence on MW is such a reassuring and comforting one.

      • just
        February 23, 2015, 7:51 pm

        Thank you, bintbiba.

        I’m always cheered when I see you here.

  4. Kay24
    February 23, 2015, 8:07 pm

    So when the war monger stood in front of the world with his cartoon bomb, he must have been, as usual, LYING. Like the lies about the Palestinians before the massacres them.

    Massive leak reveals South African intel on Mossad’s ‘true’ assessment on nuclear Iran
    Al-Jazeera says most significant release of secret documents since Snowden details intelligence information from numerous spy agencies.

  5. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    February 24, 2015, 6:38 am

    The erasure of Palestinian history is not as coherent as it might have been. The Zionists could have blown up all the remaining ruins, but even after all these decades they haven’t done so. It was from those ruins that I discovered the Nakba while hiking in my youth. I reflected then that if they had systematically destroyed the ruins I would not have sussed out what had happened. I am still curious as to why they haven’t done that. I suspect they simply can’t be bothered. After all, they themselves can’t “see” the ruins before their eyes and they may assume that no one else can either (except for Palestinians, I suppose, but they don’t matter).

  6. just
    February 24, 2015, 7:43 am

    Looks like the myths of the Zionists are finally being challenged. More please.

    “Tapestry of conflict: When Jews and Arabs shared an identity

    Historian Menachem Klein’s new book ‘Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron’ adds greatly to our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its devastating human cost.

    Israel Defense Forces paratroopers stand by the Western Wall, battle-weary, victorious, almost incredulous, after capturing East Jerusalem in June 1967. That image, one of the most potent in modern Zionist iconography, is as telling for what it does not portray: the area around the wall, the ancient Mughrabi neighborhood of 135 homes, two mosques, one of which dated back to the 12th century, and a sheikh’s tomb.

    The Six-Day War ended on June 10, 1967. Mughrabi was levelled the next day to make way for an open plaza. The inhabitants, writes Menachem Klein in his important new book, “Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron,” were forced out even as their houses were demolished around them. The expulsion was so rapid that they were not even given time to pack up their belongings before being relocated to empty apartments elsewhere in the newly conquered city.

    The Israelis, writes Klein, carried out their task with “mystical fervor.” “The members of the demolition crew believed themselves to be the emissaries of the Jewish people charged with ‘purging’ the site and demonstrating Israeli sovereignty.” This process, and the accompanying fervor, continues to this day in Jerusalem, and not just in the Old City.

    The Jewish quarter was next to be purged: The buildings at least would survive, but the Arab inhabitants had to go. Indeed, military forces spread a rumor that it would be best for them to leave. The whispers flowed quickly and effectively throughout the narrow alleys and tiny courtyards. In a dark echo of the biblical Passover story, houses were marked with paint. Their tenants at least were given three days to pack.

    The founding myths of 1948 and 1967, that there was no ethnic cleansing and the Palestinians willingly fled, have already been comprehensively demolished by the work of new historians such as Benny Morris, Tom Segev and Ari Shavit. Israel, like India, Pakistan and any number of post-colonial constructs, was born in war and sin. The Jewish state’s historians seem to have a unique capacity for chronicling the agonies of its birth in such great detail, but most works of modern Israeli history recount the wars and diplomacy through the eyes of generals, politicians and diplomats. Much rarer, and more welcome, are works that focus on the human story of the lives of Jews and Arabs that have been shaped, ruined and sometimes ended by the conflict.
    A shared native identity

    Klein attempts to debunk the myth of Zionist Orthodoxy that the various groups were always destined for conflict. The accepted scholarly view, he writes, sees Jewish-Palestinian relations only in the light of the conflict between two national communities and movements. It focuses on institutions, parties and politics, and gives a top-down perspective. This is wrong, he argues: A native identity was shared by both communities, and was only finally destroyed by the 1948 War of Independence.

    Nowadays, as Israel’s right wing pushes harder and ever more successfully for national identity to be predicated on being Jewish, it seems hard to imagine a time when the borders between faiths and ethnic groups were fluid and interchangeable. Native-born Jews in Palestine spoke Arabic, often dressed in Arabic clothes, ate Arabic food and lived in houses built around a courtyard.

    Arab-Jewish identity, writes Klein, did not only develop in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron. “It was a fact of life throughout the Arab world. By the end of the 19th century it was a self-conscious identity in the major cities of the east, such as Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad. In these urban centers Jews took part in the Arab cultural renaissance and local national movements.” As Ya’akov Yehoshua, the historian and writer and father of the novelist A.B. Yehoshua noted, “The residential courtyard of the Jews and Muslims were common. We were like one family, we were all friends.”
    The biblical cities of Hebron and Jerusalem had long been home to Jews, Muslims and Christians. The modern conflict, of politics and ideology, was embodied in the clash and competition between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Klein traces the birth of the latter and the political/cultural ideology that drove the first Jewish settlers to build a European-style city on the shores of the Levant. Before 1914, Tel Aviv, then just a few streets, had barely 2,000 inhabitants. By the 1930s, the first Hebrew city was home to 75,000 people, most of them immigrants.

    Tel Aviv and Jaffa were neighbors, but were different worlds. Many Jewish immigrants passed through the former, but could not leave fast enough. They wanted to live in a city modelled after a cultured European suburb. “As far as the Jews were concerned, Jaffa was a city that progress had not yet reached – dirty, teeming and unhygienic,” Klein writes. Its Arab inhabitants were seen as both wild and violent, and lazy and passive. This was a neat mirroring of the contradictory anti-Semitic prejudices that had driven the Jews to flee Europe, that they were both rapacious capitalists and dangerous communists.
    In fact, Jaffa was the cultural and political capital of Palestine, with its own newspapers, radio stations, schools and cinemas. A port city long accustomed to new ideas as well as immigrants of varying backgrounds, Jaffa also adapted to modernity. New modern quarters were built: a downtown area to the east of the Old City, along Butros Street, with apartment blocks. To the south, Ajami and Jabaliya, were home to magnificent villas that overlooked the sea. But its identity remained firmly Arab.
    “The past,” writes Klein, “was not expunged from the consciousness of the defeated.””

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