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To the Holocaust survivor I interviewed, in regards to Palestine

on 57 Comments

It was always a dream come true to meet you. In sixth grade, I read The Diary of a Young Girl, and suddenly became absolutely enthralled and puzzled by the Nazi holocaust. I think I know now that Anne Frank’s story felt all the more relatable because, at 11 years old, I looked so strikingly similar to her. It was terrifying, really, for in her writing and in the pictures that remained of her, I could quite literally see myself—a curious, fiercely empathetic young girl who longed to write, who struggled to find her place in the world, who wanted more than anything to believe in people’s innate goodness.

And then, during my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to meet you through an oral storytelling class. All my efforts to imagine the Nazi holocaust through children’s books and through the life of Anne Frank became real and alive in you. “Never forget,” you said so often as my classmates and I sat at your kitchen table, tears in your eyes, your small offerings of popcorn nearby. I never did forget. I never will. Your love took me to Kigali, Rwanda, where I became the adopted daughter of Mama Teddy, a genocide survivor, a former refugee, a mother and grandmother like yourself. It took me to Nakivale Refugee Settlement, where I met Rwandan men and women in exile, much like you were at the end of the war. It took me to Gulu, Uganda, where I witnessed the ravaged life of the Acholi people, literally cut from society simply for being. And finally your love took me to what you call the land of Israel, but what I call Palestine.

I’ve never uttered that word in front of you before.


The word holds both the weight of memory, and the ease of forgetfulness and denial. I told myself that I could never hurt you like that. It would be too painful for you to learn that you, once victimized by the Nazi and Soviet regimes, now support the Israeli regime. The last time I visited you, you made an off-hand remark about immigrants crossing the United States’ border illegally. You were disgusted. How could they do such a thing—steal our jobs, destroy our culture, threaten our national security. I had never critiqued any of your opinions. I’ve always nodded my head and smiled. There is something untouchable about you being a survivor of the Nazi holocaust. But that time, I felt bold, angry I felt I could never talk with you about the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians waged in your name. I expect xenophobic statements like that from my grandmother, but not from you, so I said: “Weren’t you an illegal immigrant once too?” You were immediately quiet and returned to your meal. You knew that you too were once an undocumented immigrant, a refugee, a migrant worker, terrorized by racist regimes.

When my teacher prepared us to meet you and the other survivors for our class’s oral storytelling project, he said: Remember, you are speaking to survivors, not victims. Still, the Nazi holocaust as we know it today is no longer about survivorship. It has been morphed and twisted into a narrative about victimhood, specifically and exclusively, the victimhood of the Jews. And as real and valid as the trauma of the Nazi holocaust is, it does not mean Jews get a free pass. It does not mean Jews get to wage another ethnic cleansing in the name of memory.

Which is why I need to tell you about Abu Arab and his holocaust, his Nakba.

Two summers ago, I visited his home village of Saffuri, a destroyed Palestinian village outside of Nazareth. “I know how it feels when you enter into a cemetery,” he said to my classmates and I. “And I’m so sorry this is the first place we will visit today.” His words paralyzed me, for they were your words: Sorry, you said. Sorry you have to hear my story.

Unable to watch the scene in Saffuri unfolding before me, I gripped the iPad and focused my eyes on the screen. Much like my time with you, I had come to Saffuri to record Abu Arab’s history. Behind the gaze of the lens, I felt protected. My first interview with you came to mind. Assigned the task of filming, I had sat behind the camera and quietly cried, grateful you could not see my tears.

On the evening of July 16th, 1948, Saffuri was attacked by bombs. Three hundred Israeli soldiers stormed the village. In the middle of Ramadan, the people of Saffuri, seven thousand in number, fled their homes with empty stomachs. They thought they would come back soon. By three o’clock in the morning, Saffuri no longer existed; Saffuri was now “Zippori,” a Hebrew pseudonym for the destruction that remained. But I did not hear Abu Arab’s words at that moment. Instead, I thought of yours: “There were bombs falling from the sky,” you said to us as you sat at your kitchen table, pictures of your family, exterminated by the German task forces, hanging on your wall. You said you ran so fast from the bombs you felt like you were on wings.

You told us how you grew up in the Polish village of Zhurmuny, a village mostly made up of your family, and how you often spent time in the city of Lida. Sometimes your house was in Russia, other times Belarus, and Germany. My note taking never seemed to be accurate enough. I wanted to believe it was your faulty, 89 year old memory. I couldn’t comprehend how several military occupations seemed to rise and fall in the span of a three-hour interview.

As I stood in Saffuri, I suddenly realized I had stepped into Abu Arab’s Zhurmuny.

“They planted pine trees to make the Eastern European immigrants feel at home,” Sally, one of our tour guides, said to us pointing out the scattered trees. Lida, a city that you loved so much, happens to mean, “A place cleared of forest.” I remembered reading this when I searched for Zhurmuny on the Internet; there is nearly no record of Zhurmuny anymore so I had settled for learning about Lida. I pictured the forest of your nearby city of Lida cut down and hastily replanted in Saffuri. Lida’s name is a coincidence, of course, but it puzzled me—the way Israelis literally planted forgetfulness.

In 1948, you and Abu Arab were both refugees. You lived in a displaced persons camp—a euphemism for a refugee camp—in American-occupied Germany. You never returned to Zhurmuny because your family, and therefore your village of Zhurmuny, no longer existed. Abu Arab fled Israeli-occupied Saffuri and escaped to southern Lebanon, eventually returning to the new state of Israel because his family yearned for their home. Sixty-eight years later, though, he remains a refugee in his own land, the land you now call Israel. Your homeland. Your heaven.

But it isn’t yours. It never was.

A week after I met Abu Arab, I spoke with Ziad, a third-generation Saffuri refugee living in Nazareth, and Abu Arab’s nephew. “I’m a physical therapist. I know that each person has pain,” Ziad explained. “I treat Holocaust survivors. I know these humans’ stories. I want to bring them to my story.”

He told us of his confrontation with Israelis in Saffuri: “I said to them, ‘You are afraid of the story. The story is frightening for you, I know.’”

I say this to you now, just as Ziad said to the Israelis.

I know this story frightens you. It frightens me too how easy it is to wipe a people off a map. I have sat with this story for so long. I want to separate your story from Palestine. And yet, the damage is done, your story woven into the fabric of Palestine. You see, what was most frightening about Palestine was that in the chaos of apartheid, occupation, displacement, and grief—I found you there.

Gabrielle Spear

Gabrielle Spear graduated from Goucher College with a B.A. in English and a minor in Peace Studies. She is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-NY.

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57 Responses

  1. xanadou on June 8, 2016, 7:12 pm

    Is Anne Frank’s diary as we know it a fraud?

    In the 1950s, an American writer, Meyer Levin, had collaborated with Otto Frank, Anne’s surviving father, in rewriting the autobiography. Frank reneged on his obligation to pay Levin the mutually agreed upon sum of $50,000. A messy lawsuit followed:

    Why was it necessary to tamper with a unique document that had the potential to become a vademecum on the effect that war has on a child’s psyche? Anne Frank could have become a powerful voice for all children, including present day young Palestinians. Instead we are left with a corrupted document tainted for eternity by pretentious adult considerations and greed. What a waste…

    • hophmi on June 9, 2016, 9:46 am

      Ladies and gentlemen, Mondoweiss allowed a comment through here that suggested that Anne Frank’s diary was a fraud. Who’s going to be first to tell me how that’s anti-Zionism?

      Annie Robbins, you should be ashamed of yourself. Disgusting. And typical.

      • The Hasbara Buster on June 9, 2016, 5:50 pm

        While xanadou is clearly wrong to doubt the authenticity Anne Frank’s diary, the conclusions they draw are not of an outrageous enough nature to warrant censorship. In the ensuing reply jon s sets the record straight, and the exchange may be useful for some readers.

        As for your question, not all comments Mondoweiss publishes are anti-Zionist. Some are, some others are pro-Zionist, still some others have nothing to do with Zionism.

    • wondering jew on June 10, 2016, 6:33 am

      Finding out that there are a handful of “Anne Frank diary frauders” frequenting mw’s comments section is really no big surprise and really does not change the global balance regarding Jews, antiZionists and Nazi sympathizers. That mw does not really care about such sewage finding its place in its comments section is really not much of a surprise either.

      Israel will have to change its ways despite the presence of Nazi sympathizers among the camp of antiZionism. So there is no real upshot to these nonsurprises.

      • Mooser on June 10, 2016, 3:55 pm

        “That mw does not really care about such sewage finding its place in its comments section is really not much of a surprise either.”

        They don’t have to worry, “Yonah”. As long as you are here, nobody will condemn Mondo.
        Your endorsement of Mondo is probably all that’s keeping it going.

  2. jon s on June 9, 2016, 12:41 am

    Anne Frank didn’t write an autobiography, she wrote a diary.
    Meyer Levin didn’t “rewrite” it, he wrote a play based on the diary.
    Otto Frank excluded certain passages from the published version, in which Anne referred to her physical development as an adolescent and to her relationship with her mother. He considered those passages “improper” , and harmful to the memory of his late wife. Mr. Frank’s editing didn’t make the diary a”fraud”, but Holocaust deniers have jumped on it. In any case, an unexpurgated edition has since been published.

    • Marnie on June 9, 2016, 7:45 am

      “Mr. Frank’s editing didn’t make the diary a”fraud”, but Holocaust deniers have jumped on it. In any case, an unexpurgated edition has since been published.”

      Maybe some people feel Mr. Frank’s editing kind of made it Mr. Frank’s diary and not his daughter’s. That’s what some people may be referring to as a fraud, which you insist didn’t make it so. And your assertion that ‘holocaust deniers have jumped on it’ is amazing. Seriously? Not just people who find the ‘diary’ of this young girl not hers so much as her father’s but evil, antisemitic holocaust deniers? Yet another item that is verboten for discussion because it’s really all about ‘holocaust denial’ and nothing else. And you’re still a teacher, right? Yet get a head start on Bennett’s new syllabus, guaranteed to churn out even more ignorant israelis that you could do on your own.

      • hophmi on June 9, 2016, 2:31 pm

        It’s not amazing. It’s the truth, which clearly hurts. Just do a google search for “Anne Frank fraud”, and see what comes up.

      • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 3:49 pm

        “And you’re still a teacher, right? “

        And a “social reject”.

      • Marnie on June 10, 2016, 1:11 am

        Thank you for giving me the unwanted window into your world hophni.

      • jon s on June 10, 2016, 5:28 am

        Anne Frank’s diary is , indeed, a favourite target for Holocaust deniers.
        For more on this see:
        Deborah Lipstadt: Denying the Holocaust (Plume, NY, 1994): pp.229-235.

    • xanadou on June 10, 2016, 12:33 am

      I stand corrected on the diary, not autobiography, issue. It’s been a while since my school days when the AF Diary was on my list of compulsory reading.

      There are passages there that only someone much older could have come up with. The incongruence of the narrative of a child frustrated with her long term stress induced by being cooped up in a tiny space and her emerging new and confusing feelings for the boy are told in a language reflective of child. This narrative is counterpointed by the philosophical ruminations that make more sense if written by an adult with a much more sophisticated grasp of reality and experience; the language is inconsistent and causes doubt and disbelief. To what extent Otto Frank had tampered with his daughter’s words may never be known, and THAT is at the crux of my comment. The diary is just a story of kid growing up at a hellish time, not a sacred text arbitrarily deemed untouchable. AF was a real person, not a Marvel comic item invented to move the narrative along. The girl died at Bergen Belsen of typhus. Her demise is no more and no less horrific than the death by being burned alive at the hands of an israeli settler of an 18-month old Palestinian baby, or the hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi babies and children who continue to drown b/c US. et al, politicians think it is incumbent upon them to determine what goes on away from their own home turf, as did the Nazis regarding populations in Holland and elsewhere. Victims of the WW2 brutality do not have exclusive claim to suffering.

      The hysterical remarks made by some in this thread sound more like pathetic attempts by a dying culture that is determined to make the pain of some more important than that of others, which reopens the chasm between””us” and “them”, another pointless reason why humanity is stuck in the futile loop of endlessly ratcheted torment with no end in sight.

      With apologies for the unintended distraction to Ms. Spear whose point, in my understanding of the article, appears to agree with mine. Humanity canot afford this insanity or it will be the end of us before the climate change gets to us.

      • jon s on June 10, 2016, 5:31 am

        As I mentioned, there is an complete, un-eneditd version available.

      • jon s on June 10, 2016, 1:27 pm

        Also: Anne Frank’s original notebooks exist, her words, written in pen-on-paper , have been scientifically scrutinized- the paper, the ink, the handwriting- and authenticated. The diary was written by her , in those years.

      • Mooser on June 11, 2016, 12:19 am

        “Jon s” always likes to get in a few last kicks.

  3. annie on June 9, 2016, 1:54 am

    what a fantastic article Gabrielle, thank you so much.

  4. wondering jew on June 9, 2016, 2:20 am

    mondoweiss editors: Alert. when someone attacks Anne Frank’s diary, they are up to no good and it is time to cut them off. your call, but do not treat this lightly.

    • echinococcus on June 9, 2016, 6:49 am

      Yeah, it looks as if you guys are multiplying the sacred books of religion, eh? To the point of arrogantly ordering out web site owners who are expressly against you… So it was the genocide-advocating nay commanding Old Testament, then the xenophobic Talmud, then the Judenstaat, the Iron Wall, some teenager diary…
      Do you believe censorship is a good way to protect books from being discussed?

      • wondering jew on June 9, 2016, 12:33 pm

        If someone points out the discrepancy between the original diary and the one published by her father then we would have a discussion of the book. That is not what xanadou did. He/she attacked the book as a fraud, based on Meyer levin’s suit, which is totally bogus and is merely crying “fraud” for fraud sake. If Mw wishes for its comments section to be a safe haven for jew haters, then be my guest. Defense of xanadou by a jew hater like echo does xanadou no good, except if mw doesn’t mind being a safe haven for haters as long as they cloak their jew hatred under the rubric of antizionism.

      • chocopie on June 9, 2016, 1:31 pm

        Uh-oh (or, as Yonah would say, “Alert.”), you called Anne Frank “some teenager” and now you’re gonna be in biiiiig trouble.

      • oldgeezer on June 9, 2016, 2:27 pm


        I thought you were big on balance and nuance.

        Not a word to say about the zionists who post nothing but hate here? The ones who deny a people exist?? Who justify oppression and human rights abuses particularly against children on a regular basis?

        To be honest while that list of zionists is pretty much all inclusive I wouldn’t necessarily include you

      • wondering jew on June 9, 2016, 2:55 pm

        Old geezer- to quote travis bickel are you talking to me.

      • oldgeezer on June 9, 2016, 4:49 pm


        Fictional like most of your arguments,

      • wondering jew on June 9, 2016, 5:08 pm

        Old geezer- as I surmised. Talking at me and not to me.

      • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 6:00 pm

        “to quote travis bickel are you talking to me.”

        Oh, everybody knows your reputation, “Yonah”, you’re a real straight listener!

        And such a cybermacher!

      • annie on June 9, 2016, 6:08 pm

        oldgeezer: “Not a word to say about the zionists who post nothing but hate here? The ones who deny a people exist?? Who justify oppression and human rights abuses particularly against children on a regular basis?”

        the worst of the vile ad hominem stuff doesn’t get posted here. there’s no barrier too low for zionist discourse, for sure it’s way worse than anything i’ve encountered on the other side, just vile and personal. really filthy stuff — is so common on many pro israel sites.

        it goes way beyond bs like “Annie Robbins, you should be ashamed of yourself. Disgusting. And typical.” (i guess hops assumed, with no evidence whatsoever, i cleared the original comment — btw i didn’t) it’s the routine-ness of the specific targeting. ie check out the comments in this so called “debates on mondoweiss”: this is an uncensored comment section (like for sure this would be going on here if we didn’t moderate). not one thing in the comments addresses the political topic. it’s all accusation i am ugly, i have aids, i’m a witch, i’m on drugs, i smell, i drink whiskey all day, i’m sexually perverted, my house is nasty, i have no friends, it goes on and on and on! not one or five but commenter after commenter after commenter. this is an example of the unfettered kind of vile stuff that goes hand in hand with slandering a dead person as a pancake and is tolerated without an ounce of concern or holding back from anyone on the thread. it’s totally routine for the zionist activist community to tolerate this kind of discourse, and anyone who can read hebrew can witness this kind of commenting on uncensored comment sections throughout the web. personal, filthy and vile. i just don’t encounter this kind of ad hominem stuff when reading anti zionist posters as they are more topic oriented (they can be mean tho for sure). generally, they don’t go for personal jugular. whereas there’s no limit whatsoever on team israel — routinely. arafat screwed animals and their adversaries are pedophiles or whatever. no limit. so i find this sort of ‘grab the smelling salts’ gatekeeping wrt ‘fraud’ another demonstration of hysterics actually.

      • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 6:36 pm

        “Annie” sure seems like every Zionist who writes in thinks they hold all the cards, and can trump anybody.

      • annie on June 9, 2016, 6:40 pm

        it seems they have a different set of rules for themselves than anybody else mooser. and no shame either. reminds me of >>>

        this kind of totally uncultured unfettered environment breeds a kind of person i can’t understand. it’s really sad. and it’s nothing i ever encountered in life as a pattern of behavior until being an activist for palestine.

      • ritzl on June 9, 2016, 10:26 pm

        Annie, re: vile, seafoid made the observation a while back that pro-Israel “advocacy” is like “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

        They try to maintain the pretty “only democracy” face but the insides keep getting uglier and uglier.

        You do great work.

      • Mooser on June 10, 2016, 3:59 pm

        “this kind of totally uncultured unfettered environment breeds a kind of person i can’t understand”

        Yeah, I guess we don’t get much of a chance to mingle with the aristocracy.

      • echinococcus on June 11, 2016, 11:46 am

        Reb Fredman, try not to be more ridiculous than Fredman his very self. Attacking a fraud of a book as a fraud is f&^^ discussing it.

      • annie on June 14, 2016, 12:20 pm

        thanks ritzl

    • Marnie on June 9, 2016, 7:55 am

    • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 3:23 pm

      “they are up to no good and it is time to cut them off.”

      Then why, oh why do you keep on giving it “hits” “Yonah”?
      Do you not understand the way the web works?

    • Froggy on June 9, 2016, 5:23 pm

      Why ? Has she been made a saint, or something ?

      • annie on June 9, 2016, 5:43 pm

        no she’s not. she was a child and while it makes perfect sense (especially in that era) for her father to not want details of her personal data revealed, whenever a parent gets involved w/a child’s diary it begs the question if they reworded parts of it. the same could be said of rachel’s diary. and i have never in my life heard the kinds of horrendous inflammatory insults directed at anne frank that we’ve all heard zionist activists fling at rachel. and it’s completely routine, defaming her.

        so frankly (no pun intended) the accusation of ‘fraud’ doesn’t come close to the kinds of insults they tolerate for our beloved rachel corrie.

      • Steve Grover on June 9, 2016, 6:06 pm

        Let’s see Anne Frank died because the penalty for the crime of being a Jew was death by asphyxiation with the the rat poison Zyklon-B or any other manner convenient to the Nazis. Rachel Corrie died aiding and abetting terrorists and could easily not died if she wanted to.

      • annie on June 9, 2016, 6:37 pm

        Gabrielle Spear, the author of this awesome article (that everyone is ignoring, unfortunately), reminds me of rachel. the way as a child she had so much empathy and awareness. the way she had faith in people and traveled to places across the world to help the people in dire circumstance, the kind of faith rachel had — even of her ideological opponents — it probably didn’t occur to her they would mow her down as she protected the home of good people who were certainly not terrorists, because she saw people’s humanity and had trust in that humanity. and ultimately, that trust killed her.

        but i want to thank you for your comment steve, because your comment provides an example of sorts of what spear was reflecting on in her article.

      • Steve Grover on June 9, 2016, 6:58 pm

        Annie, the Survivor of the Shoah that Ms. Spear interviewed would have told her the following had that Survivor read this piece. It would have been said in Yiddish with a facial expression of disappointment:
        איר זענט ווי נאַריש ווי די נאַכט
        Transliterated for Mooser’s benefit:
        Ir zent vi narish vi di nakht.

      • annie on June 9, 2016, 7:45 pm

        hmm, i doubt it. because when the survivor made an off-hand remark about immigrants crossing the U.S. border illegally indicating how disgusted she was how could they “steal our jobs, destroy our culture, threaten our national security” and spear reminded her “Weren’t you an illegal immigrant once too?” the survivor didn’t say “You are as stupid as the night” did she? instead, she was quiet and returned to her meal.

        besides, unfortunately it sounds like the survivor may have turned into a bitter unwise old person who lost whatever lessons she learned from her horrific past, so i’m not so sure how much it matters what she would think of spears article, although i’d hope she reads it and learns from it. it’s not too late to learn life’s lessons — even if one is learning the same lessons over and over again.

      • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 9:40 pm

        “the Survivor of the Shoah that Ms. Spear interviewed would have told her the following had that Survivor read this piece.”

        And you know that cause a pink elephant flew in the window and told you?

        You are too cowardly to speak for yourself, so you put words in Holocaust Survivor’s mouth?
        Come to think of it, it’s the same thing you did with Rabbi Kedar, Eric Fingerhut and some others.

      • Froggy on June 12, 2016, 4:21 pm

        Annie :: Ann was a victim (through no fault of her own). Rachel was a hero.

      • annie on June 12, 2016, 5:18 pm

        true froggy, as i tried to explain earlier but perhaps i wasn’t clear enough, i referenced rachel because, like anne, she was a young person who documented her own life and after her murder that documentation, through her parents, was published (let me stand alone: and was later adapted to stage (my name is rachel corrie), as well as an opera about her.

  5. olive52 on June 9, 2016, 12:42 pm

    When there is any comparison with the Palestinian struggle to the Holocaust (Jewish and others) it becomes obvious the writer knows very little about neither. Better to get a good education about World War 2 before making any ridiculous comparisons.

    • Mooser on June 9, 2016, 3:31 pm

      “When there is any comparison with the Palestinian struggle…Better get a good education…”

      That’s right! Nobody should attempt to form an opinion on Zionism, without having a good education, and a solid grasp of the relative value of the lives and possessions of the different peoples involved!

      Without that “good education”, you might make “ridiculous comparisons”.

    • Froggy on June 9, 2016, 6:14 pm

      olive52 :: My family in France suffered far less under the German occupation than the Palestinians have under the so-called ‘most moral army in the world’.

    • Marnie on June 10, 2016, 3:10 am

      olive52 – maybe it would be best if you wouldn’t assume you actually know who you are addressing.

  6. jon s on June 10, 2016, 5:50 am

    …”, Saffuri no longer existed; Saffuri was now “Zippori,” a Hebrew pseudonym ”

    The writer is apparently unaware of the history of Zippori, which had a Jewish population during the 2nd Temple period and later, and played a significant role in Jewish history. The name “Saffuri” was probably derived from the original Hebrew “Zippori” and not the other way around.
    see here:

    and here:

    The Roman -period mosaics, including the zodiac-themed synagogue mosaic , dated from the 5th century are highly recommended for anyone visiting the Gallilee.

  7. smithgp on June 10, 2016, 11:09 pm

    I agree with Jon S that the name Zippori (Tzippori) probably pre-dated Saffuriya (Saffuri, Saffuriyya, etc.), but it’s likely that the Hellenistic name Sepphoris came between them. Tzippori is often taken to mean little bird, but it could also mean the Biblical Tzipporah (Safurah in Arabic). Whatever the derivation, the decision of the JNF Naming Committee (or some equivalent Zionist authority) to name the moshav built on Saffuriya’s land “Tzippori” was undoubtedly intended to erase the linguistic evidence of many centuries of Arab culture in the Galilee, thus complementing the IDF’s previous physical erasure of the Palestinian town.

    • Shmuel on June 11, 2016, 4:35 am

      Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948 (Berkeley, 2000), pp. 204-217:

      About 200 souls, among them the families of several of the village notables, returned to their homes immediately following the conquest and were counted as local residents in the first Israeli census, conducted in November 1948. Safuriyya’s population doubled in the course of 1949, as former inhabitants who had been living in nearby villages returned home. The Israeli authorities worried that this “infiltration” would result in all the houses in the village being occupied once again, making it impossible to house Jewish immigrants there or to confiscate the land. The authorities thus decided to evict all the remaining residents of the village, and, on 7 January 1949 everyone in Safuriyya was loaded onto trucks and expelled to surrounding villages, literally bordering their own fields. In November 1951 the High Court of Justice rejected the villagers’ petition to return home—having accepted the Defense Ministry’s position that Safuriyya was located in “a closed military area.” At the time a moshav already existed there (established in 1949), populated by eighty-five immigrant families, who had come from Rumania and Bulgaria.

      The Zippori immigrant moshav was built right beside the houses of the destroyed village, “and stones from the demolished houses are piled in heaps. Walls are on the verge of collapse and the dust of generations and pulverized manure rises in the air. Among the ruins of the abandoned houses, small, shapeless cinder-block structures were put up, as usual with no conveniences [bathrooms].” Later a large forest was planted on the remains of the Arab houses, to adorn the tourist site of ancient Sepphoris, with its magnificent mosaic floors.

      The dense pomegranate orchards that had been the pride of Arab Safuriyya were an annoyance. “Pomegranates from the ancient trees are not fit for marketing,” writes Shmuel Dayan, one of the founders of the Moshav Nahalal, a leader of the Moshav Movement, and father of Moshe Dayan. “We shall have to lay out tens of thousands of pounds [old Israeli currency] to uproot them. The residents expect the trees to be uprooted, and will afterwards use the land for growing cattle fodder.” To Dayan, the only tried-and-true method of agriculture was that of the classic moshav, and the glorious pomegranate trees interfered with the production of fodder. Before long it became clear that agricultural planning based entirely on dairy cattle and chickens was wasteful. Large surpluses of produce (eggs, milk and dairy products, certain fruits and vegetables) occurred; the agricultural settlements needed to be heavily subsidized, and when subsidies were cut, the immigrant moshavim were thrown into a state of crisis. But the olive and pomegranate trees of the “primitive” Arab village were no more.

      The push to eradicate the Arab landscape, houses and orchards and all, led to the demolition of most abandoned villages, “which weren’t suitable for a Jewish settlement.” Hence the vision of Levi Eshkol, that hour of grace at twilight in the abandoned village of Bariyya, was not realized. Settlement of immigrants in the houses of the Arab villages was but a passing episode—a kind of bad dream—and the settlers neglected and wrecked them like some “unloved hand-me-down garment.” The ancient orchards were uprooted to make room for chicken runs and fields of cattle fodder—but primarily to create “clean land.” In this context, Shmuel Dayan tells a story with an allegorical flavor:

      One summer day at dusk, a man and his wife sat on the tiny porch of an ancient stone house in Zippori . . . surrounded by dense thickets of sabra bushes. . . . “It was hard,” said the man. “Every day when I opened my eyes I encountered that detestable sabra. I kept on digging it up, because I couldn’t stand to look at it. And even at night in my bed, when I closed my eyes I saw the sabra falling under my saw and hoe. Every bit of additional land it was cleared from made me feel better—until I saw before my eyes in my dream ‘clean land’ and I fell into a deep sleep.”
      The “detested” Arab sabra gave way to the Jewish “garden, orchard, and greenery”; “houses arranged according to plan. . . . The old ruins of Zippori stand to one side, as a reminder of bygone days.”

      • smithgp on June 11, 2016, 8:18 am

        Excellent, apposite post, Shmuel. I remember well this vivid passage (one of many) in Benvenisti’s book.

        The settler’s hatred of sabra (tzabar in Hebrew; sabr in Arabic) cactus is richly ironic, given that “tzabar” was the Mandate-era name for Jews who were born in Palestine, rather than immigrating from Europe.

        Doubly ironic, since sabra is itself an immigrant from Mexico:

        “Word of the Day: Tzabar David Sarna Galdi, Haaretz, June 21, 2013

        What’s rough and prickly on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside? A tzabar. What is a tzabar? It’s a native-born Israeli. Well, technically, it is Opuntia ficus-indica, or the common cactus.

        Tzabar is the Hebrew term for a cactus. But it’s also slang for someone born in Israel, which was a badge of pride during the early years of the young state when almost all of the Jewish citizens were recent immigrants fleeing pogroms and prejudice in Europe and Middle Eastern countries.

        Jewish folk born in the land of Israel after 2,000 years of diaspora clearly deserved a nickname. “Tzabar” is recorded as having been used by a journalist in the long defunct Doar Hayom newspaper in April 1931. The term was also ingrained in society by Israeli politicians and the kibbutz movement, bent on constructing the image of the “new Jew” – a young, strong, healthy agriculturist in Israel.

        Why a cactus? Good question, especially since the common cactus is actually Mexican. It made its way to Israel long ago, after Spanish conquerors of the Americas brought it to Europe. However, it is quite prevalent in Israel, and more importantly, it is an analogy for the Israeli personality: overtly tough but warm and kind under the surface – a decidedly good comparison.

        “Soft on the inside,” in the case of the cactus, actually refers to the red-yellow fruit beloved by Israelis called “sabras” in Hebrew, which have a unique flavor but require a certain talent to peel without getting stabbed, if picked straight from the cactus.

        So, once you’ve tasted a sabra and had to deal with an argumentative Israeli, you’ve officially been immersed in a real native Israeli experience! (Or Mexican.)”

        Triply ironic, since the sabra’s determination to come back after being cut back, which the Eastern European settler so despised, is a symbol of Palestinian awda (return), as in this handala cartoon:

      • Shmuel on June 11, 2016, 9:10 am

        Thanks, George. Before the days of slickly-marketed, spineless sabras (brand name: “Lady Sabra”), Palestinian villagers would sell the fruit — peeled on the spot with deft movements of calloused hands — on Israeli street-corners. Hiking around the country as a kid, I had just assumed they grew wild, until I was told that their presence was a pretty good indication of pre-’48 Palestinian habitation. That realisation had a profound effect on my conscience and political consciousness.

      • Mooser on June 11, 2016, 10:53 am

        Thanks, “Shmuel”.

        Maybe “Jon s” should correct his profile, change the word in front of ‘history teacher” to “Zionist”.

      • annie on June 14, 2016, 12:35 pm

        george and shmuel, there is a really excellent article by Hatim Kanaaneh called “Thorny Issues”

        perhaps you are to young for all of this and were spared the rough and tumble of Palestinian village life of the old days. One of the most abundant summer fruits in Palestine was the prickly pear adorning the cactus hedges surrounding so many garden plots in the village. We could visually ascertain the ripeness and luscious sweetness of the fruit by the shade of its color. By mid July the first fruits loose their bright yellow crown of petals and their crinkly dull green skin assumes a shiny brightness whose lemony sweetness we children could taste visually. Slowly a yellowish tinge creeps into the skin to be gradually replaced by the promise of syrupy red sweetness. By September we start fighting for the fruits on the highest fronds that had escaped our casual daily raids. All through we acted on the assumption that the roadside of a cactus hedge was common village property and we helped ourselves to it at will.

        As I tell you this, I am ashamed to admit to drooling. But there was a painful side to all of this that I intended to discuss when I started this discourse: The delicacy we so enjoyed gratis every morning of our summer vacation involved a thorny issue. The reason this form of cactus is used as a protective border around home vegetable gardens and land plots is that it is fast growing and has nail-solid needle-sharp thorns. What is worse is that the fruit is covered with clumps of fine hair like thorns with a propensity to sail on the slightest breeze and nestle in your hair, skin and clothes. That is why the right time for raiding cactus hedges for our daily delicacy was at sunrise while the fruit was still drenched with dew and its thorns too wet to ride the breeze. Some of us with thick enough skin would reach and pick our breakfast fruit using our bare hands. Others handled those thorny fist-size ice cream cones using double or triple-ply sheets of newspaper. What remained to be done was to clean the many clumps of thorns from the fruit’s surface before proceeding to peel the skin off and to enjoy the unmitigated bless of their flavored candy sweetness. And that, dear Rina and Hassan, is the point I have been trying to reach in my attempt to find an analogy to Israel’s Supreme Court decision to permit the ‘legal seizure’ (read: ‘the theft’ or in my cactus analogy ‘the swallowing’) of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

        Here is how we managed to render the thorny fruit harmlessly edible: We put the pile of thorny fruit we picked, say one, two, three or four dozens, depending on how hungry we were which depended on whether we had had any food the night before or not, we put it on the ground, preferably in a freshly plowed field with loose soil. Then we collected some tall grass and clumped it together to form a broom-like bundle and proceeded to roll the thorny things on the ground this way and that way in all possible directions and at every possible angle, the longer the process the cleaner the outcome. That was when we could dig in, peel and swallow our fill of the candied summer delight.

        and there’s more — for the “bitch of all accidents in the cactus picking process” — i highly recommend >>>

  8. smithgp on June 14, 2016, 7:24 pm

    Thanks for reminder, Annie. I read Hatim Kanaaneh’s article at the time (I read all of his articles), but had forgotten it. Great picture of a glorious sabr.

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