Issue No.
187, November 2013 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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The village of Lubya, close to Tiberias.
Amqa and Kowkat.
The village of Hittin, close to Tiberias.
Amqa and Kowkat.

The Forgotten Story
By Teres Kosterman-Zbidat
A couple of years ago my husband developed a passion for searching for the remains of Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948. Packed with his knowledge and stubborn determination he goes by both car and foot on search through the landscape of what is today called Israel.

Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948 have always been an important presence in our lives. For years, one of our main family trips was going on Nakba Day to the site of a destroyed village, each year a different one, to commemorate what happened during the Nakba. These days are always a combination of protest, celebration, and defiance - for both the old and the young. Families who originate from these villages tell their stories; stories that break your heart but also give you hope - that we will never forget our history.
During the war of 1948 and its aftermath, the Israeli army depopulated and destroyed about 500 villages. During the 65 years of Israel’s existence, the state went to great lengths to attempt to erase the physical evidence that these villages ever existed. One of its tactics was to plant pine-tree forests on Palestinian lands and remains, since they grow fast and are thus great cover-up material.

At first glance there are not a lot of traces to be found of these villages. But with a little knowledge on what the Israeli landscape has to hide, evidence of the existence of these villages is easy to find. For example, if you see big hedges of cactus trees you can be sure that a Palestinian community once lived there, since cactus hedges were used by Palestinians as a dividing line between their houses and their lands. Fig trees are also a sign, since Palestinian families used to plant them close to their houses. Guided by this knowledge, my husband tries to find where these villages were once located. I have gone with him on many of his quests, and walking into these places has led us into beautiful, bizarre, and often sad situations.

Amqa
One trip that I remember well was to the destroyed village of Amqa in the district of Akka. Amqa was a relatively large village with about 1,500 Muslim and Druze inhabitants. Zionist forces occupied the village on July 10, 1948, and the inhabitants were expelled. Many of them became Internally Displaced People, living within the borders of the newly established state but unable to return to their ancestral land now confiscated by the state. In Israel these Internally Displaced People are usually referred to as Present Absentees, physically present in the state but legally considered absent from their property, thus losing their claim to the land.

On this trip to Amqa we took my brother-in-law, Kasem, who was born in the village and who was expelled with his family during the war when he was three years old. They now live as “Present Absentees” in Abu-Snan, a village about ten minutes away from Amqa. His family used to own a lot of land in the village, but it has all been confiscated by the Israeli state. Kasem never went back to look for Amqa.

Finding the location of Amqa was difficult, as it is hidden in the middle of Amqa Kibbutz, which was built on the land of Palestinian Amqa. Walking into the kibbutz gave us a very strange feeling. All around us were houses with red-tiled rooftops belonging to a Yemeni Jewish community. Among these houses, we saw buildings dating to the pre-1948 period, recognisable by their big white stones, nowadays used as storage areas. We also found two big pre-1948 water cisterns that were still in use.

Although most of the houses in Amqa were destroyed, my husband knew that the village mosque was still supposed to exist. It took us some time to find it since it was located off the road. It was a beautiful building, completely neglected and covered with bushes. Next to the mosque we found a big pile of white stones that once used to be part of a house. Suddenly my brother in law became very emotional. His parents had told him that their house used to be located next to the village mosque. These stones were the remains from the house he was born in, in 1945.

What surprised me most of all was how no one from the kibbutz ever seemed to wonder about who this mosque belonged to, or what had happened to the people who built it. How can they live among these remains and apparently ignore the history contained within them?

Passion turned into a mission
We took many trips that were similar to the one to Amqa. They made me realise that even though the state is trying to change or deny history, the ghosts from the past cannot and will not disappear. If on Nakba Day people commemorate the Nakba on the lands of the various villages that are known to us and whose localities we are familiar with, it is just as important to actively go looking for this information. This is why both my husband and I feel that this quest is more than just a hobby. It has become our mission to find as much information as possible about these villages. Our years of experience visiting these places with guests have shown us that the stories about the destroyed villages are not well known. However, one cannot understand the recent history of Palestine and the Palestinians without learning about the events that took place in 1948. The remnants and ruins are everywhere, if you know where to look. These mosques, cemeteries, churches, ruins, and cactus hedges remain the silent witnesses of 1948 and what happened to the native Palestinian inhabitants of these villages, and it is our responsibility to enable these silent witnesses to speak. It is time to deal with the fact that the occupation started in 1948 and not in 1967, as the international community would like us to believe.

Terese Kosterman-Zbidat is the co-founder of Galilee Today Alternative Tours. She is married to a Palestinian and has been living in the Galilee town of Sakhnin for the last 20 years. She has been active in Palestine, mainly working with local and international NGOs, and has written many articles for various Dutch media outlets.


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