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Towards a Common Archive – Video Testimonies of Zionist Fighters in 1948

By Ana Thorne - November 24, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Nakba]

Tel Aviv – “Towards a Common Archive” is a media exhibition in collaboration with the Israeli NGO Zochrot and the ongoing research project “A Common Archive, 1948 Palestine” by filmmaker Eyal Sivan and history professor Illan Pappe. The exhibition is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project consists of 100 filmed testimonies of Jewish Israeli soldiers and commanders (both men and women) who have all taken part in the expulsion of the Palestinian people and their villages. It goes back to the preparation of the “village files” which took place in the 1930s and up to 1947-1948.

The interviewed people were asked about their personal background, from their place of birth to their place of emigration and whether they came from a Zionist background, in addition to their educational background, ideological upbringing, their preparation in the military and what their sources of information were.

Questions referring to daily life in Palestine before the Nakba and whether they have had relationships with the Arab Palestinian population were also in focus.

According to Eyal Sivan’s webpage, the aspect of eye witnesses in connection to the war crimes have been essential in the investigation.

“…whether they witnessed massacres, looting and so on. They [the former soldiers] would be asked about their specific involvement in the Nakba, the impacts of their acts and the types and level of orders in place for expulsion and destruction.”

A unique insight

Normally it is the victims that are given the time to speak, but in this exhibition the attempt is to document the other side of the story and thereby give the perpetrators a chance to tell the stories from their perspective.

Some soldiers became rich overnight, rich due to looting and theft of Palestinian property

Amaya Galili works for Zochrot and relayed that the uniqueness in this exhibition lies in the attempt to connect the testimonies of Jewish Israeli soldiers and commanders with the testimonies of the Palestinian victims who experienced the Nakba.

This has not been done before, and the interesting element here is that there is no essential difference between the testimonies of the perpetrators and that of the victims, thereby putting to rest claims that certain events did not take place. The testimonies prove that both the Jews and the Palestinians articulate the same happenings, although from different perspectives.

At the opening ceremony of the exhibition that took place October 2nd Illan Pappe expressed that the Nakba denial mostly stems from the fact that it has been difficult to “obtain confirmation of the truth from those who carried it out.”

Some of the perpetrators have now spoken of this for the first time, Pappe continued, partly because they had reached the end of their lives and also due to them not feeling a very strong connection to their country any more.

The testimony of Binyamin Eshet (born in 1927, filmed in Kibbutz Palmachim July 2012) who is a holocaust survivor and served in the Israeli Palmach Brigades, presents an interesting insight to the perception of how it must have been like for the Palestinians to flee from their homes.

He tells about the caravan of Palestinian refugees fleeing from a-Lydd (Lod) in 1948: “[Palestinians were] walking with kids in their arms, pulling wagons, wagons with horses, this was … Now I didn’t realize this [at that time] – I had been in Europe, in 1946 Europe was a lot like this… I wasn’t aware of the fact that these were people turning into refugees.”

Binyamin Eshet explains in his testimony and continues, “It traumatized me. To see your grandfather and then see all that [the Palestinians fleeing], when you still have memories from the Holocaust.”

Eshet furthermore revealed in his testimony that a mass looting and burglaries of Palestinians houses took place in Lod before the army committed massacres against the Palestinians and forced the rest to escape.

“Some soldiers became rich overnight, rich due to looting and theft of Palestinian property,” he said.

Later in the testimony Eyal Sivan asks why Lod was such a traumatic event for Eshet, to which he replies: “[…] it was the first time we fought in daytime. […] at night, whether you shot or didn’t, whether you killed or didn’t, you’re not really sure. In Lod, you saw what you were doing. For the first time, in Operation Dani, this was the first time we went out [in daytime]. I think this was also our only daytime action, actually…”

The question of whether any of the combatants express remorse became quickly apparent after hearing some of the testimonies. An interesting example is the testimony of Mordechai Bar On who talked about the order he received to prevent refugees from returning back to their localities. He says that he would still carry out that order today.

Amaya Galili explains that another testimony taken from Yerach Kahanovitz, who was the one who fired the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank weapon) into the mosque in Lod. In his testimony he says that it is 98% certain that there are things you do that you are not proud of because you have no choice, and there are things that you may be forced to do again and it is not worth revealing how you did them.

Evayl Sivan explained at the opening ceremony that the exhibition is an urgent project that must be carried out now, because the witnesses are getting old and unfortunately will soon all die.

The exhibition

At the exhibition, two monitors that showing Israeli cinematic representations of the Nakba are presented to the visitors. They illustrate denial by expressing the difficulty of showing the land different from the Zionist narrative, which depicted it as an empty desert devoid of Palestinians.

Another video monitor shows testimonies, called “hearsay testimonies”, by members of the second and third generation (including children of combatants) who heard the stories about the Nakba from the first generation.

In the main room of the exhibition three monitors present testimonies from Israeli soldiers who all served in the years leading up to the Nakba. Last but not least the website (still in progress) is projected up on a white wall.

The outcome of the exhibition and the research project will be an online platform including the testimonies of the Israeli Jewish fighters with Arabic and English subtitles. Furthermore a transcription in three languages will be available. Links to the testimonies of the Palestinian refugees who talked about the same events will connect the testimonies together and these will be translated into Hebrew and English.

On a broader perspective this platform aims at hopefully bringing more insight to the importance of the approval of the right of return law. To recognize the Nakba also requires the recognition of the “right to return”. This right to return for the Palestinians will be in line with the fact that all Jews in the world today have the “right to return” to Israel.

Galili explains that it might be the case that not every Palestinian refugee will actually come back to land they were forced from, but she underlines that this decision is ultimately up to each refugee.

Facilitated by Zochrot, Israelis and Palestinians have recently begun to plan and imagine what the return of Palestinian refugees actually would entail.

“Little by little, very hesitantly, but also enthusiastically and creatively, to develop new ideas which have the potential to alter the discourse about the conflict. These ideas are based on recognizing both the right of return and the fact that the reality has changed unrecognizably since the Jewish state was established.”

Galili reveals that the biggest question comes down to how to build a place where both people can live in peace. The challenge is to imagine a return that creates a new reality, without uprooting people from their homes.

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