In Ajami and Mas’ha, evidence of the continuing Nakba

MondoWeiss | by Alex Kane on January 6, 2011

Sami Abushhadeh discusses Jaffa. (Video: Alex Kane)

Ramallah, West Bank–The Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba of 1948, never really ended. What has happened since then, as Yehouda Shenhav, an Israeli sociologist and the author of Bounded by the Green Line, puts it, is a “continuation of the [1948] war by other means.” There are continuous effort by Israel to displace Palestinians of their land all over the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Two such efforts are evident in recently hearing the stories of Hani Amer, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Mas’ha, and of the Palestinians living in Ajami, a neighborhood in Jaffa.

Amer sits down in his living room, talking with passion and at times smiling, despite his home being surrounded by the illegal separation barrier and Jewish-only settlements. For seven years, Amer and his family have been struggling against the barrier, which restricts their freedom of movement and ability to farm their surrounding land. As he explains, “until now, we’re being displaced”–a microcosm of Israeli efforts to confiscate Palestinian land and to push Palestinians out. “The situation we’re living in is horrible,” Amer says.

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Hani Amer stands in the doorway of his home, which is completely surrounded by the separation barrier and illegal settlements. (Photo: Alex Kane)

But Amer’s story of displacement did not begin in 2003. Instead, it began in 1948, the year that Israel declared its independence in the midst of an ethnic cleansing campaign that expelled about 750,000 Palestinians. Amer is a refugee from Kafr Qassem, a Palestinian city east of Tel Aviv. If he had the chance, he says, he would return.

Amer is responsible for collecting water from his well. When he wants to go to the well, he has to make sure the Israeli army gate that leads to his land is open.

Amer tells of how he can only access his land at specific times in the day, and of the Israeli occupation’s harassment. For instance, at times Amer is forced to wait for what can be up to seven hours until the Israeli army lets him access his land.

“We are simple people facing a big entity,” he says. “The reason why we keep doing this is because we want to sustain our land.”

What Amer is up against is an individual family’s example of what the barrier and settlements are doing to Palestinians across the West Bank. In the village of al-Walajah, for example, the wall has surrounded “most of the village, with the side of the wall facing the Har Gilo settlement covered by Jerusalem stone and the side facing al-Walajah being exposed concrete,” according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

The same story of displacement—albeit a different chapter—is unfolding in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ajami, as depicted in the movie of the same name. There, the combination of gentrification and discrimination against Palestinians has led to a deteriorating situation, according to Sami Abushhadeh, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University who is writing a thesis on Jaffa as a center of Arab culture during Mandate Palestine.

After the 1948 war, Ajami became a Palestinian ghetto when Israeli forces “surrounded [the Palestinians there] by a barbed wire fence for a number of months,” according to the Israeli organization Zochrot. But currently, real estate developers looking to make Ajami into a hot-spot for Jewish families are displacing some of the residents and threatening others with eviction.

Isabelle Humphries, writing in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, explains:

Walking around Jaffa, our local Palestinian guide pointed out new exclusive building developments built upon the sites of recently demolished homes and buildings. Eviction orders are issued by Amidar, the housing company owned and operated by the Israeli government. Amidar claims to offer subsidized and rent-controlled housing in Israel, but the fact that its major stockholders are the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund—two institutions openly mandated to support the Jewish population only—shows that it is not simply financial gain that authorities are pursuing. Indeed, since 1948 Palestinian representatives have been excluded from all stages of the urban planning process. Ben-Gurion’s vow that “Jaffa will be a Jewish city” remains the guiding principle.

As the cases of Mas’ha and Ajami show, Ben-Gurion’s vision of an ethnically exclusive state for Jews only remains the vision for the Israeli government today.

Alex Kane is a blogger and journalist based in New York City.  He blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the U.S. at alexbkane.wordpress.com, where this post originally appeared.  Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

In Ajami and Mas’ha, evidence of the continuing Nakba.

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