During the War of Independence in 1948, some 500 Palestinian villages in the young State of Israel were destroyed. Many residents fled their homes out of fear of the Israel Defense Forces and other Jewish elements active in the area; others were actively expelled from their villages. Today, only a few of these destroyed villages are publicly mentioned in connection with their original locations.
New communities have been built on some sites; the ruins of others have been covered over by parks and nature reserves.
The Zochrot (Remembering) organization, which supports promoting the Palestinians' right of return to the destroyed communities, has for several years been trying to heighten awareness of this issue, and last week celebrated a breakthrough: Senior Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth L'Israel (JNF) officials notified the organization that in parks
hat have a sign explaining the history of the area, the Palestinian villages that were once located there would also be mentioned.
Thus some 31 villages whose ruins are now located within the confines of parks where there are signs, will be saved from the brink of oblivion. Among the villages to be mentioned: Amuka, in the Biriya Forest; Reihaniyeh in the Ramat Menashe Park; Jimzu in the Ben Shemen Forest; Saraa in the Tzora Forest; and Ajur in Park Britain. They will be added to 12 other villages that are already mentioned on JNF signs.
Zochrot staff describe the JNF decision as "a revolutionary and interesting change." The organization's director, Eitan Bronstein, told Haaretz: "I think that today there is more openness to the subject and it is starting to be less threatening. The sky will not fall if we tell people that we kicked out Arabs and destroyed villages."
Most of the villages in question were destroyed during the War of Independence, when military forces blew up homes while occasionally leaving mosques, churches and cemeteries standing. In other cases, the houses were transferred to the state's possession. On some of the sites new communities were built, others were integrated into projects involving nature preservation, and some were destroyed many years after the war in 1948.
Zochrot relates that JNF parks contain the ruins of 86 villages. In the past, the organization petitioned the High Court of Justice against JNF and the Civil Administration, demanding public mention of the fact that in Park Canada near Latrun most of which lies within the West Bank the ruins of the villages of Yalu and Emmaus, destroyed in 1967 after the Six-Day War, can be found. In the wake of the petition, the JNF agreed in 2005 to post two signs indicating the location of the villages.
However, two weeks later one of the signs was pulled out and the other was sprayed with graffiti and later pulled out as well.
The JNF's latest move is not related to the earlier petition. According to the agreement between the two organizations, Zochrot will transfer to the JNF the data it has on all the destroyed villages in the country, for the review of its rangers. It was also agreed that the organization would transfer to the JNF the proposed wording for the texts to be printed on the new signs.
The JNF did not confirm the agreement, but did state that there had been a meeting last week on the subject.
It is expected that implementation of the decision will take a long time, in view of the usual pace of sign postings, alterations and replacements in the various parks.