In November 2014, a group of Canadians spent a day with journalist Jonathan Cook, exploring the Galilee. Our objective was to study history – specifically to learn about the process by which Jewish militias had taken over one of the richest agricultural areas of Palestine. You can follow along with our 25 minute documentary.
Beginning in the 1930s, under the “British Mandate”, Jewish immigrants began flocking into Palestine. They purchased land from local landlords in the Galilee, and then expelled local Palestinian farming families (reminiscent of the British Enclosure Movement). The process culminated in the final expulsions of 1948 in which land that had not been purchased was simply confiscated and the Palestinians driven out.
With Jonathan Cook, a British journalist and Israeli citizen as our guide, a group of Canadians went looking for some traces of Palestinian life before 1948, now hidden in plain view under popular Israeli tourist spots. During one day, we visited many different sites.
Kibbutz Nir David
Our first stop was at Nir David, today a luxury kibbutz along a lovely river in the Beit She’an valley. But next to it is a museum that looks like a fort from out of the Wild West. In fact, that is exactly what it was. Nir David, one of the first kibbutz established in the Galilee was built like a military fort to protect kibbutzim from attacks by “Arabs”. It is now an open air museum to which tourists are invited. But hold on – according to the tourist brochure, the land around Nir David was purchased from local landowners. So why, then were the Arabs attacking it?
Next, we made our way to Belvoir Fortress, perched on a cliff high over the Jordan Valley. Belvoir was once a fort used by the Crusaders to defend themselves against the invading Muslims. After the Crusaders were expelled in 1263, the fort lost its military significance and for the next seven centuries the buildings became the centre of a small Arab town, Kawbab al-Hawa.
However, Israeli troops expelled the inhabitants in 1948, and retook the location. All the Arab buildings were destroyed in 1967, leaving only the traces of the Crusader period for the tourists to admire. Commenting on the renovation of the Crusader remains, Meron Benvenisti notes “there is no better example of the eradication of an entire civilization from the landscape.” (Sacred Landscapes, pg. 303)
From the fortress, we descended to Kibbutz Ginosar, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Ginosar is now a prime tourist destination. It features an upscale restaurant, trendy cottages for rent and a small museum with a 2,000 year old fishing boat. Excited Christian tourists take excursions on the Sea of Galilee, and dozens of tour busses arrive every day. There is little evidence of the fact that Kibbutz Ginosar is located on top of the now vanished remains of several Palestinian fishing villages.
Meanwhile, inside the main building, descriptive panels in Hebrew only show Israeli visitors how Jewish forces expelled the local Palestinians in 1948.
Our last stop of the day is at Hittin, just west of the sea of Galilee. While the village of Hittin has been completely destroyed, we can visit the remnants of one of the most famous mosques in historic Palestine – Saladin’s Mosque built in 1187. The 900 year old structure is a national Palestinian historic monument. If this were in any other country in the world, this mosque would be a well preserved historic site. As it is, Israel has declared the area a “closed military area” and forbids visiting the mosque.
In his seminal book, “Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine“, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe claimed that after 3/4 of a million Palestinians were expelled from historic Palestine, Israel destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages. Many of Israel’s defenders in Canada deny that this ever happened. But the evidence of the ethnic cleansing is on the ground for anyone who is interested in finding out the truth.