Objection to Yahud building plan
By: Zochrot
05/2006

Tens of Palestinian homes are slated for demolition in the proposed building plan for Yehud, once al-Yahudiyya (al-Abbasiyya). The plan will destroy almost all the remaining structures of al-Yahudiyya, including most of the mosque (the mosque tower itself will be preserved). Zochrot has submitted a formal objection to the building plan.


21 June 2006

Submitted to:

1. The Regional Building and Planning Committee – Central Region
91 Herzl St.
Ramleh

2. The Local Building and Planning Committee of Yehud – Neve Efraim
Municipality of Yehud
6 Marvad Haksamim St.
Yehud

Objection to Local Master Plan No. YD/2009/3

Introduction

1. Zochrot (Israeli registered non-profit no. 580389526) hereby submits an objection to local master plan no. YD/2009/3. This plan is part of a larger plan which purpose is to destroy the old center of Yehud, which until 1948 was the Palestinian village of al-Abbasiyya, and to construct residential and commercial structures in its place. (In the past the village was named al-Yahudiyya and in 1932 its residents changed its name to al-Abbasiyya).

2. Zochrot was founded in February 2002 with the purpose of promoting recognition of the Nakba by the state, its residents and institutions. The Nakba is the tragedy that befell the Palestinian people in 1948, when most of their villages and cities were destroyed. Zochrot's activities are based on the belief that the destruction of some 530 Palestinian villages and communities and their erasure from the landscape of the country is part of the past of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people, and not only of the Palestinian people. We at Zochrot feel that a new approach, dignified and respectful of this tragedy, is a necessary stepping-stone on the path to resolving the conflict between the two peoples and achieving reconciliation between them.

3. Zochrot's primary activities involve documenting and commemorating the sites of Palestinians villages and cities destroyed in 1948. These sites do not enjoy the protection of relevant bodies, for example the protection accorded to natural sites by the Israeli Society for the Protection of Nature or the protection accorded to ancient historical sites by the Antiquities Authority. Therefore, Zochrot views itself as directly involved with and connected to the changes that are taking place or are likely to take place with respect to the villages destroyed in 1948, or which were repopulated by Jews, such as in the case of al-Abbasiyya and Yehud.

4. This objection is supported by an affidavit by the Director of Zochrot, Mr. Eitan Bronstein, which is attached hereto.

Principal Objection

5. Zochrot objects in whole and in principle to the abovementioned master plan for the reasons detailed below.

6. This objection is not related to any particular planning detail in the proposed plan, but rather to the basic position that is expressed by the plan toward the landscape and its development.

7. This local master plan is part of a larger plan, possibly unprecedented in the country, to alter the entire old center of Yehud by destroying existing structures, evacuating residents, and carrying out new construction.

8. This large plan has earned the title 'the Lugano Plan,' named after the Swiss city, since a similar design is projected for the center of Yehud.

9. This plan continues the systematic destruction and disregard for Palestinian remains in the country in which we live. It illustrates the attitude of the state of toward the existing architecture and history of the country.

10. According to this logic, any remaining entity from the Palestinian past of the country is subject to the following possible fates: "Judaicization"; neglect and deterioration; deliberate destruction; or repopulation and use by Jews. An alternative option, to accord recognition of the Palestinian past, is most remote. (A rare example of architectural preservation that honors Palestinian memory can be found in Beer Sheva in what was once the home of the historian and leader Aref al-Aref).

a. A conspicuous example of "Judaicization of the landscape," a term coined by Oren Yiftachel, is evident is the conversion of the mosque in Yehud into a Jewish synagogue.

b. In Yehud there are a number of instances of neglect of Arab houses, which stand abandoned and deteriorating. Until now no serious attempt has been made to maintain and restored the tens, perhaps hundreds, of Arab houses in Yehud, despite their architectural and aesthetic value. A rare example of preservation is the store at the corner of Saadia Hatucha and Vinhuys Streets.

c. The local master plan under discussion stands to carry out deliberate destruction of Palestinian structures. If the plan is carried out almost no trace of the Arab past of Yehud will remain. Until 1948 about 6,500 people lived in the town of al-Abbasiyya. The planned destruction will also erase the urban quality of al-Abbasiyya, on the system of streets and alleyways that exist until today.

d. The entire center of Yehud is an example of the repopulation by Jews of a community that was Palestinian until 1948, similar to Safed, Haifa , Ayn Karem and others.

11. Disregard for the Palestinian life that existed in al-Abbasiyya is an expression of condescension and contempt for the residents of the country, foremost toward the Palestinian refugees. Many of the refugees of al-Abbasiyya live today in the Jalazoun refugee camp, a few tens of kilometers from the homes they lost. The refugees are not able even to visit their houses, much less return to them, an option (still) absent from the Israeli public agenda. To them, the destruction of al-Abbasiyya will provide yet further proof that the Jews in the country have no interest in reconciling with them. Following their expulsion and life under occupation, the object of their longing now stands to be completely erased.

12. The destruction of al-Abbasiyya also sends a message to the Palestinian citizens of the state that their history and geography is not sufficiently important to us to be worthy of our guardianship. This plan demonstrates that the history of Palestinians in the country is under the constant threat of demolition.

13. The destruction of al-Abbasiyya also sends a clear message to Jews in the country and around the world that there is only one legitimate history of the land, and that its Arab history is fated for extinction. This violent erasure prohibits alternative ways for Jews to perceive and relate to the land.

14. UNESCO adopted its World Cultural Heritage convention in 1972, and 182 countries since then have joined the convention, including in 1999. This convention states that:

"The wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace, are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfill...

Culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs. In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities... Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace...

The defense of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples... Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration."

Among others, the convention defines what is cultural and natural heritage thus: "groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science."

15. The Arab buildings in Yehud indeed accord with the above definition. Yehud is one of the riches sites of Arab buildings in the country, some of them particularly impressive.

16. In Israel there is deep and justified concern regarding any destruction of the remains of Jewish life in the world. What message are we sending to the world when we destroy so many buildings that belong to the Palestinian heritage of the country? Might the expected demolition of al-Abbasiyya strengthen trends of destruction of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues around the world? How can we morally stand up to the destruction of sites around the world that are dear to Jews?

17. In recent years there has been growing international sensitivity and protest when structures having historical significance are damaged. The bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara, Iraq; the destruction of the mosque by Hindus in Ayodhya in India; and the destruction of the Mostar bridge in Bosnia are only a few famous examples of this. These traumatic events showed the symbolic power of these sites in representing and solidifying identities. Their destruction was perceived as an attempt to erase the communities rooted in the landscape in which the destruction took place.

18. Israel has been destroying Palestinian sites and settlements since its founding. Meron Benvenisti writes: "Israeli historians, geographers and archeologists did not find it difficult to purify the landscape and remove the former residents of the country because the British bequeathed them this idea: The definition of 'antiquities' is 'any structure or product of human beings predating 1700 A.D." The ongoing human activities of indigenous people for three centuries following 1700 was not considered important enough for research, preservation, or protection, since it was seen as too recent or primitive, and in the eyes of Zionists also as superfluous 'background noise' that disturbed their national narrative. The Israeli Antiquities Law that replaced the Mandatory law defined antiquities as objects that were made by humans before 1700, including anything appended to them as integral parts. In addition to this it was determined that items produced after 1700 could be considered antiquities if they had historical value and the Ministry of Education declared them as such. Only two structures met this definition according to the Ministry of Education: The Bilu house in old Jaffa, which was the first home of members of the Zionist Bilu movement in the country in 1882, and the first Hebrew school, the Herzliya Gymnasium. No Palestinian structure has ever been defined as having historical value. Moreover, beyond this law, many historical structures that are part of the Zionist story are preserved and exalted in the country.

19. Can Israel change its course after 58 years? Zochrot suggests turning the Palestinian remains that survived the Nakba of 1948 into sites of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, by preserving them and by commemorating their Arab history. Furthermore, these sites may be relevant to the discussion of the return of Palestinian refugees in the future.

20. Erasure will not prevent the discussion and the need for a solution to the refugee problem, which is at the heart of the conflict. It will only exacerbate it and make the positions of the Palestinians more extreme.

21. The destruction of the remains of al-Abbasiyya must also concern Jews living in the country who are interested in understanding their past. The past of Jews in Israel is entailed in the conquest of the land that began in 1948 and the prevention of the return of most of the residents to their homes. The remains of al-Abbasiyya are a testimony to this past and as such represent the violent source of the conflict in which we live. We can now chose between the option of continued destruction versus a position of respect toward the past and toward the Palestinian people who were defeated and expelled from here. Such a respectful position can be used as a cornerstone for the beginning of a process of reconciliation.

22. The destruction of the remains of al-Abbasiyya in Yehud for the purpose of constructing in their place an urban center akin to the Swiss city of Lugano may sound hallucinatory, but it is not new to the Zionist project. The desire to implant "cultured" Europe into the "barbaric" Middle East appears already in Herzl's "State of the Jews": "We should there form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism." And Max Nordau stated at the 5th Zionist Congress in 1901: "The Jews' return to the land of their forefathers must not be a reversion to barbarism. The special character of the Jewish people will develop in the general framework of Western culture, like every other cultured nation, but not outside it, not in wild, culture-hating Asianness."

23. In the well-known film by Ephraim Kishon, "Blaumilch Canal," a canal is dug on Allenby St. in Tel Aviv that turns the city into the "Venice of the Middle East." This is a brilliant satirical text that ridicules, among others, our desire to be something else, not from here, not belonging to the space in which we live. If Yehud will turn into Lugano this satire will likely become the sad reality of our lives.

24. The city of Lugano lies on the banks of Lake Lugano at the mouth of the Cassarate river, between the mountains of San Salvatore (925 m.) and Bre (912 m.) The city has a distinctly Italian flavor. Its suitability as a city in Israel is quite dubious. At the very least, we can learn from it how to preserve sites from the middle ages such as the churches that have existed in the city for hundreds of years.

25. In summary, the Arab sites in the country are places of heritage. A transition from conflict to acceptance between Israelis and Palestinians can begin in these places. Zochrot suggests that instead of squandering this opportunity in Yehud as well, that al-Abbasiyya become a site of reconciliation, a place in the landscape where we can relate to the people who lived there in at attempt to reconcile with them and thus to slow the wheels of mutual hatred and vengeance that have been turning since 1948.

Eitan Bronstein, Director

Zochrot 

Zochrot online