Participants: Ami Asher, Danielle Schwartz, Tamar Fleishman, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio. Moderating and reporting: Debbie Farber
Some 20 people in the audince.
My connection with the testimonies project began with a short translation. It grabbed me and I continued until I’d translated all the testimonies into English. At some point I decided I wanted to interview a Palmach fighter and told everyone I knew that I was looking for someone to interview. I found Uri Pinkerfeld and spoke with him for a long time. Raneen Jeries edited 6 ½ minutes long from it.
In the video, Uri talks about capturing Palestinian villages. They fired on the villages and their inhabitants fled. He says it’s important to remember what happened in 1948, but he wouldn’t leave the kibbutz so that the residents of the village of khayma, on whose lands Revadim was established, can return.
I’ve been talking to my grandfather and grandmother about the Nakba for a long time. There’s a mirror in their home that was taken in 1948 from a house in the Arab village of Zarnuqa. I don’t know whether my grandfather’s father took it, or if he bought it. I was a member of a Zochrot study group; that impelled me to investigate the story of the mirror. My grandparents met in the Palmach and have been together ever since. They lived in Bir’im, in houses that had belonged to Palestinians, and have photos of themselves there. I participated in a Zochrot workshop about testimonies led by Eyal Sivan and learned that a testimony isn’t only the account of an historical event, but is also the way the story is told. The feeling, the looks, the nature of the memory, etc. That’s why I decided to visit the exhibit with my grandfather and grandmother, and film a discussion with them after we watched the testimonies. It seems to me that the interviewers in the exhibit’s testimonies are like researchers, maybe even accusers. But I wanted to watch the testimonies together with my grandfather and grandmother, not in opposition to them. That’s what I wanted, but it wasn’t easy. My grandfather didn’t really want to, and tried to avoid the meeting. The video of my discussion with them ended the matter for me, and I don’t know whether I’ll do anything else about it.
In the video we see Rivka and Yossi Schwartz watching the testimonies in Zochrot’s exhibit. Rivka says that the combatants did what they did at the time without thinking about what they were doing. Danielle tells her that Tikva Honig Parnass, one of the witnesses, has dissociated herself מנוכרת לזיכרון from the memory of what happened then. Yossi says that in response to the murder of Jews in Yazur they captured the village. “We were given an order; you obey an order.” Danielle asks, “Doesn’t it drive you crazy?” Yossi replies, “I was one-hundred-percent ok. I don’t dwell on it.” He says that if he thought about that past he’d also have to think about his friends who were killed; that’s why he doesn’t want to dwell on what had been. “My conscience isn’t burdened. It was either us or them.”
I undertook a project in which I filmed video testimonies by second- and third-generation Israelis about what they know of the Nakba second-hand, what they heard from someone close to them. I think the most important witnesses in this exhibit are those who come to see it. From a political perspective, the visitors who become witnesses after watching the combatants’ testimonies are able to do something, to take responsibility. That’s why I was moved by Danielle’s idea of talking to her grandfather and grandmother during the exhibit. The testimonies of the second and third generation are examples of Israelis accepting the responsibility to preserve and document testimonies about the nakba. I intentionally filmed using a cellphone to show that everyone can easily do it; that together we gather information and think about what we learn regarding 1948 and what we will then do with our knowledge. Tamar Fleishman is here today to tell us that there are also difficulties involved in giving video testimony. We’ll watch two testimonies among the six Moran Brier edited for this project: Shlomit Shaked and Stella Kobo, about Israeli Jews taking over homes immediately after the nakba. In addition, Adi Ophir testifies about Deir Yassin; his father, who was a member of the Etzel, for years denied there’d been a massacre. I testified to what I’d heard about the mukhtar of Deir Yassin; Amaya Galilee wrote about her grandfather, Binyamin Shapiro, who was the mukhtar of Kibbutz Amir; Teddy Katz testified about Tantura. When I began the project I tried to remember people who, over the years, had told me something they heard first-hand about the nakba and recalled a short account that Tamar told us, which we published; I thought it was wonderful.
All evening I’ve been thinking that my entire generation, those born here, are in fact the second generation, and all our children are the third generation, and the nakba is also our story. I told a story about my uncle, a story that my family never told until almost the end of his life. He was already old and hazy; at a large family gathering he said that in 1948 he was living in Sdot Yam. Someone told them that Arabs leave when the roofs of their houses have been destroyed. So that’s what they did to the Arabs of the village of Qisariya, they destroyed the roofs of their houses and the Arabs left. My aunt shifted uncomfortably in her chair when she heard him, and said “Motkeleh, that’s not something to talk about.” And he answered, “Shoshankeh, if I don’t talk about it, does that mean it didn’t happen?” That story bothered me very much. It was a heavy rock weighing on me; I looked for someone to relieve me of the burden. All of us belong to tribal circles: the largest is the nation, there’s also the family, and some things mustn’t be said in order not to embarrass the family. My husband said I was crazy to go to Zochrot. I think testifying is an obligation.
I wanted to film your testimony on video but you refused.
I was afraid it would make me more anxious. My aunt is celebrating her 91st birthday; I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.
You’re very involved with testimonies, aren’t you?
I volunteer with “Breaking the Silence;” we listen to testimonies and edit them. The question of why someone comes to testify is a fascinating one. But I’m also involved in documentation; once a week I go to Palestine as part of Machsom Watch. My daughter is also involved with the checkpoints, with the stories of people, documenting the names and faces of the other, many of them children. Like Danielle said, we filter our own testimony. When I report testimonies from the Qalandiya checkpoint, I’m the one who’s telling the story, not the Palestinians. I’m documenting from my own perspective, that of an Israeli Jewish woman who’s there, seeing and writing things down. Our work will be an important part of the large museum of the occupation and the nakba that will be established in the future.
Some people didn’t want their testimony to be filmed. About two years ago someone who’d fought in the Palmach and knew about the massacre at Balad a-Sheikh told me, somewhat defiantly, “I’m certainly not going to tell YOU.” He understands that to tell me, Eitan from Zochrot, means accepting responsibility for the moral failure represented by his actions during the nakba. We recently became aware of another aspect of publishing testimony about 1948. It turns out that the Palmach archives and the Yigal Alon House contain hundreds of testimonies by Palmach members, including stories connected to the nakba. Not only “our” tales of heroism and loss, but also stories about the killing of civilians, expulsion and looting. For some reason those testimonies haven’t yet been published. They began to be collected at the end of the 1980’s; some are dozens of pages long. It’s possible to see them, to obtain them, but not to publish them - perhaps because some of the people are still living and revealing the stories would be unpleasant for them.
As I read one of those testimonies I’m surprised that it’s not very different from the testimonies we’re collecting, those of Eyal Sivan.
Eshkar Eldan Cohen:
A person with a conscience is obligated to reveal; it’s important, however, not to judge those people, but to understand them.
When my grandmother and grandfather were on their way to the Zochrot exhibit, I was unsure where to wait for them. I thought it might be better to wait for them outside, to avoid being too closely identified with it. Zochrot arouses antagonism ahead of time and sometimes that also makes me uncomfortable. There’s a fear of words being said that might be forbidden. I wonder whether it's even possible for the grandchildren to gather the testimonies? Because we may be very different from them, but still able to love them as we would our grandfather and grandmother.
We should always remember that we might have behaved the same way.
When people talk about what they did in 1948 they say “We received orders; we had to do it, otherwise we wouldn’t have had a state.” Could there have been another way? That may be the difference between the past and the present. That’s also a question for the grandchild conducting the interview: Was that really the only way to establish a state? Why was it so clear to everyone then, and is still so clear to them, that it was the only way?
I came to Zochrot during a personal, ten-year detective journey investigating the history of some buildings on my kibbutz, Be’eri, in the Negev. I discovered they’d been part of the village of Wahidat. I didn’t know about Zochrot then; I asked Gido’n Levy, who referred me to you. I was afraid of hearing stories that would be difficult for me. I was told that refugees from Wuhidat went to Ramla and I was able to find some of them. I found interesting fragments, but not final answers. I discovered that I had a very well-defined set of political views about my parents, anger at them because of the dispossession. But it was complicated. I was told that, before 1948, there were friendly relations between Be’eri and Wahidat. I understood that among that generation, which remembers what life was like then, there’s pain, longing and even love for the friendship that existed before the war and the expulsion. It’s not so simple for either side, for better or worse. It’s very important to understand the complexity of the situation, rather than maintaining an attitude that we’re the ones who are pure and right.
There’s complexity and there are also myths, such as the stories kibbutzim tell children - that the area was empty and we came to make the desert bloom and what we did was good.
We lived with Stella – who appears in the video – in Manshiyya; they literally raised me. I think about my father, who arrived as a holocaust survivor – they gave him a gun and sent him to fight. What did he know? What did he understand? Many of the combatants didn’t see themselves as Zionists when they arrived in ’48 and immediately found themselves in a war. Today he’s able to say that he was in Lod and witnessed looting, but then, when he was in the midst of what was going on, he had no idea. Manshiyya was, for me as a child, a wonderful place to grow up, a marvelous neighborhood. Our house was opposite what is today the Etzel Museum. After the neighborhood was demolished , in the 1960’s and ‘70s, I asked my father why, in his opinion, it was demolished. He said that, just as what we’d had in Europe was destroyed, they’re destroying what the Palestinians had here so they won’t return.
Holocaust discourse and nakba discourse have become more closely connected in recent years; that’s a new, important phenomenon. Eitan, the titles of your video refer to the second and third generation of the holocaust. Must we push the holocaust button if we think that it has been principally used for political purposes against the Palestinians?
The titles in my video refer to the second and third nakba generation. It’s interesting you thought it referred to the holocaust.
Palestinians in the West Bank are increasingly making connections to the holocaust; they see films and understand the connection between the nakba and the holocaust.
There’s a film called “Two sides to the story,” in which Jews and Palestinians sit talking. A young Arab woman talks about the nakba and then a Jew yells at the other Jews, “Why are you even listening to this? Why do Jews have to listen to testimonies of Palestinians?” There’s great apprehension about listening and hearing accounts and testimonies, and as long as we continue to live in a discourse of national identities nothing will change.
I have German friends who are dealing with similar issues. What I see among them is complete alienation from their grandparents’ generation. They experience dealing with the holocaust past as something poisonous. I want to learn how to avoid becoming similarly alienated from what happened in 1948, because I don’t want to deny and disavow my roots.
I visited the exhibit on its last day. It was hard for me as a Palestinian member of the third nakba generation to see the testimonies of the Zionist combatants and the systematic purification of the language they used. They say “flatten,” “broom;” everyone hears, even today, that danger must be eliminated. The farmers in the southern Hebron hills – how are they endangering the Israelis who want to get rid of them? I work in a Swiss organization, and I think the Europeans are obligated to address the connections between the Nakba and the holocaust. Zochrot has to be there, create a European Zochrot.
I showed Amnon Neumann’s video testimony to a group of Germans; some of them found it very hard to watch and left in the middle.
I conducted research about my grandfather, Binyamin Shapiro, who from 1942 to 1948 was the mukhtar of Amir, the kibbutz where I grew up. He encouraged Jews in the Hula Valley to learn Arabic. For years I’ve been asking what he did and didn’t do in ’48. My most significant contact with him came after I began working at Zochrot. Benny Morris quotes Yigal Alon asking the Jewish mukhtars in the Hula area to whisper to their counterparts, the Arab mukhtars, as their friends, that they should leave because a massive attack was expected. It was known as a whispering campaign. I often asked myself about his involvement in this. A year ago I decided to move ahead with it and found a dairy of another kibbutz member which indicated that my grandfather was directly involved. That was central to my self-understanding and my understanding of what happened here then, and what’s happening now. It’s more complicated vis-à-vis my family. Some of them don’t want to deal with it, but I had no hesitation about publishing the story.
ערב נעילה לקראת ארכיון משותף / Closing event towards common archive
רבקה ויוסי שוורץ צופים בעדויות הלוחמים / Rivka and Yosi Swartz are watching the fighters testimonies
Translation to English: Charles Kamen