I don’t remember a particular moment in my life when I became disillusioned. My disillusionment has been a collection of many moments over many years. I continue to be amazed anew each time I find another piece of the puzzle of lies in which I was raised - erasure, denial, silencing, politicizing memory, all of them the remarkable product of Zionism. Only a few days ago I stood on a bridge overlooking the hills surrounding my new city, above Lifta, lovely and destroyed, Nahal Soreq spread out below, and suddenly understood: Wow. All these hills are covered with trees. Afforestation. This entire country has been massively, aggressively afforested. The half-desert, half-Mediterranean land in which I live has been raped by hundreds of millions of foreign trees. And why? To blur the traces of the Arab villages demolished at the end of the 1940s, to prevent their inhabitants from returning to their lands and unilaterally to mark the land as Jewish owned. Thinking about it makes my stomach ache.
Last weekend I saw two films at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. On Friday and on Saturday. The first was a wonderful little European film, chilling, emotional, about the relationship between a father and son and about how Europeans treat migrants (La Promesse, Belgium, 1996). The second was a pompous, tiresome Israeli film, both disappointing and important, and also a possible candidate for an Oscar (nu, you know which one. No, not the one with the broken cameras. The other one).
I recently began to consider how the issue of erasing and recreating memory is connected to the Cinematheque building itself after I heard not long ago that it had once been a Palestinian house. The original building isn’t mentioned on the site – neither the physical site or on the web – and there’s very little discussion of its history and politics. Here’s what the Cinematheque’s website says about the choice of location: “The desire to rejuvenate the Valley of Hinom, below the Old City walls, led to this perfect site.” I read, “the desire to rejuvenate the Valleyof Hinom” – the words are transparent. I see through them. I see the lie on the other side. “Rejuvenate,” as if it were desolate rather than a battle casualty, as if it had only been waiting to be redeemed by those who redeemed Zion. I don’t know the history of the Cinematheque’s building, and maybe I’ll try one day to find out. But their attitude toward it is, in any case, another example of the false myth of making the wilderness bloom throughout the country. There are additional examples, like the Cinematheque, of buildings housing organizations purporting to hold leftist values, art that changes how you see the world, uncompromising research, critical thinking, universalism, coexistence, civil equality, etc., which were constructed on what had once been a Palestinian home whose inhabitants were expelled in ’48, while the “critical” organization ignores completely the structure’s complex history. Other examples include the Museum on the Seam in Musrara, Tel Aviv University, the Museum of Tolerance that will be erected on the site of a Moslem cemetery in Jerusalem, and I also wonder about the building housing Jerusalem’s Museum of Islamic Art.
That was the burden I carried to the Cinematheque – my thoughts about the erasing and distorted recreation of memory, about discovering additional, disturbing pieces of the puzzle that had been concealed from me, frustration at the seemingly never ending layers of lies and how the hell I’ll ever be able to peel them away. I walked down two floors from the entrance, to the auditorium where the film was to be shown, and when I thought I’d gone down as far as I could here’s what I found: a wall displaying – or perhaps drenched in - KKL Tu B’Shvat 2013 posters. As the attached photo explains: The KKL Tu B’Shvat 2013 Poster Competition, in cooperation with the Israel Association of Graphic Designers. I rub my eyes, not really understanding what I’m seeing. I thought it might have been an exhibit of vintage posters from the1980’s - but it wasn’t. “2013” stubbornly appeared again and again, on each of the posters. I thought it might have been a parody - but it wasn’t, since one of the posters announced the winners and the prizes. Desperately I searched for even a drop of subversion, self-criticism, doubt, but saw only total obedience. It was as if the designers had pulled out their third-grade drawings, upgraded the layout a bit and handed them in.
The sour taste lasted all day. I was sad that this false consciousness, of a “green KKL,” is still so widespread. The KKL’s draconian political power has created an huge iron wall behind which we begin to be told of its alleged benefits almost as soon as we’re born, how important it is to plant trees, how it benefits the country and its inhabitants, all of which gets engraved deeply within us. The racism underlying that organization is well-concealed. It’s painted green. And if the Cinematheque and the graphic designers, oblivious and uncritical, cooperate so well with the KKL, it must still be a well-kept secret. When I returned to the Cinematheque the next day it occurred to me to photograph the posters and write this post explaining why the KKL gives me heartburn. Even if I have only a little hammer, I’ll try to shatter that wall. So here, as a public service, are some things Mina the kindergarten teacher didn’t tell us about the KKL during quiet hour, that we didn’t learn in first grade, or at the Tu B’Shvat assembly, or around the Independence Eve bonfire, or when a tree was planted in our name for some reason or other in a KKL forest, or during the annual school hike (etc., etc.):
1. The KKL was established in 1901 by the Zionist Congress to buy land for the Jewish people in Palestine/Eretz Yisrael.
2. Today, after the Jewish people has achieved recognition and political independence on those lands, the KKL is primarily engaged in hidden dirty politics and explicitly in preserving national land. In other words, afforestation. In other words, Judaizing the country.
3. KKL doesn’t deny that it won’t sell to Arabs dwellings built on its land.
4. But KKL hides much else, such as the minutes of the meetings of its directors. And there’s a lot there to hide about financial dealings and appointments. In other words, we’re talking about an organization indifferent to the values of transparency and accountability; in other words, an obviously undemocratic body.
5. This non-transparent organization holds 13% of the country’s land.
6. Since it was established the KKL has planted tens of millions of trees in dozens of artificial forests, often on the ruins of Palestinian villages whose residents fled/were expelled and whose homes were blown up by the Israel Defense Forces. The dirty business of “preserving national land.”
7. KKL didn’t cease those practices in 1948, but continues them today. The most obvious and ugly example is that of Al Araqib, the Bedouin village in the Negev. The village has been demolished 46 times since 2010, courtesy of the Israel Lands Administration, the KKL’s close associate, while the KKL is busy turning the lands of the indigenous inhabitants into “green belts” for the residents of the Promised Land. That’s how, in 2005, the “Ambassadors Forest” was established on those lands, despite many protests, and now the KKL is busy planting the “God TV Forest” (I swear that’s what it’s called) with the generous assistance and cooperation of evangelicals who believe that Judaizing the land of Israel is the path to messianic redemption. It sounds absurd but, again, I swear it’s true.
8. Forget about the rights of indigenous peoples, a basic component of international law. Think for a minute – who the hell needs a forest in the Negev?!?
9. Much has been written about, and the KKL has often been criticized for, the environmental damage caused by those forests, both because of the foreign, damaging species planted as well as the afforestation methods that are destructive to the native vegetation.
10. KKL is not “green”! That’s its big lie! I was raised to believe that the KKL was at least the equivalent of Greenpeace, and today I want to shout over and over again until I and everyone else hear and believe – the KKL isn’t “green”! It isn’t “green”! It isn’t “green”! Try to say it yourself. It’s tricky at first, but it’s liberating. If you repeat a lie often enough...
The attached picture is a collage I created of some of the posters submitted to the contest and displayed at the Cinematheque. Here are my comments on the collage, clockwise from the top right:
* “Green as far as you can see” – the colonialist perspective, through the occupier’s lens, on hills afforested by the KKL. It reminds me of Nahal Soreq and what I wrote in my first paragraph.
* The pine cone. Like many deceptive symbols drawn from nature and purporting to represent all that’s beautiful in Israel, it also contains an ugly, aggressive, colonialist subtext (like the orange, the sabra, the olive).
* “Paint Israel green” Interesting… Could you translate that as “Greenwashing”? – using environmental protection as propaganda to create an honorable or progressive appearance (like “pinkwashing,” using support for LGBT rights as propaganda).
* “240 million trees,” etc. This text appears on one of the posters in the competition and is taken from the KKL web site. Overwhelming. As it happens, there are 120 million trees in Israel. “The KKL turned a desolate land green.” Again the lie about a desolate land. Approximately 720,000 Arabs were expelled from their homes and about 500 villages destroyed during the war to conquer the country. And – surprising news – even a desert isn’t desolate. Anyway, the country wasn’t all desert. “…Greenbelts improving environmental quality.” Again the lie dripped into us from an early age. There are links below to serious criticism of the KKL and about the damage it causes to Israel’s natural environment.
* “KKL. Our greenbelt.” To judge by the image of nine figures joyously raising their arms, “our” must refer to Australians or Danes. In other words, “we” brave, attractive whites.
* “There are butterflies here…” Do you hear the same emphasis that I hear? Unlike “there,” “here there are butterflies.” Unlike where? Come on, you know the answer: where there aren’t any butterflies. From Holocaust to Reclamation.
* “Nature has the right of way.” That poster well defines the state’s priorities insofar as the country’s indigenous inhabitants are concerned. This false naivety breaks my heart. I was raised on it, with no way of knowing that its allure was really one big lie. I had to wait 25 years to find out for myself.
* And the one I love most – my personal winning poster – “A time to plant.” I feel the vibration of the dart nailing that piece of paper to the stump as if it had at this moment violently hit its target, while the missing second half of the phrase cries out like a present-absentee, “and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” That sums up the KKL very well, its purposes and its actions: We’ve already uprooted those who were once planted in this country, for whom that stump is only a metaphor. And then we planted American forests to make everyone forget what was here – make them forget, make ourselves forget, make future generations forget, make the whole world forget. The poster instructs us to keep planting obsessively so we never stop for a moment to doubt the integrity of the story we’re telling ourselves.
This text was published in Hebrew first at HaGada HaSmalit website
Moran Barir is video editor and Zochrot member
Translation to English: Charles Kamen