Last Friday was an eventful and emotional day for this exiled Palestinian. I recorded a TV programme, ‘Eye on Palestine’ for Al Magharibia Channel on the continuing plight of the Palestinian refugees. I’ll share the link with you when I receive it.
But the evening was the major event when both my wife and I attended the second yearly awards ceremony for an architectural competition amongst young, architectural students for the reconstruction of the destroyed villages of Palestine. Never mind that numerous so-called peace processes have delivered nothing. Never mind that there is no sign of a two-state, one-state or any state solution. The youth of Palestine is its phoenix.
This event was the brainchild of my dear friend, Dr Salman Abu Sitta, who spent decades of study, research and documentation culminating in his definitive book ‘The Atlas of Palestine (1917-1966).
Documenting the history, the geography, the topography of Palestine was one thing. Doing something positive was another. And so this competition was born. As its chairman and founder, Dr Salman had this to say;
“We are still here
We shall rebuild our destroyed homes
We shall return.”
He went on to point out the full extent of wanton destruction of our land.
“560 towns and villages were depopulated in 31 military operations during the Zionist conquest of Palestine, thus making two thirds of the Palestinian people refugees. Half of those refugees were expelled by the Zionist militia before Israel was declared on the ruins of Palestine. Almost all these depopulated villages were destroyed.
“Today 7 million Palestinians are refugees, denied the Right to Return home. Their homes are often within sight, as in Gaza or a short bus ride, as in Lebanon.”
Dr Salman, a man of optimism and hope did not dwell on the years of suffering, of brutality, of 70 years of horror. As he said,
“No amount of propaganda, misinformation, silencing of the truth or smearing of justice advocates will conceal this truth and its consequences. Not even Trump’s actions of cutting funds and eliminating Palestinian refugees or Netanyahu’s threats of destroying the weak with his nuclear bombs will wipe out the tragedy that befell Palestinians. Nor will it stop them fighting for their rights.
“Today we are here to look at those destroyed villages with a fresh and hopeful look and resurrect them in mind and body.’
His passion and his determination were palpable.
“Many of those villages were over 2000 years old. Probably Jesus Christ walked in their streets,” he said, reminding us of the precious gift of ancient Palestinian history that engulfs all the religions of the book, not just those who consider themselves ‘the chosen people’.
As for their credibility, Dr Salman pointed out that the Palestinian Bishop Eusebius of Qisaria listed the names of these villages in 313 AD.
“The Crusaders listed their names, although they twisted and Latinized some of them.
The first Ottoman Tax Register of 1596 listed their names, their population, their occupation and produce.
We know that the survey of Palestine conducted by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1870, listed over 1,000 towns, villages and hamlets and listed 13,000 place names.
We know that the Government of Palestine under the British Mandate produced hundreds of maps, summarized in my Atlas of Palestine which contains 55,000 place names.
All this heritage of humanity, Israel destroyed during the Zionist conquest of Palestine.
Not by warring soldiers. They were Israeli municipality engineers—and, surprisingly, archaeologists, brought to destroy the best Palestine history and search for Jewish history to keep. They were also officials of the Jewish National Fund, registered in Britain as a charity! One devoted to the improvement of the environment! “
Destruction of 556 villages, of an entire culture of people is an improvement to the environment?
The eloquent and compassionate Dr Salman went on to say;
“For Israel, Palestine does not exist, neither on maps, nor in history. Palestine’s history for the last 2000 years, from 70 AD to 1948 is erased in Israeli books. They do not talk about it. In the Zionist mythology, Palestine was terra nullius, a land without people, a huge geographical vacuum which lasted 2000 years. Presumably meanwhile it was inhabited by ghosts who built one thousand localities and planted wheat, oranges and olive trees, and then vanished when European Zionist settlers came to make the desert bloom.”
Denying the existence of Palestinians and Palestine is embedded in the psyche of the Zionist settlers’ colonialist project. From Herzl, the founding father of the Zionist movement to Netanyahu, the theme is still the same. ‘A land without people’. Remember Mrs. Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister of Israel?
“There were no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
As quoted in Sunday Times (15 June 1969), also in The Washington Post (16 June 1969)
As you can see, Palestine and Palestinians did and do exist. The Greeks, the Romans, The Ottomans and the British all ruled over us at various times and documented extensively our existence. But you know what? They did not destroy it. Unlike the Zionists who had to destroy not only the physical existence of Palestine and the Palestinians but also our ancient culture and way of life.
We not only exist. We insist on returning and rebuilding our villages and our culture. The young competitors from Gaza, from the West Bank and from Jordan were encouraged by Dr Salman and his team, along with a distinguished jury of international architects, not to be dissuaded by negative politics. Consequently, their work is inspiring and gives real hope and a vision for the future.
Next year, the year after, insha’allah, Dr Salman and his dedicated team hope to open up the competition to form an NGO attracting not only more universities within Palestine but international institutions and bodies all around the world. Building for Palestine. What a cry. What an achievement. What a signal of hope.
Meanwhile, congratulations to all the highly commended competitors, and especially to the three winners who were, in reverse order:
3 Loay Deek, Birzeit University, Palestine. Project Beit Jibrin- Al Khalil (Hebron) district.
2 Arwa Qalalwa, Birzeit University, Palestine. Project Qula – Al Ramle district.
And the winner, by a unanimous jury vote was:
1 Yazan Nasrallah, University of Petra , Amman, Jordan. Project Al Qastal- Jerusalem district.
This, my friends, is the indomitable spirit and attachment of the youth of Palestine to their land. They are the future. They are the hope and from their assured, unsullied hands the Palestinian phoenix will surely fly.
Jafar M Ramini is a Palestinian writer and political analyst, based in London, presently in Perth, Western Australia. He was born in Jenin in 1943 and was five years old when he and his family had to flee the terror of the Urgun and Stern gangs. Justice for the people of Palestine is a life-long commitment.