Max Blumenthal on the Carmel forest fire

Max Blumenthal has a superb article looking at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of the forest fire ravaging Israel at the moment. Before I excerpt his vignette from a Palestinian village turned into a Jews-only artists' resort, I want to cite the David Ben Gurion quotes he begins with.

David Ben Gurion"When I look out my window today and see a tree standing there, that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia. Because every tree here was planted by us." 

-- David Ben Gurion, Memoirs

"Why are there so many Arabs here? Why didn't you chase them away?"

-- David Ben Gurion during a visit to Nazareth, July 1948

And now for Max's piece:

Among the towns that have been evacuated is Ein Hod, a bohemian artists' colony nestled in the hills to the north and east of Haifa. This is not the first time Ein Hod was evacuated, however. The first time was in 1948, when the town's original Palestinian inhabitants were driven from their homes by a manmade disaster known as the Nakba. 

Most of the original inhabitants of Ein Hod, which was called Ayn Hawd prior to the expulsions of '48, and was continuously populated since the 12th century, were expelled to refugee camps in Jordan and Jenin in the West Bank. But a small and exceptionally resilient band of residents fled to the hills, set up a makeshift camp and watched as Jewish foreigners moved into their homes.

In 1953, a Romanian Dadaist sculptor named Marcel Janco convinced the army not to bulldoze Ein Hod as it did the scores of nearby Palestinian towns it had ethnically cleansed five years prior. He proposed establishing an art commune to generate tourism and contribute to the culture of Zionism. Today, the rustic stone homes that once belonged to Palestinians are quaint artist studios, while the village mosque has been converted into an airy bar called Bonanza. Visitors to the town are greeted at the entrance by Benjamin Levy's "The Modest Couple in a Sardine Can," a sculpture depicting a nude woman and a suited gentleman in a sardine can, which was unveiled by Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2001. 

After the catastrophe of 1948, the original Palestinians of Ayn Hawd set up their own village three kilometers away from what is today known as Eid Hod. For decades the villagers resisted attempts to dispossess them and were surrounded by a fence during the 1970s to prevent them from expanding according to natural growth. But they finally won official recognition in 2005. This meant that for the first time since the establishment of Israel they could receive electricity and trash service. Meanwhile, more than forty other Palestinian villages inside Israel remain "unrecognized." The 80,000 or so residents of the villages, which lay mostly in the Negev desert, are tax-paying citizens of Israel. However, they have few rights; their homes are routinely demolished to make way for Jewish settlements and they are deprived of basic services. 

I visited both Ein Hod and Ayn Hawd in June. When the residents of the Jewish village Ein Hod saw me filming, they reacted with a mixture of suspicion and hostility. "I know what you're doing!" an elderly woman sneered at me, insisting that I not film her. Inside the bar, I asked patrons if the place was in fact a converted mosque. "Yeah, but that's how all of Israel is," a woman from a nearby kibbutz told me as she sipped on a beer. "This whole country is built on top of Arab villages. So maybe it's best to let bygones be bygones." 

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.