Cry, the Beloved Country

Dr. Ezriel Carlebach

English version by Ami Asher

 

Foreword

This article was published for the first time in leading Israeli daily Maariv in late 1953, and once again on February 18, 1983, on the 27th anniversary of the author’s death, three days after the murder of Israeli peace activist Emil Grunzweig in an antiwar demonstration. That month, members of Matzpen, the Socialist Organization in Israel, reprinted and distributed it as a pamphlet.

Note that although in the article, Maariv editor Ezriel Carlebach appears to adopt the Zionist myth about the 1948 war and the “escape of the Arabs” unreservedly, the text makes clear that the 1967 occupation is not the root of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Note also that a mere eight years after the Second World War, the author does not shy from comparing Zionist and Nazi acts of land grabbing and looting.

The article’s title is eponymous with that of the novel by South African author Alan Paton, published in 1948, the same year the apartheid regime was instituted. This is the first time the article, which is important for understanding Gil Mualem-Doron’s “Cry the beloved country” exhibition, is translated into English.

 

Come, little daughter, let’s drive up to the Galilee. I have some urgent business for you there.

You’re not yet ten, and won’t understand a thing. And yet must look and see.

And even having grown to be twenty and thirty years of age – still the matter won’t be clear to you, and perhaps even completely forgotten.

But one day all that you have seen will be reminded to you, and then these things will affect and deeply hurt you.

And on that day – I shall not see it – you will ask me with pain and rage: Daddy, was it you? Did you do this?

***

The mountains I wish for you to see, my daughter. The mountains of the Upper and Lower Galilee. Nearby Nazareth [Arabic: a-Nasira], Zippori [Saffuriyya] and Baram [Birʿim]. Sprawling lands, some fertile, some fallow, uphill and downhill, millions of dunams.[1]

This land used to belong to the Arabs, back in the days you do not remember. Theirs were the villages and theirs were the fields. Today, again, you do not see much of that – only thriving Hebrew settlements have risen in their stead, may them grow and multiply. Because a great miracle was wrought to us, and one day these Arabs rose and ran away from us, and their lands we took and their lands we made flourish. And their previous owners moved and resettled in other countries.

Only here and there would you still see the Arabs’ villages. These belong to the few who have remained among us. It is unknown why these people did not escape. Perhaps because they were too late. Perhaps because they hoped their fields would not be part of the Jewish state. Perhaps because they hoped that even should they be included, no harm would befall them, because the Jews have promised it with the entire world a witness. Be that as it may, the state’s citizens they became, and remained.

And where are their fields? – you ask. These, my darling, have not remained.

What happened to the fields? It’s simple: we took them.

How is this possible? – How can one take land belonging to another living among us, inhabiting and cultivating it?

Well, daughter, there is little technical difficulty in that. This only requires power. If only you have the power of government, then you declare, for example, that these fields are “off limits”. And you prohibit everyone from going there without a permit. And you issue the permits only to your cronies, the members of the nearby kibbutzim, who have coveted that land. And you do not give the permit to the Arabs, to whom the land belongs. Simple, really…

Is there no law? Are there no judges in Israel?

Well, that’s right actually. This was a small technical barrier. Arabs came to our courts and demanded that the thieves return their land. And indeed the judges ruled, that the Arabs are the legal owners, having cultivated those fields since time immemorial, and that even the military experts see no reason for preventing them from plowing and harvesting here, and that the nearby kibbutzim never had and do not have the right to grab those lands, which they never bought and never paid or compensated for, and that they are all the Arabs’ property that must be returned to them.

Well, then, if the judges ruled, then the state is bound to uphold the law!

***

No, child, it’s not like that. If the law is against the thief, and the thief is pretty strong, then – he makes a law in his favor.

How?

All those with a stake in the loot convene in the parliament. And who has not? These 300,000 dunams were taken by the ministries and [the parties of] Mapai, Mapam, the religious [parties] – everyone. And they say: we have already gotten used to these lands, we fancy them. And we don’t want the judges to prevent us from holding on to them. Let us make a law, such that it would be impossible to remove the lands from our possession.

How?! How can you write a law against the law?

You’re still very young, my daughter, and when you grow you will know how easy this is. They simply wrote that in the matter of these lands, there is no law. They wrote that in this matter, there is no judgment and no judge. They wrote that the owners of these lands cannot appeal to court.

Well – but… What good does it do? Somewhere it is still written that the Arabs are the landowners, there are title deeds…

Well, so the title deeds say so – what does it matter? They wrote it into law, that all title deeds should be erased. The name of the Arab owner needs to be erased, and a Jewish name written instead.

Without anything else? Just like that?No, indeed, with that thing which I would like to show you now.

***

Look, this law-against-thou-shalt-not-steal was passed already nine months ago – but today, these very days, they start implementing it.[2] They have just established the official plundering bureaus, and here -- -- --

No, my child, I’ve changed my mind. We shall not go there. I won’t show you, I can’t. Perhaps you won’t see anything in there. Just one poor and grossly underpaid clerk, and a shabby table, and a few papers, nothing more. No heartrending sight. You, perhaps – you have such eyes that shall not know. You are a native of this land, and are used to such things, and for you it is only natural that the world is divided in two: winners and losers, master and serf[U3] . Whereas I – I’m a Jew. And what I see is a German scribe writing, sitting and jotting on the parchment, “and their property is hereby expropriated by the state”, a penalty for my ancestors not believing in the crucified God of justice of Queen Isabella,[3] I see a German scribe there writing and concluding “and all the Jew’s assets have been legally appropriated subject to the Law of Acquisition from Non-Arians”… Forgive me, my daughter, such are my eyes – and they’re spinning. And they do not want to see the Jewish State in that light, they terribly do not. They are protecting themselves with all their might, with burning pain, against this sight, against these comparisons… And they believe, with a profound and consummate belief, that Israel is not thus, and the Jews are not so, and that it is only a passing caprice that has affected them, some of the greedy and power hungry of them, and they pray these leaders would be forgiven, for their heart does not know what their hands are doing, for they are very young in the wisdom of government, and in their haste do not see the fruits of their misdeeds… And they’re certain, these eyes, that this vision would drift away like a cloud… Like a nightmare…

But at the moment?

At the moment and for now – this is the reality.

***

At the moment, the procedure in such an “authority” is quite simple, and duplicitous.

One side of it is quite active. That side is the one that seeks to turn the act of looting into a legal act. To do so, all the looter needs to do is present a ministerial document that states three things – according to the letter of the “law”. First – that the land was taken sometimes within the first four years of Israeli statehood, between 1948 and 1952, by some excuse, whether for security or settlement or “development” purposes. Second – that the true owners, the Arabs, have not been allowed to return to this their land by April 1952. And third – that the Jew wants to keep holding on to the land. Then, what follows is that the land is transferred to the Development Authority, becoming the property of that authority, “free and clear of any lien”, and registered in the title deed in its name. And the Jewish stakeholders are highly active now in preparing that document. That’s one side of the procedure.

And the other?

That’s the Arab. He’s the previous owner of the land, which it cannot approach ever since the end of colonialism and the end of racist property laws and the end of discrimination and the beginning of human rights and the sanctity of democracy have all been declared in this country. He, the previous landowner, also has to set his hand to the effect that his land is grabbed from him in accordance with the law. And the Arabs, of course, are not so keen on helping the authority, and do not show up in its branches en mass, enthusiastically, to “set the records straight”.

If so, if the Arabs do not collaborate, and if they do not sign, then isn’t the entire transaction void and null?

No. The law is not that naïve to even take the Arabs into account. The law passes the land from the Arab’s hand without the Arab lending it his hand. The law even compensates the Arab, without the Arab being compensated thereby…

You must be joking, dad. How is that possible?

This is no joke – or rather, it’s a sinister one – and it’s very much possible. It’s possible first of all in that it is the Arab who needs to show up and prove his ownership of the land. Not the Jew who possessed it needs to prove, but the Arab who was dispossessed. A reversal of the rule that the onus of proof is on the claimant. And it is well known how difficult it is to prove ownership in this country, and for an Arab in particular, let alone an Arab family split and dispersed by the war.

                                                 ***

 

But even should he prove – this will do him little good. For he cannot appeal to the court to discuss the veracity of his proofs. There is no court for this matter – it is only the clerk responsible for compensating or not compensating who can decide: I have been convinced that you are the owner and that I must pay you, and it is he who rules: I’m not convinced and I won’t pay. It is the claimant’s privilege to determine the very entitlement to claim!

Even if the clerk does admit that this or that Arab used to own this or that land, however – still the Arab is unable to stake his claim. The law states that even if he demands money, he cannot receive the land’s worth. He can only be given what the land used to be worth… three years ago, on January 1, 1950. As if there is and hasn’t been any inflation. As if the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Development or anyone in this country would have agreed to receive today the salary he received three years ago. And as if the Arab farmer, who is now paid 20 pounds a dunam, as it used to be worth three years ago, could use that money to buy himself even one third, or one fourth or one fifth of a dunam…

So he won’t take the money, and that’s the end of it?

Wait, my dear, we’re a wise an astute nation. We took care of that as well.

If he doesn’t take the money – that would do him no good. In that case… the money is deposited in the court (for such a purpose, we turn to the halls of justice!) and remains there. And whether the Arab deigns to take it or not – this is no longer our concern. Even if he doesn’t – that’s fine. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since his land is now “legally” ours…

But why – you may ask – why and wherefore does he need the money anyway? Land is his livelihood, and he wants land!

Right, well, the law has it covered. In special cases, the law recognizes that the farmer deserves land. If the land taken from him: (a) was used for farming, (b) used to be his main source of livelihood, and (c) he has no other land to subsist himself – this case can be made. That is, he needs to prove or convince that he has no subsistence. That for six years he has been starving, or should have starved by rights, and then -- -- --

So, one of the Jewish kibbutzim that take tens of thousands of dunams will give him back at least that small holding enough for his upkeep?

No, then they only have to offer him another piece of land. And even that, not necessarily by way of owning but also by way of lease! And not even equivalent to all that was taken from him, but “a portion” is also enough. And you don’t have to give him what he wants, but only to offer.

But if he is offered, and if he has no other source of livelihood, he will surely take it, won’t he?

he would, my daughter, which is what I wanted to show you in the Galilee, on the mountains trodden by the Israelite prophets of justice, on the beach where the hypocrite teaching of love was born,[4] which we have mocked and rejected with scorn, we – the holy nation. That’s what I wanted to show you.

Yes, here and there some Arabs can no longer hold on. Their fields have been taken away from them years ago, they have been impoverished and forced to cultivate tiny plots – and now, if they collaborate with the implementation of this law, of land “acquisition”, they may after all receive, far from their place of residence, a tiny bit of land, and some of them do come forward and ask what they can get.

And now they are offered lands they simply cannot take. Adding insult to injury, they are offered lands owned by… other Arabs. Their brethren who have fled across the borders.

And the Arabs say, of course: This land? It is not yours to give, how can you offer it to us? It belongs to our Arab brethren, and you seek to make the loot you have looted from us legal, by having us loot from our brethren? And what shall we say to their family members who have remained among us? Should they only hear of that, they would take revenge! And what are we to do if they return? Would we endorse the dispossession of our kin, our flesh and blood, and accept that as your compensation that we deserve?

And the Arabs refuse to accept those lands. But we and our law do not care, we are only required to offer. If they decline, it is their fault, while we wash our hands of it…

We have enabled them to be compensated in full for our plunder. We are the righteous…

***

Maybe we won’t drive up to the Galilee after all, my daughter?

Because I’m a bit afraid. I’m afraid of driving along the roads and running into them, as they ride their donkeys with their meager herds, and as our car passes by, they raise their eyes towards us and a burning hatred gleams from them… I’m afraid to look into their eyes, for I am ashamed. They, that dust of humanity, are the only people in the world I cannot look straight in the eye. I’m not ashamed of fighting them in the battlefield, I’m not ashamed of being their enemy, or of defending against them; I’m not ashamed to be an adversary or a fugitive or beggar, or anything… but a thief – a thief in the night I do not want to be.

I’m not afraid for my skin, for we have the power. Our car will speed by them proudly – they’ll humbly step aside. Everything will be alright. They are the minority. The operation will succeed, and everything will legally be registered in the title deeds in our name…

But this is not the end of the story, but only the beginning. The great conflict with them doesn’t end that way, but only begins. And the mayhem has only just started. And I’m very afraid for you, my daughter, because I’m afraid that when you grow – it will be you who’ll pay for all that. I don’t know when, I don’t know how. Maybe, I wish, with money alone. And maybe, God forbid, in blood, as you go out on the battlefield, as your son does – maybe sooner, maybe later. It’s hard to tell. This Orient is dormant and awakens gradually, and then rises suddenly. But one time or another, one way or another, the whirlwind will be reaped. There are reparations in the world,[5] there are people who are eventually forced to own up to their heavy sins and bloody hands and pay up… There are ministers who are forced to sign ceremonious contracts: we have sinned, we are to blame, and this is our penance… We, in any case, believe in that. We are the nation that has given birth to the concept in this world, that the fate of a country is nothing else but the reflection of its righteousness, because it is by the law and justice within it that it can rise and fall…

And we know that this is the test: the treatment of the weak minority, when it is weak. For two thousand years, we have experienced on our flesh these marks of the maturity or degeneration of a nation: if it uses the power of government to take the poor man’s lamb, the lamb of the stranger who liveth among us.

If history were to judge us for our treatment of the neighboring Arab countries – we have a solid case. And of [Palestinian] infiltrators and security measures, however excessive, and of the Military Government and movement restrictions [imposed on Palestinians] – we will have some good arguments. We would be able to face the world with our heads high.

But if we are asked, in this large country with all its wilderness, and the few Jewish parts within it, did you have to disown all the oaths you have taken before yourselves and before the commonwealth of nations, did you have to betray all the prophesies of your prophets and all the sacred laws of your disciples and all the doctrines of your recent seers who have envisioned the nation’s redemption upon its return to the land, did you have to desecrate every law and commandment – only in order to grab some tens of thousands of dunams from a few miserable Arab villagers…?

When we ask that question – we won’t be able to raise our heads.

***

Come, my daughter, to one of the farms on that stolen land. Come to the Culture Hall named after our first pioneers, who came to this nation bearing the flag of the brotherhood of nations. In the evening, they will lecture there about a topic much more popular than that chosen by daddy today. They will talk there about a book by a daring author, who raised his voice high in his country against the oppression of the black by the white – although he himself belongs to the white race. There, they will talk pompously against racial superiority and against those who plundered the indigenous lands in faraway Africa…

And then take your ears away from the lofty discourse, and turn them to the land of the beloved country, about which such talks beautiful words are spoken.

Hearken, and you shall hear: our own beloved land is also crying.

And when you grow up – may you redeem the iniquity and silence Her cry.

 

 

[1] A dunam is a measure of land equal to about 900 square meters or about a quarter of an acre.

[2] The law in question is the 5713-1953 Land Acquisition (Validation of Acts and Compensation) Law.

[3] Together with King Ferdinand of Spain, in 1492 she ordered the exile or conversion of the country’s Jews.

[4] Reference to the Sea of Galilee and to Christianity.

[5]  The 1952 Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany entered into force in March 1953.