Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mass graves shine light on Palestinians in Jaffa


By Pat Strickland - June 18, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jaffa] [Nakba] [ethnic cleansing of 1948]

 JAFFA—The recent discovery of six chambers of mass graves in Jaffa has captured international headlines. The skeletal remains of hundreds believed to have been killed during the 1948 Nakba were uncovered, and consequently, further light has been shed on the carnage that translated into Israel’s establishment on the land of historical Palestine. 

According to Mohammed Abu Nijm, President of the Islamic Movement in Jaffa, the cemetery in which the mass graves were discovered dates back to the 19th century. During the late Ottoman era, the al-Kazkhana cemetery was primarily for Muslim residents of the once prominent Jabaliyya and Ajami neighborhoods in Jaffa. 
 
The discovery happened by chance during routine renovations by the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage. “As of now, we cannot prove that all of the bodies are from the 1948 war,” said Sami Abu Shehade, Secretary of Balad party in Jaffa. “But we are nearly sure—we have a lot of proof.”
 
Eyewitnesses
 
Although it is too early to completely rule out the possibility that the remains are from another event, such as the 1936 Palestinian Revolt or a massacre perpetrated by the British Mandate forces, Abu Nijm told the Palestine Monitor that three pieces of evidence strongly corroborate the claim that the bodies are Nakba victims. 
 
Firstly, the graveyard was nearly full before the outbreak of violence in 1948. The mass graves were found in the only ostensibly empty corner of the graveyard, surrounded by gravestones marked dating from 1945 to 1948.  
 
Secondly, a number of Zionist massacres in Jaffa are historically documented from this time period. These included the Stern Gang’s, a Zionist terrorist organization, bombing of Jaffa’s city hall in January 1948, killing 15 and injuring 80, and the Irgun bombing of Palestinian civilians waiting for a bus near Jaffa Gate, killing an estimated 16 people. “In order to expel, they needed terror and violence,” Abu Shehade said in an interview. 
 
Thirdly, a number of elders in Jaffa have come forward to confirm that the graves are from the Nakba. Atar Zeinab, 80-years-old, told AFP, “I carried to the cemetery 60 bodies during a period of three or four months. We used to find the people in the street and most of the time we didn't know who they were,” (“Mass Palestinian grave found in Tel Aviv,” Al Jazeera English, 03 June). 
 
“Eyewitnesses are the strongest evidence,” said Abu Nijm. “One old man from Jaffa, Abu Saado, told us he carried several of the bodies. We took him to Al-Kakhazana, and he led us directly to the graves. Before we opened them, he told us that they had been buried in their clothes and had bullet wounds in their skulls.” 
 
Due to the huge waves of Palestinian fatalities during the fighting, mass graves appear to have been a probable necessity. But because of the massive forced exodus inflicted on Palestine simultaneously, it is often a challenge to track precisely who died and who was forced into exile. 
 
“People did not have time during the violence to bury the dead in the regular way, with traditions and prayers,” said Abu Shehade. “My grandfather buried several martyrs after the war, and he said a lot of the bodies were only found because of the smell of their corpses coming from their houses.” 

“What the hell surprises you?”
 
In response to the large media uproar that followed the news of the graves, Abu Shehade told the Palestine Monitor that “the whole discussion has been raised in the wrong way.” 
 
Violence, terror, and massacres, he said, are part and parcel of war, and in 1948 some 1.5 percent of Palestinian society was killed. “The Zionist movement, a minority in Palestine at the time, wanted to build a Jewish state in an Arab country—this requires killing as much as possible or expelling as many as possible.” 
 
Violence, terror, and massacres, he said, are part and parcel of war, and in 1948 some 1.5 percent of Palestinian society was killed. 
 
Before the assault on Jaffa, there were 24 villages and 17 mosques in the greater Jaffa area, wrote Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. On 13 May, 5,000 Jewish troops from the Haganah and Irgun, Zionist militias later incorporated into the Israeli military, occupied the city, once the country’s cultural capital, and forcefully expelled the overwhelming majority of the population. 
 
“What the hell surprises you?” demanded Abu Shehade. “The Zionists weren’t throwing flowers on Palestinians—they were expelling 750,000 of us. What is surprising about [the mass graves]? Occupation is violence.” 
 
“A poor neighborhood in Tel Aviv”
 
Both Abu Shehade and Abu Nijm pointed to Israeli efforts to push indigenous Palestinians out of Jaffa that continue until today, primarily by way of gentrification. 
 
Additionally, although home demolitions are today generally associated with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in 2007 “the ILA [Israeli Land Administration] issued 500 eviction orders to residents in Ajami—most of them Palestinian, with a handful of Jewish families,” as noted by the Palestine Monitor back in December 2011.
 
The report also added that from 1949 till 1992, every renovation permit request in Ajami was denied by the government. Though Palestinians compromise around 80 percent of the city’s population, increasing numbers are being pushed out to make way for Jewish Israelis. 
 
“Instead of military transfers, we now have economic transfers—this is the political result of gentrification in Jaffa,” said Abu Shehade. “And all the cities surrounding Jaffa are Jewish cities—when we’re expelled, it isn’t like we move to the next village. We have to go far.” 
 
As the old city has been cleaned and rebuilt to attract tourists and the hotels that line Tel Aviv’s coastline edge towards Jaffa, prices have soared, asymmetrically affecting Palestinian citizens of Israel, who by and large are economically disadvantaged compared to their Jewish counterparts. 
 
“When they let a few thousand of us stay in 1948, they didn’t know we would become such a demographic problem here,” said Abu Nijm. “How do they solve this problem? They force people to immigrate silently without using guns. Why else are houses in Jaffa and Jerusalem the most expensive in the country?” 
 
Today, Abu Nijm said, Palestinians are leaving Jaffa in droves due to the rising cost of housing and land. High concentrations of Palestinians in major cities present a threat to a state committed to preserving a Jewish majority. 
 
Palestinians in Jaffa are generally excluded from local decision-making processes that affect their everyday lives. This includes city planning, street naming, and economic considerations, among other factors. 
 
The discovery of the mass graves, according to Abu Shehade, is just an example of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society. “Since 1948, there is no more Jaffa—now we are just a small, neglected neighborhood in Tel Aviv,” he concluded. 
 
Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared at Al Jazeera English, Al Monitor, and In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: P_Strickland_

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