Robert Fisk: Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.
But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.
Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world ...
Also related, from Mondoweiss:
Skyredoubt translated portions of a piece in Hebrew by Benny Tziper, in Haaretz, only Haaretz, and posted it on his flickr site.[...]A nice man was there at the entrance to the museum, an invalid of IDF from the Yom Kippur War, who was born and lived all his life in Ashkelon. From his knowledge and enthusiasm one could tell that he loves the city very much. He had no problem telling me how in 1953 the Arabs were expelled, and the long process of looking for a new name for the place started (the Arab name was Majdl), till it was decided to call the place Ashkelon. The entire communications between the authorities regarding the cleansing of the city of Arabs and Hebrewisation of the name is exhibited in the museum. I think that nobody makes the connection today between the fact that the Qassams land on Ashkelon and the fact that poor Arabs who did nothing wrong to anybody were put on trucks and expelled from their city to Gaza fifty five years ago, and since then they are there and Ashkelon is here. And this did not happen in wartime or as a result of hostilities, but from a cold calculation that the area must be cleansed of Arabs. There is a picture in the museum that shows the Arabs sitting and waiting in front of the of Israeli military government building. It sends shivers down my spine because it happens in the year I was born. And it is really, really hard for me to realize that at the time that my parents were happy with my birth, other people were put on trucks and expelled from their homes.[...]