the wrong kind of Arab

Dahoud Bader was only six when the Nakba happened, but he remembers his experiences of it vividly. The little boy was woken by his mother one morning in May 1948 and led away from his village, El Ghabsiya. They walked east, as soldiers advanced from the west and south, fleeing for their lives with many of the other 700 residents of their community. Eleven villagers were killed by the soldiers.
El Ghabsiya was declared a closed military zone in 1951. Despite a court ruling a couple of months later that residents had the right to return, they were physically prevented from doing this by the Israeli army. Government bulldozers destroyed all the houses, leaving only the mosque standing to this day. Villagers who attempted to visit the mosque have been arrested for trespassing onto state land.
This all happened so long ago now that it’s tempting to ask why it still matters. But the experiences of this one small Galilee village were shared by many other Palestinians.
In 1948 and the years immediately afterwards, 800,000 Palestinians fled their homes or were expelled and forced to become refugees. Of the 150,000 who remained inside Israel after the turmoil, about a quarter were internally displaced. Their land was taken over by the state for distribution to Jewish immigrants.
It’s the downright injustice of the situation that still rankles campaigners like Bader. “Every village has its own story but the common thread is the expulsion of people, the destruction of houses and the confiscation of ownership,” he says, admitting that although his group speaks about rights there would be difficulties in implementation.
He says: “We understand that Israel has created facts on the ground. Maybe I don’t actually want to come back to my house, but I have the right to come back and to decide, just as I have the right to compensation.
“We aim to have the right to come back to our destroyed houses and villages and to rebuild once more. We don’t think there is any justice in confiscating these lands. We aren’t being treated equally by the present absentee law, which we don’t understand. There is no such law in any other country.
“We are now citizens of Israel, the supposedly only democratic state in the Middle East. But democracy should mean equality. How can I understand democracy if I don’t have rights to have back my land? If I can’t live where I want? If I can’t go back to my destroyed village?”
Today, new homes are being built on what used to be El Ghabsiya. They will be sold to new Jewish immigrants from Iran and Iraq.