Palestine Monitor, 12 June 2010
Last week the Latrun villages held their first demonstration since the construction of the wall here in 2005, protesting against the land expropriation which began during the 1967 war and continues to this day. The Rayan family of Beit Nuba told us about their expulsion in 1967 and their struggles thereafter. Reporting and photography from Nicky Elliott.
The hundreds of peaceful demonstrators congregating in New Beit-Nuba barely made it to the fence before they were met with plumes of tear gas and soon after Israeli soldiers entered the village.
After 43 years, the villagers of New Beit-Nuba and the surrounding area are used to IDF incursions. Still, their memories of 1967, forced to flee as Israeli soldiers violently raided the original villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba, erasing every trace of their existence, are difficult. As tear gas rained over the Rayan house on the ‘front-line’ of New Beit-Nuba this Friday, the family recalled their forced expulsion from their land over forty years ago.
In her darkened kitchen, the shutters closed to keep out the gas, Eisha Salama Rayan, tells us how the family escaped the village. “We were sleeping, when suddenly they came from the West side. We escaped to the North Side as they came. They shot with normal ammunition. They had killed young men, who lay on the streets…escaping through Yalu we saw the dead bodies on the street.”
87 year old Eisha, though barely able to support herself, stands to show me how she gripped her skirt between her teeth to hold one of her children there as she ran; another child on her back. She explains with distress, that she lost a daughter because she could not carry all her children with her.
It was not only in Beit Nuba that the raids took place: “they [Israeli soldiers] spread around all the villages here. Yalu, Imwas – they also ran away, they also escaped”, Yusef Abdul Rahim Rayan explains. Describing their difficult journey, Hasan Yusef Rayan, who was just 12 at the time, says “my father took us to a cave for shelter…When there was daylight, we saw the people from Yalu and Imwas leaving. As we were going up the hill we looked back towards Yalu and saw all the wheat fields burning. On our way we saw a Jordanian soldier who had lost his head. 150 metres after we saw another dead soldier. When I saw the soldiers I realised that the Israeli soldiers were everywhere, behind us and in front of us.”
The villagers sought shelter wherever they could find it; some in the mountains, some in the caves, some with family in other villages. A few days after the forced evacuation Israeli soldiers came to the refugees and told them to return home with a loud speaker. Rayan’s account of what happened next reveals the insincerity of the offer. “We came and it was blocked…they told us to go back to King Hussein (King Hussein Bridge leading to Jordan). We had all our livestock there in Beit Nuba; our sheep, our camels. What were they talking about, going back to King Hussein? They shot at us and didn’t let us pass…A few days after we tried to get back, but they had bulldozed the village”.
Beit-Nuba’s land has now become the Israeli settlement, Mar Haven. Where the villages of Imwas and Yalu once stood is a public recreation park, where Israeli families take weekend picnics. Israeli NGO Zochrot (meaning ‘Remembering’), aims to raise awareness of the park’s dark past.
Founder Eitan Bornstein explains: “at the centre of the park the JNF (Jewish National Found) constructed a set of walls that hold plaques with the names of JNF donors. Hundreds of names of Jews, mainly from Canada. Those walls are made of the stones of Imwas. Imwas was destroyed and the stones were used to honour the Jewish donors. In the park there are many signs telling the history of the place – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history. But the signs totally forget hundreds of years of life in the Palestinian villages.”
Zochrot conducts alternative tours of the park and has campaigned the JNF, the Civil Administration, and eventually the Israeli Supreme Court to have signs erected within the park alerting visitors to the previous residents – Palestinian villagers.
Though the campaign has met strong and lengthy resistance from these institutions, Bornstein believes the campaign has been successful: “currently there are two signs indicating the villages. I think it was very important that in spite of the initial refusal, they [the JNF] had to post the signs. This raised the Canada Park issue…it clearly exposes the racism of the JNF’s policies.” Zochrot are currently attempting to contact the donors and their descendents involved in financing the park in an attempt to explain exactly what they are funding.
Whilst the revision and erasure of history by Israel is no surprise, there is also concern that the villages will be forgotten inside the West Bank. Protest organiser and resident of nearby Saffa village Yusuf Karakeh feels this is an important aspect of the demonstrations: “It’s nice for the young people to know about these villages because if you ask the Palestinian people about these villages, they did not say anything because they did not know it. But now, through the demonstration all people know what is Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba and what happened to them in 1967.”
The building of the wall in 2005 involved the confiscation of more land and meant an end to the agricultural way of life the villagers are used to. Hasan Rayan and his father kept around 200 sheep and 80 cows before the wall. Now this is no longer possible.
With the constant annexation of land, restrictions of freedom to work and laws against building new houses, the future New Beit-Nuba appears bleak. But while the Nakba is ongoing, the resistance survives. The villages of Beit Nuba, Yalu and Imwas are hidden beneath settlements and parks, but they will never be forgotten.
- You can also visit the RamallahOnline Gallery for historic pictures in regards to the Nakbeh.