Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Love amid the ruins

I learned about this amazing and appalling vid from Edo Konrad, writing for the great +972 blog.

The vid features the Nahal Band (Lahakat HaNahal), a well-known music and theater group attached to the Nahal Group, combat units in which military service was combined with agricultural work on new agricultural settlements and kibbutzim. That is, we're talking about an music group sponsored by the Israeli military.

The video shows members of the group singing a love song and driving their jeep around over rugged, first on land where prickly pear cactus (sabr in Arabic, sabra in Hebrew) is growing. Palestinians would of course immediately recognize the cactus as the sign that this was the site of a Palestinian village, as Palestinian peasants typically planted sabr as a kind of fencing around their communities. (And the prickly pear is a delicious fruit.) Then we see the Nahal Band singing on the site of a ruined Palestinian village, one of the some 418 Palestinian villages and towns destroyed in the wake of the 1948-49 war.

I have no idea which of the many destroyed villages it is (I saw several when I did my fieldwork in 1984-85). According to Konrad, the film was probably shot in the mid-60s. The ruins, characteristically, are made to look quite old, so as not to give any impression that the inhabitants would in fact have been evacuated (in an act of ethnic cleansing) less than 20 years prior to the shoot.

The love song is “He Didn’t Know Her Name” by the celebrated songwriter and poet Haim Hefer, who died just a year ago. He was a canonical composer associated with the "heroic" years of the Zionist movement, who wrote for the Palmach, for the Nahal Band, and for classic Israeli films, including famous ones that date with Israel's Mizrahi (Jewish Arab) population, Salah Shabbati and Kazablan. (I've blogged about the latter and how it manages to simultaneously evoke and erase the Arabness of Jaffa, where it is set, and the "Eastern" character of its protagonists, who are Moroccan Jews. Hefer's compositions for the film, which are very far from the kind of music that Moroccan Jews in Israel were actually singing and performing at the time, play a role in this erasure/evocation.) Hefer was also the composer of another canonical Zionist song, "The Red Rock," a song about Petra, the famous Nabataean city in southern Jordan. According to Rebecca Stein, "Petra was a place long immortalized in Israeli myth, the subject of collective longing, popular song [most notably Hefer's], and children’s stories. Beginning in the 1950s, clandestine travel to this Nabatean city had been a virtual rite of passage for young Israeli men who risked their lives in enemy Jordanian territory for a glimpse of the city’s celebrated red sandstone cliff."

Fitting, then, that, given who Hefer was, that he be buried in Ein Hod Artists’ Village, in accordance with his wishes.

Ein Hod, as anyone who has read Susan Slyomovics' book The Object of Memory or seen Rachel Leah Jones' documentary 500 Dunam on the Moon knows, was founded in 1953, on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Ayn Hawd, whose residents had been expelled. The charm and beauty of the artists' colony is largely a product of the original Palestinian village architecture, which was restored and remodeled according to the new residents' preferences. Imagine that the ruins we see in the video above were transformed into a quaint, bohemian artists' abode. That's what Ein Hod is, and this has been the fate of many Palestinian "ruins" throughout Israel, in West Jerusalem (for instance Ein Karem), Safad, Jaffa...

The video is a potentially a great teaching tool, particularly if you are using texts like Slyomovics or Rochelle Davis' Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced or chapter two ("Scenes of Erasure") of my book, Memories of Revolt.

I wish someone who reads this would identify the village in the Nahal Band video.

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