The following beautiful texts are taken from the book “Israel, an Apartheid State” by Uri Davis, Zed Books Ltd, 1987.
Prolegomena: The Taste of Mulberries
by Havah ha- Levi
(a) The Female Snake
Someone said something about Tantura…1
Soft hills rolled silently into each other’s embrace [towards the beach] and right on the edge of the hills there was a dense plantation of low palm trees clustered on the beach. A scenery of soft and misty dream. Only the feeling of nausea returns to trouble me.
At a short distance from the cluster of palms there was a group of empty houses.
Some of them were slightly damaged, but generally, the houses were intact and beautiful. Everything [about the houses] was very neglected, empty and filthy. A few ancient shoes exposed their seams along the footpath. There in the deserted village of Tantura the kibbutz set up the summer camp for its children.
The houses were cleaned up. A large long tent was erected to serve as a dining hall. The place was a paradise for children.
I remember the heat of the scorching sun over my tanned skin. The salt taste of the sea water. The swimming competitions. The beautiful and quiet beach. And thirty or forty happy children. Really happy.
And yet I listen to my memories. I try to redraw the lines that chart my memory.
There are things that already had their beginning in another place.
There were these half scornful sentences, such as: if the Arabs come, they will steal you first. You are blonde and the Arabs like blonde girls; if the Arabs come, they will see your golden head in the dark and will steal you first. They will think perhaps that it is a ball of gold; here is an Arab shoe. Such sentences …
Towards the end, two days before the conclusion of the summer camp, they asked who wanted to go on a tour and listen to Motke telling stories about the conquest of Tantura. I went, too.
We went into the cluster of palms, and the leader of the summer camp, a nice jovial kibbutznik who evidently loved children, was already there telling something. I lagged behind as usual. I walked along daydreaming and slightly bored. When I eventually caught up with the group, they were all standing near a large house which had perhaps originally been situated at the edge of the village, and I remember the words: ‘We attacked at both ends. Most of them had already run away. Suddenly a huge Arab came out behind this house and began to run. I shot him, and he jumped in the air like a rabbit, turned a somersault and fell’.
Even today I do not know whether this was a factual description of what had happened. But at our place, they used to say that if you kill a snake, you should throw it away or hide it, because if it is left exposed, all the snakes (the family? the tribe?) will come to the place to look for it and this could be very dangerous. And that if you kill a bee that has stung you, it is likewise necessary to throw it away or hide it, since otherwise all the bees will come there after its smell. And that if you kill a lion, the lioness will always come to search for it.
And then, suddenly, together with the Arab, shot in the air with his white kufiyya and black agal, all the Arabs who had lived there in these houses, who had worn those shoes now discarded on the footpaths, the children who had run about naked on the beach, the fat, erect women who had carried the jars on top of their heads… they all came out suddenly in my imagination to look for him. I recalled the warning not to leave the corpse of the snake in the place where it had been killed because the female snake will come to look for it and I turned to look behind me, terrified. There was nothing there. Only the beautiful houses and the sea. A bit angry and a bit curious, I thought about this bad Arab who had come to attack our soldiers. I thought he had deserved to die like that, yet he did not seem to have been dangerous when he was shot there in the air, like a rabbit. I wanted to know if he was from this village, or from another place.
We returned to the beach and ate a water melon. I wanted to have the ‘heart’ of the water melon, but I never got it because I always arrived late. Everything lost its taste. I told my friend: Mira, I am already fed up with this summer camp. I want to go back home.
She looked at me surprised, beautiful, suntanned: ‘Why?’
(b) The Taste of Mulberries
The name of the villages was Sarkas, which probably refers to the former origin of its inhabitants, Circassians, who came, I would not know how, to the Middle East and settled here.2Anyway, when I came to know the village, all of its inhabitants were Palestinian Arabs. In fact, I never came to know the village properly; I was never there, though this is only half the truth, and I shall return to that later.
In our eyes, the eyes of children four or five years old, the village was represented by two women: Khadija and Hanifa. Maybe they were more courageous than the rest, or maybe they served as something like the ‘Foreign Office’ of the village. They often walked about in the kibbutz, and as far as I can remember they were mainly preoccupied with the picking of khubeiza (mallow) leaves which grew in wild abundance along the roadside. When we asked why they pick the khubeiza, we were told that the Arabs cook the leaves and eat them. And so, the first thing lever knew about Arabs was that they eat khubeiza. I also knew, of course, that they ride on camels, since the camels used to pass through the kibbutz and occasionally camp there; I knew that they ride on donkeys along the white road which probably stretches up to the very end of the world. But at that time there were also in the area British soldiers (the Mandate) and Australian soldiers (World War II), and thus it was imbedded in my consciousness that Eretz Israel3 consists of us, as well as passers by: Arabs, British, Australians …
About that time they all disappeared, and I really did not notice their disappearance all that much. Of course, the departure of the British was accompanied by much talk on the radio and in the yard of the kibbutz. But as to the fact that Khadija and Hanifa ceased to show up – well, there are many events that pass through the universe of any child, and he or she accepts their appearance os well as their disappearance as a matter of fact. Later, I came to know that the village had been destroyed by bulldozers, and I was a little scared. And then I forgot, und many years passed be fore Sarkas again emerged before my eyes as a place where people lived.
The destroyed village was made into the kibbutz garbage dump. I do not know who was the first to discover that in the midst of the ruins and the dust und the stench there remained a mulberry tree. A huge mulberry tree, which, In summer, produced huge mulberries: black and deliciously sweet. The mulberry trees in the kibbutz were grown on much water and their fruit was therefore somewhat watery, and anyway they were much too high to climb. But this mulberry tree was low, spreading wide, and heavily laden with fruit, to the deep delight of a little girl who was rather quiet and clumsy and who loved mulberries. And thus, every Saturday we would go on pilgrimage to the mulberry tree, stand around it for hours and eat of its fruit and return home with hands and faces blackened by the dark dye of mulberry sap. Never, not once, while standing there among the ruins and the dust under the scathing sun did we talk or think of the inhabitants of Sarkas who lived here: where are they? Where did they go? Why?
From the distance of fifteen years of difficult political development, I watch this group of children devouring mulberries in the midst of a destroyed village, and I just cannot comprehend: how? Wherefrom this utter blindness?
For many years I would walk on Saturdays to Sarkas. At times with company. At times alone. Now Sarkas was no longer embodied in Khadija and Hanifa. Now Sarkas was reduced to the stench of the kibbutz garbage dump and the mulberries In summer. On either side of the road to Sarkas there were sabr cacti hedgerows along all roads, but today they have all disappeared, except in books and in Arab villages, where they still remain. In summer the sabr would bring forth their fruit, and raise masses of tiny red and orange flags glued to their rounded green flagpoles in a summer festival. And when the sabr fruit was ripe, the Arab women would appear out of nowhere, fill their big tin containers with the red and orange fruit and walk away. Today I remember these Arab women and I ask myself: where did they come from? Who were they? Were they exiled inhabitants of the of the village? And in the evening, when they eat the fruit that they had gathered or when they sell it at the roadside, do they feel the taste of their lost homes?
But at that time I did not think of them in the least. The Arabs were something whose temporary provisional existence was eternal. They pass along the white mild on a donkey-cart, emerging out of somewhere and going on to somewhere else, Only once, for some reason … There was a big scout night game, a sort of test of courage. I hid behind the sabr hedgerows and waited for my pursuers to pass by. I sat there in the dark for a long time, quietly. I was not afraid. And all of a sudden they were with me. The women of Sarkas. The women who pick khubeiza along the roadside. The women with the long knives who steal wheat from the fields of the kibbutz. The women with the water cans and the bundles of dry wood on their heads. Slowly, slowly, they slipped by on their bare feet, black and silent. Their round outline, like the sabr cacti leaves, merged with the darkness around, silent.
Today there stands on the site a huge plant for the processing of agricultural products. An exemplary cooperative venture. And the hill? The hill of the village of Sarkas, where is it? The entire area was levelled down, and around the huge factory orange groves were planted, and there is not one single cut stone left as testimony. Yet, I remember. I testify.
In 1961, a very young woman from kibbutz Giv’at ha-Sheloshah married an Arab youth who was employed in her kibbutz. The kibbutz refused to allow them to remain there, and they applied to join ‘my’ kibbutz. The debate on whether they are to be admitted or whether they are not to be admitted extended over one and a half years and shook the kibbutz in a way that no other subject ever did, either before or since. The debate cut across families, and brought sons to rebel against their parents, brothers against brothers and husbands against wives. The leadership of the Ha-Shomer ha-Tza’ir kibbutz federation was called to present its position (opposed), and threats of leaving the kibbutz on this matter were voiced in both camps. In the end, the ‘mixed couple’ was not admitted to the kibbutz. Both camps were already tired of endless debates and rows. In a bitter discussion which I (who supported their admission) had with one of the leading opponents he told me: ‘Do you know that Rashid is a son of the village of Sarkas? Do you think he can live here, raise his children here and always see across the street the hill which was his village, and not think anything?’
At that moment, together with the scorching sun and the dust, I felt in my mouth the taste of the mulberries, and I understood what homeland means, and also, for the first time, vaguely and at a distance and a little bit afraid, I understood that this homeland, the homeland of the songs and of school textbooks, is simply just the taste of mulberries, and the smell of dust, and the moist earth in winter, and the colour of the sky, and that it is a homeland not only for me, but also for Rashid Masarwa. At that very moment, in the midst of the heated discussion, the taste of mulberries and the shock, I remembered one fearful memory.
It was towards the end of the 1948 war, after we had won the war and defeated the Arab armies and had a state of our own. We were lying in bed. Eight children in the children’s house. It was night. From the distance we heard the heavy and rumbling noise. It was not very far away, but one could clearly hear that the noise did not come from inside the kibbutz. And the noise went on and on and on. I asked what this protracted and continuous noise was, and one of the children told me that two kibbutz members had gone with bulldozers to Sarkas to destroy the houses of the Arabs. In real fear of Arab revenge I asked: ‘But what will the Arabs do when they come back and see that we have destroyed their homes?’ And he then answered: ‘That is why we destroy their homes, so that they do not come back’.
I then knew that the matter was lost. The home of Rashid was destroyed then so that he would not return. So that he, his mother in the long black robe who walks erect with the bundle of wood magnificently balanced on her head, and all his brothers and sisters who run barefoot on the stones would not return. And also now they will not let him come back.
In December 1972, the entire country was shaken with what was dubbed in the press as the ‘affair of the espionage and sabotage network’. Some thirty Arab youths and six Jewish youths, Israelis, were arrested on charges of forming a ‘sabotage organization’, operated by Syrian intelligence, whose object was ‘to damage the security of the state’. One of the Jewish detainees, a youth aged 26, was a son of my kibbutz. Another detainee from the Arab village of Jatt, was a youth named Mahmud Masarwa. In his defence speech he stated as follows:
The Honourable Court, Your Honourable Judges,
My father was born in the village of Sarkas, near kibbutz .. , in the vicinity of Haderah. My father was the son of a peasant. In 1948, he was removed from his land, expelled by force. Their lands were confiscated. Their homes were destroyed. On the site a factory for the kibbutz was built. My father was compelled to go out and seek work as a labourer in order to feed … [his family]. We went to live in such a tiny house: twelve people in the space of metres times 3 metres. In 1957, I remember this quite well, one year after the Sinai war, my father told me and my brother who sits here [in the court room]: ‘Go out to work in order that you at least help me to finance your studies .. .’ (Quoted from the official Protocol of the court proceedings.)
‘My brother who sits here in the court room!’
His brother who sat there was Rashid Masarwa who, in 1961, applied to be admitted to the kibbutz together with his Jewish wife. It was Rashid Masarwa who told the members of the kibbutz:
I want to live here as a loyal kibbutz member like everyone else, but I want my children to know that their father is an Arab, and I want my children to know the Quran, and I want them to celebrate all the Jewish holidays, but also know what Ramadan is, and that their grandfather and grandmother will come to visit them here in the kibbutz, and that my children will also go to the village to be with their grandfather and grandmother in the holidays.
Now he is sitting here, Rashid Masarwa, and watches his brother being sentenced for wanting to take by the force of arms what he himself had hoped to gain by application and consent, and all the brotherhood among the nations in the world could not be of any avail to them.
In the Ramleh central prison the son of the dispossessing kibbutz und the son of the dispossessed village met again. Only one youth, one Udi Adiv, from that kibbutz. resolved in his mind to cross the road. But the world has no space to accommodate the naive.
And if prisoners in jail do dream – both prisoners, no doubt, see in their dreams the colour of the sky, and perhaps they also savour the taste of mulberries.
1 Tantura is a Palestinian Arab village on the Mediterranean coast, some 13 km north of Caesaria. In 1944 its population was estimated at 1,470 Muslim and 20 Christian inhabitants. It was occupied by the Israeli army in 1948 and subsequently almost completely destroyed. All of its inhabitants were expelled and made refugees. The lands of the Palestinian Arab village of Tantura are now cultivated by the Israeli Jewish kibbutz Nahsholim (established 1948; population 350; area of cultivation 1,500 dunams). [Footnote probably by Uri Davis]
2 After the Russian conquest of Circassia from the Ottomans in 1878, many Circassian clans and families loyal to the Ottoman regime emigrated to various countries throughout the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid extended his support to the Circassian resettlement and made lands available to them in Palestine, inter alia, where there are two Circassian villages, Kufr Qama in Lower Galilee and Rihaniyya in Upper Galilee. The attempt to settle Circassians in the Northern Sharon, in the northern coastal plain, where they established the village of Sarkas failed, and the original Circassian inhabitants were gradually replaced by native Palestinian Arabs. In 1947 the village population totalled some 400 inhabitants. [Footnote probably by Uri Davis]
3 The Hebrew designation of historical Palestine.