Azriel Karlibach was the first editor and founding member of Ma’ariv, probably the widest read evening paper in Israel. “Cry Beloved Country” was published in Maariv on December 25, 1953 under Karlibach’s pseudonym Rabbi Ifkha Mistabrah. Since then, Maariv has rarely published comparable pieces. A better introduction to the subject of established Israeli-Jewish land policy would be difficult to find.
Cry Beloved Country
by Azriel Karlibach
Ma’ariv (daily) 25.2.1953
Come my little daughter, let us go to the Galilee. I have something urgent to tell you there.
You are not yet ten years old, and you won’t understand. And yet you must look, and you must see. And as you grow and reach twenty and thirty years of age, still it will not be clear. Maybe you’ll forget all about it all. But a day will come when you will be reminded of all that you are about to see, and then it will touch you and hurt you sorely. . .
That day – I’ll not be here to see it – you will ask me with pain and with anger: “You, Father? Did you do this?”
I want to show you the mountains, my daughter. The upper and lower Galilee. The area of Nazareth and Zippori and Bar’am. Wide lands, some fertile, some barren, on hill and dale, millions of dunams in all.
This country belonged to the Arabs in days you do not remember. Theirs were the villages, theirs the fields. Today you do not see them any more; flourishing Jewish settlements have taken their place, may they multiply. For we have had a miracle done for us; one day these Arabs rose up and run away from us and we took their lands and cultivated them. The former owners went and settled in other countries.
Here and there you can still see Arab villages. They belong to the few who stayed among us. No one knows why they stayed. Maybe because they did not have enough time to leave, or maybe because they hoped their lands would not be made part of the Jewish state. Maybe they hoped that even if they were included, no harm would come to them, for that was what the Jews had promised. Anyway, they became citizens in the country, they stayed.
“Where are their fields? ” you ask.
Those, my daughter, did not remain.
What happened to the fields? It’s simple; we took them. How? how can you take land belonging to someone else, someone who lives among us, who lives on his land and cultivates it?
There is no problem, my daughter. For that, all you need is power. If you have the power of the law behind you, you announce, for instance, that these fields area ‘closed area’. You forbid any man to go there without a permit. You give the permits only to your friends, the members of neighbouring kibbutzim who have been eyeing this land. You do not give a permit to the Arabs who own the land. The whole thing is that simple…
Is therenolaw? Are there no judges in Israel?
Yes, it’s true, there was that small technical obstacle. The Arabs came to our courts and demanded that the thieves return their land to them. The judges decided that the Arabs were the legal owners that had worked these fields for generations, that even the Security people did not see any reason to stop them from ploughing and reaping here, that the neighbouring kibbutzim did not and do not have any right to appropriate these lands which they had neither bought nor paid compensation for, that all this belongs to the Arabs and must be returned to them.
Well, if the judges have decided … ! The state will keep the law … !
No, my daughter. It’s not so. If the law is against the thief and the thief is strong enough, he makes a law that shall meet his ends.
All those who are party to the theft – and who is not? – gather at the Knesset. These three hundred thousand dunams have been taken by the Government, by Mapai, by Mapam, by the religious parties – by all of them. They say: “We are used to these lands. We like them. We don’t want the judges to stop us from holding on to them. Let us make a law that will keep the lands in our hands.”
But how? How does one write a law against the law?
You are still very young, my daughter. When you grow up you will see how easy it is. They simply wrote that there is no law about these lands. They wrote that the owners of these lands must not go to court.
Fine – but… but what will that do, since somewhere it’s recorded that the Arabs are the owners, there exists a land registry…
Well land ownership is registered – so what? They wrote in the law that the registration must be erased. The name of the Arab owner must be erased and a Jewish name must replace it.
Just like that?
Not quite, – but how it is done, I want to show you now.
This law against ‘thou-shalt-not-steal’ was passed three quarters of a year ago, but now, today, they are starting to carry it out. Now they have set up the official robbery offices where —
No, my daughter. I’ve changed my mind, we shall not go there. I shall not show you. I cannot. Maybe you won’t see anything there. Just one miserable, underpaid clerk. A rickety table, some papers, and nothing else. No heart-breaking scene. You are a Sabrah and you’re used to such things, for you it is natural that the world is divided in two: victors and vanquished, the man on top and the man underneath. But I – I am a Jew, I see there a clerk of the Kingdom of Spain sitting and writing on parchment ‘their belongings to be seized by the state’ to punish my ancestors because they did not believe in Queen Ysabella’s crucified god of justice; I see there a German clerk writing and stamping ‘All Jewish property appropriated legally in accordance with the law of acquisition from non-Aryans. . .’ Forgive me, my daughter, I have such eyes – and they are dizzy. They do not want to use the Jewish State in such a light, they strive against it with all their might. They defend themselves with all their strength, with a burning pain, against this sight, against these comparisons… And they deeply believe that this is not Israel and that the Jews are not like this, and that only a passing madness has entered some few who are drunk with power and greed. They pray that these leaders be forgiven, for their hearts know not what their hands are doing, as they are very new to the uses of power and in their haste they cannot see the fruits of their deeds… And they are certain, these eyes, that this view will vanish as a cloud… a nightmare…
But for now?
For now, for this moment – this is reality. At this moment the procedure used by the authorities is simple and involves two elements.
The first is very active. The first party are those who wish to change the theft to a legal operation. For that the thief needs only to bring a document from the minister attesting three things, according to the Law: First, that the land was taken some time during the first four years of the existence of the State of Israel, between 1948-1952, under any pretext whatsoever – security or settlement or ‘development’. Second, that the real owners, the Arabs, were not allowed to return to their land in April 1952. Third, that a Jew wishes to hold on to the land. Then, the land becomes the property of the ‘Development Agency’, ‘free of all mortgage and immediately’, and shall be registered as such in the land registry. The interested Jews are now busily preparing such documents.
This is the first element of the procedure.
And the second element?
He is the Arab. He is the previous owner of the land who has not been given access to it since the end of colonialism has been declared in this country, the end of the racial land laws, the end of discrimination and the beginning of human rights and of sacred democracy. He, the Arab, the previous owner of the land, must himself give his consent to the fact that his land has been taken from him by due process of law. And the Arabs of course are not so active in support of the authorities. They do not appear in the offices en masse to “arrange matters.”
If so, if the Arabs do not cooperate, and if they do not sign – isn’t then the whole deal null and void?
No. The law is not so naive as to bring the Arabs into it’s consideration. The law takes the land without the Arab having given it. The law even indemnifies, without his… receiving anything.
You’re joking. Father. How can that be?
It is no joke – except a bitter one – and it is very possible. It is possible because the Arab has to come and prove his ownership of the land. Not the Jew who took it, but the Arab from whom it was taken. Sort of an upside-down version of the rule: “the claimant must produce the evidence. It is well known how hard it is to prove land ownership in this country, particularly for an Arab, and especially for an Arab family ruptured, and scattered by war.
But even if he has proof it will do him no good. For he cannot turn to the courts to test the truth of his proofs. There is no court set up for this matter, but merely an official who decides to whom to give or not to give compensation. He decides: I’m convinced you are the owner and I shall pay you. Or he determines: I am not convinced and I shall not pay. The defendant decides the actual right to the claim!
Even if the official admits that this Arab was once the owner of the land – the Arab cannot yet demand his own. The law states that if he demands money he cannot receive what his land is worth, but only what it was worth… three years ago; on the first of January 1950. As though there has not been and shall not be any inflation. As if the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Development or anyone else in the country would agree to the same salary he received three years ago. Can a fellow, who is paid today twenty Israeli pounds to the dunam, buy himself with that a third or a fourth or even a fifth of a dunam?
What if he refuses the money?
Wait, my daughter, we are a wise and clever people. We have taken care of that too.
It will not do him any good not to accept the money. If he does not… the money is deposited with the court (for a purpose like that we turn suddenly to the judiciary) and is left there. Whether the Arab takes it or not, is not our affair. At any rate it does not matter, his land has passed “legally” into our hands…
But why – you ask – what does he need money for? He is a farmer and he wants land!
That is true, and the law has taken care of that as well. The law recognises that in special cases a farmer shall receive land, if the land that was taken from him had been either (a) – used for farming, (b) – his main source of income, or (c) – if he has no other land which can support him. Should such a case exist, which means that he must prove that he has nothing to live on and that for six years he had been dying of hunger or should have died of hunger, then…
Then one of the Jewish kibbutzim who took tens of thousands of dunams; shall give him his own small plot of ground back at least?
No. All they have to do is to offer him other land. And not necessarily to hand it over to him, they may rent it out to him! And not to the value of all that was taken from him, but “a part” is enough. And they do not have to give him what he wants, but just – to offer.
But if he is offered, and he has no other means of livelihood, he will take it, won’t he?
Yes, that is what I wanted to show you, my daughter, in the Galilee, on the mountains on which walked the righteous prophets of Israel, on the shores of the sea where the doctrine of false love, which we laughed at and scornfully rejected, was born, we – a holy people. That is what I wanted to show you.
Yes, here and there are Arabs who can no longer resist. Their fields were taken from them many years ago. Impoverished, they squat on narrow plots. Now if they cooperate with this law of land “buying”, they may get, far from where they live, the smallest piece. And there are among them those who come to ask what they can get.
And now they are offered lands they cannot accept. They are offered chestnuts still in the fire. They are offered lands belonging to other Arabs. Lands of their brothers who ran across the border. And the Arabs say of course: “This land? – This is not yours. How can you offer it to us? – It belongs to our brother Arabs. Do you hope to make your theft legal by making us steal from our brothers? – What shall we tell their families who still live among us? – If they hear of a thing like this they will take revenge on us! – What will we do if they come back? – Shall we help in this disinheritance of flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and shall that be the compensation you give us?”
So the Arabs refuse to accept lands such as those. But we and our law do not care. We only have to offer, If they do not accept, they are to blame and we will wash our hands of them.
We enabled them to take full price for what we took from them. We are completely righteous. . .
Maybe we should not go to the Galilee, my daughter?
For I am slightly afraid, I’m afraid to pass on the road and meet them as they walk behind their skinny flocks. And when our car comes by, they raise their eyes to us and peer with burning hatred… I’m afraid to look in their eyes, because I am ashamed. They, this human dust, are the only people in the world whom I cannot look in the eye. I am not afraid to meet them in battle. I am not afraid of being an enemy to them or of defending myself from them. I am not ashamed to be a foe, a fugitive, a beggar or anything else… but a thief? A thief in the night I do not want to be.
I am not afraid for my skin. We are strong. Our car will speed past them proudly. They will move aside meekly. Everything will be all right. They are the minority. The operation will succeed and everything shall be registered legally in-our name…
But – this is not the end, this is the beginning of the story. The great quarrel with them is not ended, but merely begun. I am afraid for you, my daughter, because I fear that when you grow up, you will have to pay for all this. I do not know, how or when or with what, possibly, I hope, with money alone, but possibly with blood as you or your son go to war. Later or earlier, it is hard to tell. The East is asleep and wakes late, but suddenly. Someday, one way or another, it must harm us. This world knows about reparations. There are nations who must come some day, conscience dark and hands stained, to confess and pay. . . – There are ministers who must sign public agreements: ‘We have sinned, we are to blame and this is our expiation. . .’ We at least believe this. We are the people who gave birth to the idea that a nation’s fate is but the mirror of her justice, the justice by which she stands or falls…
We know this is the test: our behaviour to a weak minority in its weakness. We have felt on our own flesh, for two thousand years, that is the mark of the maturity or rottenness of a state: whether she uses the power of her rule to steal the poor man’s lamb, or the stranger’s.
If we are called before the throne of History to answer for our behaviour to the neighbouring Arab countries, what shall we have to answer? If we are called to account for our reaction to the terrorists and the security measures, even if they are overdone, and for the military government and the travel restrictions, we shall have some kind of answer to give and we shall be able to stand up to the world with our heads high.
But if we are asked: “Did you, in all this wide country with her many deserts and her few Jewish farmers, did you have to make a mockery of all your oaths before yourselves and before the council of nations? Did you have to betray all the prophecies of your prophets who foresaw the return of the people to the land? Did you have to desecrate all law and all justice in order to steal a few thousand dunams from a handful of miserable Arab villagers… ?”
When we are asked that, we shall not be able to lift our heads.
Come, my daughter, to one of the farms on that stolen land. Come to the auditorium named in the memory of one of our first pioneers, who came to this people carrying the banner of the brotherhood of nations. In the evening they shall lecture there on a subject that is much more popular than the one your father chose today. They will tell of a brave author, who lifted his voice against the suppression of the Blacks by the Whites in his country – even though he himself is white. And they shall speak loftily against the thieves of natives’ lands in far off Africa…
And then stop listening to the lofty speeches and listen to the beloved land upon which those things are being said.
And you shall hear: our beloved country is crying, too.
And when you grow up, you will right the wrong and you will silence her cry.