Article 95 of the Lebanese Constitution provides the mechanism for annulling political sectarianism. Its presence in the constitution stresses the fact that annulment of sectarianism has become a national requirement. History has proven, especially during the war years, that sectarian feelings inflames crises and paves the way for foreign intervention. They help increase people's insecurities and uncertainties about the future, and usher in plans that do not serve the unity of Lebanon, its people, its land and its institutions. Sectarianism has disfigured Lebanon's democratic system and has been a formidable obstacle to the practice of democracy.
Yet, despite its enshrinement in the Taif Accord, the sectarian problem in Lebanon remains very strong. One example will suffice. Recently, a government minister decided that some schools in a specific area close on Friday and Sunday instead of Saturday and Sunday. For many, this might sound trivial, but it is not. The preoccupation of Lebanese politicians with such matters reflects a dangerous trend toward the very sectarian feelings which tore apart the fabric of Lebanese society on at least two occasions since independence in 1943. It is a blatant consecration of the division of Lebanese society along confessional lines and the transcendence of religious rights over the rights of citizenship.
Sectarianism not Religiosity
Sectarianism is a danger that threatens the Lebanese entity, which is built upon sharing, balance, and harmony. Sectarian loyalty among individuals and groups obstructs national loyalty in its broad concept. Developing national loyalty on a non-sectarianism basis is the solution that enables Lebanon to benefit of its religions diversity and cultural richness.
Here we have to distinguish between religion and sectarianism. Religion is a relationship with the creator. It has one essence but different forms, and it calls for virtues among humans. As for sectarianism, it is the exploitation of religion or of a sect for private or political interests.
As much as one should respect religions and the nobleness of their mission, one should condemn sectarianism because it ruins the relationships between members of the same country. Commitment to religion demands commitment to the state, but driftage behind sectarianism leads to divisions and chaos.
Another difference is that, while sectarianism implies some intolerance of "others" and encourages feelings of competition with them, religiosity does not necessarily imply intolerance. Moreover, a sectarian person is not necessarily a religious person in practice, behavior, and attitudes. To the contrary, it is common to find people in Lebanon who have strong sectarian feelings and may exhibit sectarian behavior, but who are secular in terms of their daily conduct and general attitudes - including many who are non-practicing Muslims and Christians. It is also common to find a person who may act in a sectarian or religious way but have secular positions on some issues. Finally, Sectarianism does not necessarily reflect religious dogmas, although it may use them heavily at times. Sectarianism "is mainly a political tool whose advocates often exaggerate the significance of "ethnic" markers in sectarian communities in order to stress their differences and promote an identity of each community versus others. The proponents of sectarianism may shift tactics and arguments, sometimes drastically, to achieve power ends."
The Future Movement
A recent study by the Future Movement of Rafic al-Hariri on the sectarian problem in Lebanon has noted:
In order to annul political sectarianism we should begin a serious, mature and sustained dialogue at a national level, airing the real issues and raising awareness in preparation for solving the problem. Raising the issue every now and then to serve partisan political interests does not solve the problem of sectarianism. Such an approach creates opposition, polarization and rejection and further complicates the realization of the goal.
This is all very nice, but it doesn't explain why the Future Movement failed to launch "a serious, mature and sustained dialogue at a national level" when its self-declared leader, Rafic al-Hariri, held the reins of power in Lebanon for almost a decade. In fact, Hariri's record in office is replete with behavior that tended to encourage rather than discourage sectarianism. For example, Hariri opposed various initiatives by the Syrian Social National Party and other groups to secularize the Personal Law in Lebanon, as a first step to eliminate sectarianism in the administration, in order to appease voters in his own sectarian community. This double-standard in the public and private life of Lebanese politicians, like Hariri, is hurting the Lebanese polity and retarding its progress toward secularism.
Like Hariri, Lebanese politicians are long on platitudes and short on vision. They don't have any practical policies for the eradication of sectarianism or the courage to face their constituencies with the problem.
One of the first and most important steps in this direction is to understand what kind of disease sectarianism is. The sect, by the nature of its life, "is introspective. It has mirrors where windows ought to be. Its concern is for its own housekeeping problems - how to maintain the orthodoxy of the sect, and how to bring others to it. It must constantly define and redefine its terms so as to guard against creeping heterodoxy. In this introspection, it loses significant relationship to the world around it. The sect is not only separated from other sects but is also cut off from the mainstream of secular life. Being absorbed in its own institutional purity, it becomes irrelevant to the social concerns of the world." In other words, sectarianism, as an end product of sect, lives in the backwater of life, talking of old questions and ancient issues but unable to come to grips with the contemporary urgencies. To try to live by a literal imitation of these old questions and issues is to be called from the living present to the dead past.
Another step in fighting sectarianism would require an acknowledgement of the complexity of the problem. Most Lebanese would readily admit to the problem but think that sectarianism can be eradicated from their life through simple ad hoc reforms. Sectarianism, as a social disease, requires radical solutions and a program of intense national education to overcome the existing psychological barriers before it can be removed. Such education would have to go further than merely pointing out the problems and contradictions of sectarianism. It has to consist of making the Lebanese more aware of their social responsibility and their stake in it.
Thirdly, beating sectarianism would require a clear plan of action. Ensuring a shared future is the major challenge for any society. It is not enough to share power. We need to share life. Growing segregation represents a loss to us all, as well as a threat to our stability. Building a shared future requires a number of complementary steps.
(1) there must be comprehensive action to tackle sectarianism.
(2) sharing must be encouraged.
(3) equality of opportunity must be ensured. We strongly believe that good relations cannot be built on unequal foundations. There must also be consistent action to fight inequality and promote human rights.
(4) action against sectarianism needs to be matched by action against other forms of intolerance, such as racism and familism.
Achieving these goals requires political leadership and concerted action to achieve a more shared and pluralist society where sectarianism and other forms of intolerance are effectively tackled. This process can be started by introducing, for example, a Sectarian and Hate Crimes Act to include:
- tougher sentences for crimes motivated by sectarianism or other forms of intolerance, backed up by proper enforcement.
- a requirement on the police to monitor sectarian offences.
- a total overhaul of present laws on incitement to hatred to make them effective.
A prescriptive approach for the elimination of sectarianism, at the very least, should include the following:
- banning groups (political parties and associations of any form) that promote hate speech or use sectarian symbols from public life.
- outlawing of sectarian gatherings.
- outlawing the showing from public and private property of sectarian symbols.
- repeal of laws that recognize the sect as a separate entity in any form or substance.
- devising a common strategy on removal of sectarian manifestations.
- promoting secular education and secular schools.
- Outlawing sectarian discrimination in all fields of public and private life.
- establishing annual and local policing plans to include action against sectarian crime.
- introducing a non-sectarian fair employment monitoring regime.
- creating a Good Relations Commission or an independent body of some sort to approve strategic plans, carry out investigations and research, and advise and challenge government and other bodies on good relations.
- Bringing together political parties, religious institutions, business and the community/voluntary sector to agree to action across society to promote sharing and combat sectarianism.
- Rewarding promoters of non-sectarian activities.
- Coordinated action by the Ministry of Education involving schools, teacher training, and curricular development.
Sectarianism can and will be changed in Lebanon but it will take time; time for the communities to build trust and understanding of each other, time for the parties to gain enough courage to lead people away from the hatred of the past and to look to the future free of fear and intimidation. Hopefully, the net result would be a social nationalist society based on respect for each tradition no matter how painful that maybe. The problem of sectarianism is not insurmountable but it takes great courage to bring about the revolutionary change which is needed to tackle the phobias and prejudice which emanate from it.
Where to start?
There are no quick fix solutions to the problem of sectarianism and extremism: they are to be tackled in a systematic and methodical manner. The first task is to understand where the roots of the problem lie. It is impossible to believe that, as a society, the Lebanese are born with violence and religious bigotry and sectarianism in their hearts. We see these problems in large part as the result of children being educated into ways of thinking that makes them susceptible to these things. Some children take these lessons to heart in ways that have terrible consequences when they are adults. If we are right, then there is a critical need to reform the educational system that produces this worldview.
It is clear to us that the identity and value system of children is strongly shaped by the national curriculum and textbooks. Among the key subjects are Social Studies, Arabic, Geography and History. This is where children are taught about who they are, how to think about society and about relationships, how to understand their fellow citizens in different parts of the country and those with different religions, and about the rest of the world.
The Lebanese cannot depend on the family and/or polity to stamp out sectarianism: both of these institutions are riddled with sectarian feelings. The key is to start educating the next generation how values of mutual respect, equality, justice and peace that can contribute towards a just, peaceful and democratic Lebanon. Day after day, year after year, our children are taught to despise and hate peoples of other faiths and nations, to accept bias against women and minorities, to glorify violence and to celebrate prejudice. This all has to stop and there is no better way than education.
In order to eliminate the scourge of sectarianism it is vital to have a real understanding of its nature, uses and real character. Political campaigns to stop sectarian prejudice and anti-sectarian rhetoric go some way to obscuring the problem but do little to solve it. The practical way to eliminate sectarianism is to educate the public about the problem and to raise awareness of its harmful effects not only for the present generation but also for the future ones. Education leads to awareness and awareness to action.
Sectarianism has to be eliminated first from the human hearts and minds and then from the laws of the country. The law books can be re-written anytime with the most modern and up-to-date concepts, and the administration of the state can be revamped many times over, but it will not wotk if the people remain immersed in sectarian sentiments.
1. Salim al-Hoss, "Horizons of Prospective Change in Lebanon," Beirut Review 3 (Spring 1992): 11.
2. Sami A. Ofeish, "Lebanon’s second republic: secular talk, sectarian application," Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Wntr, 1999.
3. Ahmad Beydoun, "Lebanon's Sects and the Difficult Road to a Unifying Identity," Beirut Review 6 (Fall 1993): 15-16.
Education and Awareness: The key to beating
Assumptions of the Arab as the ecological despoiler of the land have long been held in Zionist and Israeli popular thought. Both lay and scholarly scientific literature has consistently and repeatedly blamed Palestinians for having destroyed aspects of the landscape. For example, in Israeli geography textbooks used in the education curricula of both the Yishuv and the Israeli state, the local Arabs have often been blamed for having transformed the once vastly cultivated areas of ancient and biblical times into desert. The phrase the Arab was "not only the son of the desert but also the father of the desert," originally coined by the British governor of Sinai, Major C. S. Jarvis, has often been quoted in Israeli and Yishuv textbooks. In more recent times, the twentieth century's erosion of cultivated areas has been blamed upon the outdated farming techniques of Bedouin herders and the burning of trees for the making of charcoal. These dominant and widely held Israeli Jewish assumptions were translated into the Black Goat Ordinance and the Plant Protection (Damage by Goats) Law of 1950, which authorised Israeli bureaucratic agencies to confiscate goats grazing on state and privately held lands not owned by their Bedouin farmers. In addition, such assumptions have been translated into prohibitive orders issued during the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In the early 1980s, for example, the military authorities prohibited the making of charcoal in certain areas of the West Bank.
In contrast to this anti-Palestinian stereotype, widely held Israeli assumptions have constructed the Jew as the protector of ecology. Afforestation is a reflection of the Jews' love of the land and their intentions to return it to its flourishing biblical forms. Israeli school children have been inculcated with the importance of blooming the land. On Tu-Bishvat (New Year of the Trees), an Israeli national holiday, school children are taken to plant trees or shrubs in the soil of the homeland. Further, the planting of trees has been elevated to major national significance as foreign state leaders and dignitaries visiting Israel have often been invited to plant trees in forests and groves. Western tourists and sympathisers of the Israeli state have also been encouraged to plant trees as a part of their tourist itineraries, or to donate money to Israel's afforestation drives.
This long-term Zionist-Israeli ecological attack on the Palestinians has stemmed from the need to undercut their connection to the land and their claims to nationhood in Palestine. In the eighties, the West Bank military authorities banned the picking of zatar (wild thyme), a popular local herb used by Palestinians in their daily cuisine. According to Benvenisti, the decision to ban the picking of zatar stemmed from some "genuine concern" for its long-term ecological existence. But the prohibition order, he explains, was "also a strong political and ideological statement." This statement went as follows: "You Palestinians despoil the land indiscriminately because you don't feel for it, ergo it is not your homeland; we look after it, therefore, it is ours." Ted Swedenburg's deconstruction of Israeli greening, however, is even more significant. According to his reading, Israeli afforestation has existed as a "veritable holy sanctuary." Not only has the Israeli forest symbolised both the rescuing of the land from Arab desolation and the construction of the Israeli Jew as the "guardian" of the landscape, but thousands of trees have been planted in Israel to commemorate the victims of the European Holocaust: "The forest's emotional charge," Swedenburg states, "is redoubled by its additional function of memorialising the victims of Nazi persecution." Thus, "afforestation," he continues, has been directly "linked, materially and symbolically, to the Holocaust, for thousands of trees have been planted in memory of lost communities and individual victims."
The second aspect of the erasure of Palestinian landscape memory was the eradication of the Arabic nomenclature of all topographical features of pre-48 Palestine: the landscape's streams, mounts, springs, tells, and wadies. Just as the abandoned villages of 1948 were displaced by new Jewish settlements, Arabic names were replaced by new and old Hebrew names. In July 1949, 9 Israeli scholars with backgrounds in cartography were constituted by Ben-Gurion as the Committee for the Designation of Place-Names in the Negev Region (also known as the Negev Names Committee [NNC]). Essentially, they were commissioned to assign Hebrew names to the newly conquered desert areas of the Negev and Arava. The IDF had formally conquered the Negev and Arava by March 10 1949. By that time, most of the local Arab population had either been expelled or had fled from these southern areas. Ben-Gurion and the map-makers of the NNC now sought to erase symbolically the Arabs' prior existence in that area, and to formalise Jewish possession of the land. This enterprise was undertaken by changing the names of the landscape's topographical features from Arabic to Hebrew. As the letter from Ben-Gurion to the Committee's chairman clearly indicates, this dual process of erasure and symbolic possession was of significant national importance: "We are obliged to remove the Arabic names for reasons of state. Just as we do not recognise the Arabs' political proprietorship of the land, so also do we not recognise their spiritual proprietorship and their names." The Committee's work was completed on March 20 1950. The 533 new names that it constructed were printed on the Committee's 1:250:000 scale map of south Israel that was published in 1951.
The main mechanism by which the Committee worked to take symbolic possession of the Negev and Arava areas, was to lump past and present together by actively seeking to rename topographical features on the basis of biblical or ancient Hebrew names. This process, known as redemption by nomenclature, began in the early years of Zionist colonisation of Palestine. The last British map of Palestine was issued in 1948. Only 5% of all its place-names (which were transliterated into English) were Hebrew; the rest were Arabic. In the pre-state period, the Yishuv was permitted to name only Jewish communities that were established upon Jewish owned lands. This task was assigned to the Jewish National Fund Naming Committee (JNF Naming Committee). Operating from 1925 to 1951, it was headed by Menachem Ussishkin, and it was he who put in place the methods by which the newly established settlements would be named. As Ussishkin himself outlined in what is the second prescript to this chapter, the names of settlements would be established by determining the ancient names located near the Jewish settlement. This was primarily achieved by the Hebraicisation of contemporary Arabic names that were thought to have preserved the ancient Hebrew. The purpose of this redemption, Ussishkin makes clear, was to legitimise the establishment of the new settlements on the basis of a prior Jewish existence-to demonstrate the Jews' "rightful claims to these places" given the "historical and ancient" Jewish patrimony. In the event that this process was not achievable, the assignment of a new name dedicated to a leading Jewish figure or an aspect of Zionism would be given: "If the committee is not convinced," Ussishkin wrote, "that the new or restored settlement is located in the vicinity of a place where there was a Jewish settlement during a prior period in the history of Israel in its land-the committee shall assign it a name memorialising a personality or a symbolic name." In its twenty-six years of operation, the JNF Naming Committee assigned the names of approximately 400 Jewish communities.
Many of the Hebrew place-names of ancient Israel were assimilated and preserved in an Arabic form after the seventh century take-over of Palestine by Islamic conquerors. Christian scholars of the mid-nineteenth century read the Bible against modern Arabic place-names in order to locate ancient and biblical sites. According to Edward Robinson, the scholar who first used this device, "the Hebrew names of places continued current in their Aramaean form long after the times of the New Testament... After the Muhammadan conquest, when the Aramaean conquest gradually gave place to the kindred Arabic, the proper names of places found their ready entrance: and have thus lived on upon the lips of the Arabs, whether Christian or Muslim, townsmen or Bedouin even unto our own day, almost in the same form in which they have also been transmitted to us in the Hebrew scriptures." British cartographers of the late nineteenth century and the Mandate period emulated this tool in their own map-making of Palestine.
It was primarily through this process of redeeming historical place-names from the Arabic that the official maps of the Israeli state were constructed. Indeed, 333 of the 533 names constructed by the NNC were either Arabic names translated into Hebrew, or biblical-sounding but authentic Arabic names that were simply Hebraicised. (In other words, in this latter respect, where the ancient Hebrew could not be determined, the Committee simply assimilated the biblical sounding Arabic name into a modern Hebrew form). This dual process of re-naming was, of course, powerfully ironic: once the Arabic names were transformed and imprinted on Israeli maps, the Arabic names became erased and were forgotten, and most Israelis understood the new Hebrew names to be eternal. "No Israeli would imagine," Benvenisti confidently asserts, that the biblical sounding name "of Kibbutz Grofit comes from Umm Jurfinat, that Beer Ada was Bir Abu Auda, and that the name of Yerukham (a town near Beer Sheva) replaced the Arabic name, Rakhma." Further, the erasure of the Arabic nomenclature by the NNC was solidified by the bureaucratic apparatuses: "The bureaucracy," Benvenisti continues, "wields tremendous power in its imposition of the new map: road signs, postal cancellations, office correspondence, and journalistic reports all reinforce the effort."
This process of transforming Arabic names into Hebrew ones was not only confined to the work of the NNC, but was utilised in the work of all the major re-naming enterprises. As previously stated, the IPS determined that "the Hebrew names" of many of the settlements that replaced the 418 Arab villages depopulated during the 1948 war, "have replaced their Arabic predecessors, sometimes faintly and mockingly echoing them." From May 1948 to March 1951, the JNF Naming Committee assigned approximately 200 new names to the Jewish settlements that were being erected throughout the country. The reason behind this mocking echo was that in many instances, the JNF Naming Committee simply Hebraicised the existing Arab place-names. Given the extensive construction of new settlements and the need for names denoting an historical legitimacy, the JNF Naming Committee generally requested a listing from the settlers themselves of the Arabic names of the new settlement's surrounding topography: "In order for us to be able to assign you a name, please send us a list of the hills, valleys, stream beds (wadies), and archaeological tells with distinctive names in Arabic," was one typical request from the JNF Naming Committee. Consequently, many of the Jewish settlements erected upon or near abandoned Palestinian villages received Hebraicised forms of Arabic place-names. Most of these were genuine redemptions of ancient Jewish names: Faradiyya was transformed back into the older Parod; Dallata back into Dalton; Kasla into Ksalon; Beit Dajan into Beit Dagon; Yibna into Yavne; and Zirin into Yizrael and so on. Others, however, were authentic Arabic names with no ancient Hebrew connection that became Hebraicised: Zakariyya into Zecharia; Manawat into Manot; Kamana into Kamon; Jalun into Gillon. But "who's to know," Benvenisti cynically states, "that the biblical-sounding name Tefen, for example, is actually the Arabic name al-Tufaniyya."
In March 1951, the NNC and the JNF Naming Committees were merged into a new body. Known as the Governmental Naming Committee (GNC), it was authorised essentially to rename the entire remaining areas of the cultural landscape. Like the JNF Naming Committee and the NNC before it, the GNC sought to do this primarily by restoring the preserved ancient Hebrew names from the Arabic nomenclature, or by transforming the authentic Arabic names into Hebrew. The critical difference between the GNC and the NNC was its scale. The GNC's work went on for nine years in total, and in that time it had constructed 3,000 new names. Whereas the NNC was confined to mapping the desert and sparsely populated areas of Israel's south, the GNC was required to map the heavily populated areas of Israel's central and northern regions. Towards the end of the fifties, significant pressure was put on the GNC to speed up its re-naming and re-mapping activities. This was done not simply to reflect the erection of new Jewish settlements and the roads connecting them, but to erase the formal existence of Arabic place-names that continued to exist in Israeli consciousness, and to provide the public with the new Hebrew names it needed for daily communication. Throughout the fifties, British Mandate maps of pre-48 Palestine, with their overwhelming number of Arabic place-names, were reproduced in accordance with the needs of the Israeli public. Circles indicating new Jewish settlements were sketched onto the old maps, whereas most of the abandoned Palestinian villages were designated by the term harus (destroyed). The obvious consequence of this was that much of the old landscape was preserved in print, and these maps served as testimony to the refugees' prior presence in the land. But when the map of the GNC was finally completed and published in the early sixties-a map that reflected the massive demographic changes made in the landscape-all memory of pre-48 Palestine had been officially erased. In its place were the Hebrew names of Jewish settlements, roads, and topographical features.
In contrast to this immense intellectual war on the memory of pre-48 Palestine, Palestinian refugees have conducted a symbolic counter-erasure of the present day Jewish reality of the land. Palestinian refugees have sustained memories of their former villages and homes by using maps depicting pre-48 Palestine only. On these maps, the Jewish settlements erected after 1948 are of course absent, and the Jewish settlements established in the days of the Yishuv have generally been classified according to the different periods of the Zionist settlement drives in the land. Similarly, Palestinian refugees have immortalised the names of their lost villages and cities in the organisational structures of the refugee camps in the displaced Palestinian diaspora. "Dozens perhaps even hundreds of names like Lydda, Haifa, Jaffa, and Ramle," wrote the Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein in the early nineties, "have been bestowed upon schools, streets, squares, whole neighbourhoods, and even businesses wherever the refugees of 1948 live." Most of these names, however, have not been given to the names of refugee settlements or camps in order to avoid a sense of permanence in the new and ever temporary setting. Names of lost places saturated other structures within the refuge in order to foster (counter)-memories of lost but always portable landscapes. Like the thousands of keys and title deeds to former homes kept by displaced Palestinians, the preservation of the names of distant villages and towns is indicative of the obsessive longing to return. "Anyone," continued Rubinstein, "who happens to find himself at an early morning hour near the exit from Jebalya refugee camp in Gaza, or other places where Palestinian labourers assemble to travel to work in Israel, can hear the names of these vanished cities and villages. In announcing their destinations, the drivers who transport these workers refer to a lost map, calling out names like Faluja (rather than Kiryat Gat), Qastina (rather than Kiryat Malachi), Isdud, Yazur, Zarnuqa, and other places that disappeared from the map over forty years ago." In this significant respect, therefore, names and maps have existed in a fundamental intellectual battle over memory. Whereas Israelis have sought to erase all memory of the prior Palestinian presence in Palestine, Palestinian refugees have sought to preserve that memory, and by doing so, they have asserted a mental counter-erasure of the present day Jewish realities on the land.
In sharp contrast to the erasive work of the Israeli naming committees, Palestinian preservation research has often avoided reference to the pre-Palestinian Jewish presence in the land. The IPS, for example, consciously erased the pre-Palestinian Jewish biblical presence at some abandoned Arab village sites. Take the following two examples: those of the abandoned Palestinian villages of Sataf and al-Zib. Both Arab villages were constructed over the ruins of ancient Jewish biblical sites, and both assimilated their place-names into Arabic. Sometime after Sataf was depopulated in 1948, the Israeli authorities converted some of its remains into a tourist site. As Gazi Falah outlines, although some of the "cultural relicts" at the mountain village site of Sataf "have been preserved for tourist purposes," the Jewish "official historical records [displayed at the site] usually indicate an existence that extends back to biblical times. In these ways, Palestinian Arab cultural contributions to the village site have been trivialised as Jewish history has been foregrounded. In a kind of reverse palimpsest, the ancient layers beneath the Palestinian site have been highlighted." Yet, in its description of Sataf as the abandoned Arab village site, the IPS ignores any reference to the biblical Sataf, and omits the post-48 foregrounding of Jewish biblical roots. The IPS describes its present situation as follows: "The area around the village spring, which is located to the east next to the ruins of a rectangular stone house, has been turned into an Israeli tourist site." The IPS then describes how the site was covered by a JNF forest in dedication to Moshe Dayan. This sequence of facts strongly implies that the present Jewish Sataf exists as a tourist site primarily because of its afforestation and not because of its biblical past.
Similarly, the IPS omits any biblical reference in its description of the present day Jewish Achziv. In the biblical period, Achziv was conquered by the Israelites from the Phoenicians. A Jewish presence existed there until the seventh century CE. In the Medieval era, Achziv was the site of a Christian Crusader fort. After the Arab village of al-Zib was depopulated in 1948, the village site became a popular Israeli tourist and recreation spot called Achziv. (Kibbutz Gesher Ha-Ziv was constructed on the village's former lands in 1949 and lies nearby). According to Ted Swedenburg's close inspection of the ruins at Achziv, although no authentic biblical remains can be seen at the site, the Palestinian remains of the village have been cleansed of their Arab semiotic configurations, and have been made to look like artifacts of ancient and Crusader eras. For example, the former village mosque which is closed off from the public, lies next to the remains of a crusader castle and is ambiguously designated as a "holy site." Similarly, the local museum's artifacts which consists primarily of modern Arab relics, are deliberately interspersed with artifacts of ancient eras. Tourist signs and markers erected by Israelis have reinforced the effort: "The salient point in the Achziv narrative," Swedenburg explains, "is that Jews, who once had a flourishing community in this place (although there appear to be no identifiable archaeological traces of that presence), have returned to reclaim it." The IPS, on the other hand, traces the village site's long history but fails to mention anything of the Jews' biblical presence at the site. Al-Zib, it states, "was established on top of a Canaanite town, Akzib ('trickster'), which was taken by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. Archaeological excavations have shown that settlement began long before this date, in the eighteenth century BCE, and that by the tenth century BCE there was a walled town on the site." Additionally, although the IPS does acknowledge the fact that Achziv presently exists as a tourist site, nowhere does the IPS state that the site has been textualised with Jewish roots.
The massive eleven volume work by Palestinian writer Mustafa Dabbagh entitled Biladuna Filastin (Our Homeland Palestine), is also erasive of the ancient Jewish existence on the land. This work, described as "the most comprehensive study of the historical geography of Arab Palestine" by Benvenisti, deliberately erases the Jewish roots of Arabic place-names. According to Benvenisti's reading, all of the Arabic place-names that have been derived from Hebrew and Aramaic names are classified as having Canaanite, Syriac, Phoenician, or older Arabic origins. As Benvenisti explains, "the name of the village Abil al-Qamh, derived from the biblical [place-]name Abel Beth Maacha (2 Sam. 20: 14)," is described by Dabbagh in the following manner: "In Arabic the word Abil, in this specific context, means a hill, and therefore the meaning of the name is Hill of Flour-because of the quality of the flour that was produced in this village." Similarly, according to Benvenisti, the name of the Arab village called Birim is a precise preservation of an ancient Hebrew place-name. However, Dabbagh explains its roots as being "derived from the Canaanite word 'peryam,' meaning a place where there is much fruit." In actual fact, Benvenisti asserts, there was no relation between Birim and Peryam, and the term Peryam itself was not Canaanite at all, but was derived from the Hebrew word Piryam, meaning their fruits.
It is highly significant that both works by Dabbagh and the IPS have been erasive of Jewish biblical roots, as it demonstrates scholarly Palestinian attempts to erase the Jews' historical claims to the land, while highlighting the realities of Israeli dispossession. These Palestinian analysts have sought to undermine the historical legitimacy of the Israeli state by preserving the memory of the Palestinian presence on the land, exclusive of the Jewish ancient presence. Whereas Dabbagh's work may well be the most comprehensive study of the historical geography of pre-48 Palestine, the IPS' work on Israeli erasure of all the abandoned villages is also extremely detailed and comprehensive. Moreover, the IPS is probably the most significant Palestinian publishing house dedicated to maintaining and promoting the study of Palestinian culture and history in general. That both the IPS and Dabbagh engaged in such counter-erasive discourse is unscholarly and even hypocritical.
The third aspect of Israeli landscape erasure was the attack on the religious and sacred sites of pre-48 Palestine: the abandoned shrines of religious figures, village mosques, and village cemeteries. In much the same way that the Arab local inhabitants of Palestine adopted and moulded the existing biblical place-names into their own nomenclature, much of the landscape's popular religious traditions were assimilated and developed into the Arabs' own forms of popular religion. In addition to the Arab reverence for local Muslim figures from the Quran, shaykhs, preachers, healers, and miracle workers, many of the biblical figures of both the Old and New Testaments were also revered. This reverence was easily achieved given the fact that Orthodox Islam has, of course, always recognised the sanctity of Christian and Judaic figures. The burial places of many of these identities were attributed with spiritual powers that could help Muslims through difficult challenges of life such as drought, famine, war, and illness. The development of these traditions was ostensibly popular, and was not recognised by Orthodox Islam given the strict prohibitions against the sanctification of burial places. Nonetheless, for the many Muslims of Palestine who understood the world as being influenced by spirits, demons, miracles, and other expressions of popular religion, faith in the holy powers of saints was of more importance than faith in Orthodox Islam. Indeed, the cult of the graves was extensive: by 1948 every village had a holy site dedicated to a saint. Given the religious prohibitions against the worship of graven images shared by Jews and Muslims alike (but not by Christians), the bond between Islam and Judaism was especially close. In fact, the Arabs adopted some of the Jews' worship of Jewish figures from the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras. Indeed, Jews and Muslims often worshipped at the same sites dedicated to the same identities. The Arabs "treat the graves of the holy tanaim [Mishnaic sages] as extremely sacred," wrote a seventeenth century Safad rabbi.
The worship of local saints effectively ended as a consequence of the exodus of 1948. Some of these shrines were reduced to rubble during the demolition of the villages that either surrounded them, or were located in their nearby vicinity. Most, however, were left standing. This was probably because of the superstitious fears held by the Israelis responsible for their destruction, that the dead would punish those who desecrated their graves. Over a hundred of these shrines have either collapsed mainly because of neglect and decay (but also because of instances of vandalism), or they presently exist in advanced stages of deterioration. Other shrines, on the other hand, were assimilated into local Jewish religious traditions. To cite one set of examples, for generations the graves of the sons of the patriarch Jacob were worshipped by local Muslims. Some time after 1948, Jews sanctified the graves of Reuben, Judah, Asher, Simeon, and Benjamin on the basis of the Jewish religion. The graves of Nabi Rubin (Prophet Rueben), Nabi Yahud (Judah), Nabi Yamin (Benjamin), and Nabi Samaan (Simeon) were all Judaicised. Additionally, the grave of Nabi Samt was Judaicised as the site of the biblical figure Samson. Israeli Jews adopted these grave sites irrespective of the fact that mainstream Judaism has traditionally understood these sites to be inaccurate, on the basis that graves of these same identities have been located in other areas of Palestine. The Jewish individuals who sanctified these and other graves ignored the fact that they were held sacred by Muslims for generations, and they left little material evidence of that connection. Indeed, the green curtain that adorned the grave of Nabi Rubin with its Muslim inscription: "There is no God but Allah, and Rubin is his prophet," was replaced with another curtain stating: "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength." Similarly, the fabrics with the Quranic inscriptions that once hung over the gravestones of Nabi Yamin were replaced with cloths embroidered with biblical verses. The Islamic-looking stone dome at Samson's shrine was removed after its Judaicisation. Although little material evidence exists of their prior Islamic significance, the holy powers ascribed to them have in many instances remained the same. Prayer at the grave of Benjamin by women is understood to increase fertility. Similarly, barren women or women seeking to give birth to males often pray at the grave of Simeon. As with other newly adopted Muslim traditions, these practices were undertaken by thousands of Muslims in the decades and centuries before 1948.
A study undertaken recently by an Israeli religious organisation, called the Foundation of the World, determined that of the more than 500 Jewish holy sites and graves in Israel and the occupied territories, many (but not the majority), were former Muslim sites. Whereas some Muslim grave sites were Judaicised basically because the identity of the holy dead was relevant to both Islam and Judaism, other non-relevant Muslim grave sites were transformed into different Jewish figures. The shrine of Sitt (Lady) Sakina was Judaicised in 1995. Sitt Sakina, a relative of the prophet Muhammad, was transformed into the grave of the wife of the well known first century CE Rabbi, Rabbi Akiva. Similarly, the burial place of Zachary, the father of John the Baptist-a renowned figure in Islam-was erroneously sanctified as the shrine of the Old Testament prophet Zecharia. The burial place of Jacob's son Dan was originally the site of a grave belonging to a Muslim shaykh, Shaykh Gharib.
Unlike Islamic shrines, the majority of village mosques were physically destroyed by the Israelis during their demolition of abandoned Muslim villages. According to Benvenisti's field research, of the forty or so that still remain (from a total of 140 abandoned mosques), twenty exist in neglect and decay. The rest have been assimilated into rival functions by those Israelis who have taken control of them. "The bare statistics," Benvenisti states, are that "six are being used as living quarters, sheep-pens or stables; carpentry shops, or storehouses; six have been or are at present serving as museums, bars, or tourist sites of some sort; four are being used wholly or in part as synagogues; and two have been partially renovated for Muslim worship, but that use has been either prohibited or restricted." Six abandoned Palestinian churches also exist in a state of neglect and decay. Although a cemetery existed in almost every Arab village before 1948, today the remains of only forty exist. The rest were either bulldozed during the demolition of their adjoining villages, or their simple tombstones and graves have crumbled and decayed over time, or their sites have been buried under by Israeli roads, agriculture, or commercial and residential dwellings.
The sites of these remaining shrines, mosques, and cemeteries exist as a further battleground over the memory of pre-48 Palestine. Numerous Israeli-Arab organisations, such as Adalah (Justice), the al-Aqsa Association for the Preservation of Consecrated Islamic Property, and smaller committees established by internal refugees and their children (Palestinian refugees of 1948 that remained in Israel), have for decades fought to preserve these sites from either being destroyed by Israeli developers, desecrated by renovators, or allowed to become ruined over time. (Islamic groups have avoided the battle over shrines on the basis that they reflect non-Orthodox practice, and have focused instead on the abandoned mosques and cemeteries). Both Israeli private and governmental bodies have generally argued the needs of development and of residential expansion in order to erase these relics. In many places, where no future development is intended, access to these sites has been restricted with the government regulating body, the Israel Lands Administration, fencing off access to them and erecting signs warning against trespass. These Arab organisations usually cite Israel's Declaration of Independence and the last amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom in their legal positions. Taken together, both of these legal formulations assure accessibility to sacred sites, and prohibit their desecration. Lacking adequate financial and political resources, as well as the sympathies of Israeli Jews-most of whom would prefer that these sites be destroyed-the Israeli Arabs' battle has often been a losing one. Israeli Jews, in general, have been opposed to the preservation of these sites out of fear that their consecration will set a precedent, and that this may lead to the internal Arab refugees' demands for a return to their appropriated homes. Throughout the decades, physical and sometimes violent confrontations between Israeli-Arab activists and bulldozer drivers and police have been commonplace in Israel.
This battle over the existing religious and sacred sites should be understood as something greater than the Arabs' attempts to preserve and restore holy relics. Essentially, this is a symbolic but an extremely powerful battle over the roots to the land and the memory of pre-48 Palestine. Israeli-Arab groups have fought for their preservation essentially because they exist as memorial artifacts of pre-48 Palestine; Israeli Jews, on the other hand, have sought to erase these vestiges precisely for the same reason.
Israeli landscape memory has erased Palestinian landscape memory as a consequence of Jewish resettlement. All that remains of the cultural landscape that does not exist in a present state of decay or abandonment has been erased of its Arab semiotic configurations and has been assimilated into rival Israeli structures. The Israelis destroyed virtually all memory of the pre-48 Palestinian cultural landscape in order to eliminate Palestinian claims to a history in the land. They erased the Arabs' villages and homes, the names of their surrounding topography, as well as their sacred and religious sites. The first of these was the most significant partly because of its scale, but also because the Arabs' homes and villages were their primary and most important connection to Palestine. This attack was symbolically reinforced by the displacement of their nomenclature and their religious connections to Palestine. What was constructed in place of those Arab vestiges were new Jewish memorial artifacts.
Soon after 1948, the Israelis textualised the landscape on the basis of ideological precepts of their national identity. Numerous cooperative agricultural settlements were erected throughout the landscape, thereby signifying much of the Zionist movement's ideological commitment to socialism. Forests signifying the Jews' love of the land and their exclusive proprietorship over it were planted to cover the ruins of Arab villages. Many of the names of new Jewish agricultural settlements are understood to be ancient and biblical. So too is the new nomenclature that was spread over the topography of the land and was immortalised on Israeli maps. Finally, ancient religious traditions associated with the grave sites of the Jews' ancestors were (re)-discovered and sanctified. Israeli memory of what has been constructed on the land after 1948, therefore, consists of two different types of memorial vestiges: recent post-48 constructions with no biblical connection, and those that are thought to have existed since the ancient biblical era.
In contrast to the Israeli erasure of pre-48 Palestine, Palestinians have attempted to preserve the memory of that existence. The names of their lost villages saturate the structures of their refugee camps. Refugee keys and title deeds to their homes have been kept, and maps of pre-48 Palestine have been perpetuated. In the battle over historical claims to the land, some Palestinian scholars have erased Jewish biblical roots to places while simultaneously highlighting the realities of Israeli dispossession. Israeli-Arab political organisations have often attempted to preserve abandoned sacred and religious sites not simply out of religious conviction, but also as testaments to their roots to the land.