The Cultural Genocide
of Palestine
Hanan Chehata
In 1948, following the horrors of World War Two and the atrocities committed by the Nazis against millions of people across Europe, the United Nations Gen­eral Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to ensure that no such actions would ever take place or go unpunished again.
However, in a strange twist of fate, the very people who the framers of the Con­vention had in mind, namely the primar­ily Jewish victims of the Holocaust, find themselves currently represented by a state, Israel, that claims to speak on their behalf and which is now the perpetrator of similar crimes against another group of innocent people, namely the Palestin­ians.
But what is genocide? Derived from the Greek word "genos" which means a race or tribe and the Latin word "cide" which means killing, the term "genocide" there­fore literally means the killing of a group of people united by tribal, racial or ethnic ties.
Global leaders and, indeed, the popula­tion of the world at large are increasingly viewing Israel’s treatment of the Pales­tinian people as an unmitigated form of genocide. The recent United Nations' Goldstone Report concluded that in Gaza last year Israel committed gross "viola­tions of international human rights and humanitarian law and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity." While that related to a military assault on the Palestin­ians, there is another element of genocide which is too often ignored by the world at large, and that is "cultural genocide". It is vital that this aspect of the assault on the Palestinian people is not ignored and there are very strong arguments to be made which demonstrate that Israelis en­gaged in a daily and increasingly vindictive campaign of cultural genocide against the Palestinians.
Although cultural genocide has never been defined by international law (con­trary to the wishes of Raphael Lemkin - the man who coined the term genocide) it can be as equally devastating in its impact as genocide itself. Essentially:

"Cultural genocide extends beyond attacks upon the physical and/or biological elements of a group and seeks to eliminate its wider institu­tions. This is done in a variety of ways, and often includes the aboli­tion of a group's language, restric­tions upon its traditional practices and ways, the destruction of reli­gious institutions and objects, the persecution of clergy members, and attacks on academics and in­tellectuals. Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when ar­tistic, literary, and cultural activi­ties are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artefacts, and art galleries are destroyed or con­fiscated."

In many ways, cultural genocide (which is also referred to as "ethnocide", "so­ciocide" and "deculturation") sets out to achieve the same goals as a physical genocide. As Professor Stuart Stein from the University of the West of England has pointed out, "the same objective, the eradication of a group of people differen­tiated by some distinct traits, such as eth­nicity, race, religion, language, nationality, or culture, can be achieved just as effec­tively in the mid-to-long-term, by gradual processes, as it might be by their immedi­ate physical liquidation."
Furthermore, proving that a cultural genocide has taken place can be a very significant first step towards showing a country's specific intent to wipe out a group of people. Lawyer and researcher David Nersessian, for instance, points out that:

"First, acts of cultural genocide conduct violating what the inter­national Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) re­ferred to as the "very foundation of the group" tend to establish the genocidist's specific intent to destroy the protected group. The ICTY, for example, held that Ser­bian destruction of Muslim librar­ies and mosques and attacks on cultural leaders established geno­cidal intent against Muslims in the former Yugoslavia."

This insidious cultural aspect of geno­cide is therefore an issue of vital impor­tance as it can be symptomatic of a much more deadly malaise.
In the context of the situation in Pales­tine, however one chooses to define cul­ture, every aspect of Palestinian culture has in some way been subject to desecra­tion or destruction by Israel. There is no element of Palestinian society that has been left unspoiled by the acts of the Is­raeli government.
When it is not Israeli tanks doing the destroying, then it is the Israeli govern­ment's policies. Aspects of Palestinian so­ciety that have been decimated by Israel include, inter alia, houses, historical sites, ancient artefacts, places of worship, agri­cultural land, educational infrastructure, medical and healthcare facilities, econom­ic institutions and so on. The list is almost endless and all such destruction is, with­out doubt, in breach of international laws and conventions.
It would be impossible to catalogue the full extent of the devastating effects of Is­raeli policies on Palestinian social and cul­tural institutions here. Nevertheless, this report will highlight a few examples of how elements of Palestinian culture are being attacked constantly by Israel in what amounts to a concerted campaign of cul­tural genocide.

Occupation and geographical manipulation
The most obvious way in which the Israeli government has attempted to destroy any Palestinian sense of culture or identity is the occupation of Palestine itself. The oc­cupation, the roots of which lie in the late nineteenth century, is a resolute and per­sistent effort to eradicate Palestine and all things Palestinian.
This is a central aim of Zionism, the po­litical ideology that underpins Israel. The 1948 war resulted in the birth of the state of Israel on the land of another people, who had to move or risk being crushed in the process. One of the most obvious demographic impacts of that war was the forced exodus of more than 700,000 native Palestinians from their homeland. That one event more than sixty years ago has resulted in the staggering fact that there are now millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide, of whom 4.7 million are regis­tered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); none of whom have any immediate prospect of ever re­turning to their ancestral home. A third of the refugees live in camps across Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
It is widely acknowledged that although most of the world accepts and recogn­ises the modern state of Israel, for many countries there is no such place as Pales­tine. For years now, maps have been used by Zionists to manipulate and distort the history and reality of the Palestine/Is­rael conflict. As ex-CIA political analysts Kathleen and Bill Christison point out, such maps:

“which represent a denial of a Pal­estinian presence in the land and an affirmation that all of Palestine is Israel, are not a phenomenon confined to religious institutions or to the United States but indeed re­flect Israel’s official position since the Palestinian territories were oc­cupied in 1967. Within days of the conclusion of the 1967 war, Israel’s foreign minister ordered that maps produced by his ministry no lon­ger show either the borders of the British Mandate or the 1949 armi­stice lines, which effectively form the border between Israel and the West Bank - often called the “1967 lines” or the “Green Line”. Before the year 1967 was over, the name “West Bank” had been replaced by the biblical moniker “Judea and Samaria” in all official Israeli documents. As a result, most maps available in Israel and the United States since the beginning of the occupation have failed to delineate any border between Israel and the occupied territories.”

The United States CIA World Fact Book, has on its website a map of Israel and provides numerous facts about Isra­el but Palestine is nowhere to be found. Similarly, according to the British Home Office, British policy states that:

“Usually, stateless cases involve people who are simply not recog­nised as citizens by the state or states which might be expected to take responsibility for them. By contrast, in Palestinian cases there is no such state, but there is instead a territorial authority whose international status is un­certain. No doubt you are aware that the United Kingdom does not recognise Palestine as a state, even though travel documents is­sued by the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA indicate the holder’s national status to be ‘Palestine.’ Consequently, the UK does not consider that a person can have ‘the nationality of Palestine.’… the nationality of all people claiming to be Palestinian is recorded in the travel document as ‘doubtful.”

Furthermore, according to the UK Home Office Border Agency “The UK Government does not recognise the OPTs (Occupied Palestinian Territories) as an independent state and their perma­nent status has yet to be agreed.”
This makes the Palestinians the largest “stateless” or “doubtful” community in the world! This is in sharp contrast with the original League of Nations “Man­date” for Palestine which states in Article 7: “The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent resi­dence in Palestine.”
The denial of the legal right of millions of Palestinians to return to their home­land is one of the most obvious ways in which Israelis attempting to destroy their culture. To rip people from the land of their birth and prohibit them and their descendants from ever returning is surely the most unequivocal way to destroy any connection between the people, their land and their heritage. It also contrasts sharply with Israel’s “Law of Return” for Jews. This gives any Jew, any where in the world, the right to take their spouses and their children and to move to Israel to live permanently on the land where Palestin­ian homes once stood and in many cases still stand.
For those Palestinians who remained behind when the Israeli occupation began and for those who have been born in Pal­estine and Israel since then, there are daily tales of toil, imprisonment and persecu­tion. The Israeli government is attempt­ing, on every possible front, to destroy the very cultural fabric of Palestinian society, and the international community, thus far, has let them do it unimpeded.

The denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-deter­mination in defiance of international law
The right for a people to exercise self-determination is a right enshrined as a basic principle of international law. For instance, the Charter of the United Na­tions and the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that, “All peoples have the right of self-determi­nation. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
This is clearly nota privilege but an es­sential and internationally recognised right. However, this is a right that has been consistently denied to the Palestinian peo­ple as a result of Israel’s Zionist policies. For example, consider the restriction on freedom of movement for the Palestinian people. How can they pursue economic, social or cultural development in a land whose vista has been permanently scarred by a never-ending series of military check­points, manned watchtowers, road clo­sures, barriers, electric fences and eight-metres high concrete walls? The building of the “separation” or “apartheid” wall, an estimated 750km long, is one of the most obvious physical manifestations of the restrictions on the Palestinians’ right to roam across their own land and deter­mine their own status and development.
Israel has divided a once cohesive, pros­perous and culturally rich society into a series of shanty towns, ghettos and refu­gee camps scattered across the land. The seemingly paramount Israeli “divide and conquer” policy has taken over the region. Not only has Palestine itself been ripped apart with Gaza and the West Bank sepa­rated by miles of “Israeli” territory, but also, even within those regions, division and isolation is the norm. Farmers have been cut off from their crops, shopkeep­ers from their shops, children from their schools, families from their relatives and so on.
Not a second thought is given to physi­cally barring a child from crossing the street, as a matter of routine. Where else in the world would such blatant apartheid-style policies be accepted in the twenty-first century on such a scale? Reminiscent of the Civil Rights era Jim Crow laws in the United States or the apartheid regime in South Africa, such policies are surely of a racist mentality that has no place in the modern world.
But the policies do serve Israel’s pur­pose. After all, how better can one destroy a society and ensure that a culture does not flourish if not through such policies of divide and rule? This denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-rule and to their own nationality is a fundamental injustice leading to all of the other abuses of the Palestinian people. In the international Commission’s 1982 “Israel in Lebanon” report it was stated:

“The rejection of the national and cultural identity of the Palestinians result sin a rejection of the Pales­tinian flag, the non-recognition of their Red Crescent Society, the de­struction of their schools, the cen­sorship of their books, the refusal to grant prisoner-of-war status for their combatants, and the outlaw­ing of their songs.”

Furthermore, the report states:

“...the attempted destruction of the national existence of the Pales­tinians in the Lebanon is therefore a rejection of their right to self-determination. The right to self-determination is an incontestable legal right in contemporary inter­national law and is one of the ba­sic rights… The continued refusal by Israel to recognize this right is the basis for the tension and vio­lence in the Middle East.”

Attempts to force loyalty to Israel and the Judai­sation of the land
There are a whole host of tactics being employed by the Israeli government to try and eradicate Palestine and replace it with all things Israeli. For instance, in a contro­versial move, Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist party YIsrael Beiteinu pushed for a law that bans the Palestinian com­memoration of the Nakba (the Catastro­phe) of 1948 in which more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes. Israelis will continue to be able to celebrate the event as their “Indepen­dence Day” with parties and flag-waving but Palestinians are banned from marking the day with any form of commemora­tion ceremony.
Under the law passed by the Israeli parliament after just one reading, anyone caught doing so faces a jail sentence of up to three years. Another law that Lieber­man’s party wants to see enacted is that of the Loyalty Pledge whereby swearing allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish, Zionist and Democratic state” will be a pre-con­dition for all israeli-Arabs to receive their ID papers.
Israel plans to destroy every Palestinian aspect of the landscape and culture and replace it with an Israeli equivalent. Even the names of villages and towns are not immune. The Israeli Transport Ministry revealed plans in July 2009 to replace tra­ditional joint Arabic, English and Hebrew road signs (each of which display the place names traditionally used in that language) with Hebrew-only versions. Hence, a sign that read “Jerusalem” in English, “Al-Quds” in Arabic and “Yerushalaim” in Hebrew will now only say “Yerushalaim” in transliteration in all three languages. Names that were once famous the world over will cease to exist if the Israeli gov­ernment has its way. They will be wiped, quite literally, off the map. Jaffa will now be
Hebraised as Yafo, Nazareth and Cae­sarea will now be known as Natsrat and Kesriya, Tiberias as Tverya, and so on.
The flimsy pretence that this is being done to make navigation easier for drivers and tourists fell away when the Transport Minister, Yizrael Katz, admitted in a po­litically loaded statement that, “some Pal­estinian maps still refer to the Israeli cities by their pre-1948 names [before Israel was founded]…I will not allow that on our signs. This government and certainly this minister will not allow anyone to turn the Jewish Jerusalem to Palestinian Al-Quds.” In reaction to this, the BBC reported that “Israeli-Arabs said it is an attempt to erase the Arabic language and heritage which predates the modern Israel.”
These are some of the means by which, side by side with the complete overhaul­ing of the Palestinian landscape and phys­ical re-moulding of the demographics of the region, Israelis moving towards the destruction of any sense of Palestine and Palestinian culture. As one Arab-Israel artist has lamented, “They are deleting our memory... They’re going to delete our language, our Arabic street names... We’ll become Jewish.”

Al-Aqsa Mosque - Threats, excavations and prohibitions on worship
One of the most troubling aspects of the Israeli cultural genocide of Palestine is taking place in Jerusalem, the Holy City which occupies a central place in the tradi­tions of all three Abrahamic faiths, Juda­ism, Christianity and Islam. Beyond this, in terms of historical and cultural identity, what the pyramids are to Egypt and the Eiffel Tower is to France, you could say that is what Al-Aqsa Mosque is to Pal­estine. A symbol of inspiration, national pride and cultural heritage, the mosque and the land on which it stands is one of the most revered and loved Palestin­ian landmarks and is recognised as such worldwide, with its golden “Dome of the Rock” in the centre of the Noble Sanctu­ary. Even the Israelis use pictures of this iconic site to entice tourists to Jerusalem. (A practice banned in mid-April 2010 by Britain’s Advertising Standards Author­ity on the grounds that “the ad implied that the part of east Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Is­rael”; this, the ASA concluded “was likely to mislead” visitors to Israel.)
However, despite the reverence felt by over one billion Muslims for this site, there is a longstanding history of the mosque being targeted by Zionist extremists. The acts of terrorism directed at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sanctuary have often been instigated and condoned by the Israeli government. Over the years the mosque has been set on fire, subject to plots to blow it up vandalised, threatened with de­struction and on one infamous occasion worshippers were even executed by a gun wielding Zionist terrorist as they prayed in September 2000. Israeli action sparked the Second intifada (uprising) during which hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured following a visit by Arial Sharon and hundreds of armed Israeli soldiers to the holy site. in Septem­ber and October 2009 tensions escalated yet again as a result of provocative Zionist behavior around the mosque; and again in March this year clashes broke out fol­lowing the opening of a Synagogue a few metres away from the mosque. Further­more, adding fuel to the fire, the mosque has been subject to increasingly harsh and unjustifiable Israeli-imposed access re­strictions. This includes closures and only allowing men over the age of fifty (the age varies) to attend Friday prayers.
Israelis engaging in dangerous behavior which many fear may ignite the Third inti­fada. The threat to the mosque is constant and very real and the Israeli government is doing its best o see that this threat con­tinues unabated.
One of the most sinister ways in which the Israeli government is planning to change the physical and spiritual land­scape of Jerusalem, and consequently Pal­estinian culture, are their apparent plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and replace it with the “Third Temple of Solomon”. Israelis so immune to world opinion that it no longer even pretends to conceal these plans. Although official statements coming out of the Israeli government try to refute such claims, the building of the Temple in the Noble Sanctuary is spoken about quite openly in Israeli and Zionist communities. In an attempt to prepare the world for such an event, Israelis even call the site on which the mosque stands the “Temple Mount”. They do this in all news reports and press releases on incidents which occur in and around the mosque. It is unfortunate that this trend is being followed by the Western media.
In a 2009 BBC Documentary, “The Frankincense Trail”, Kate Humble inter­viewed Yehuda Glick, the Director of the Temple institute. The institute is an extreme Zionist organisation preparing to build the Third Temple. According to Ms. Humble, there are “tens of millions of dollars pledged to start construction at short notice” and Glick confirms that he is just waiting for the call from “the government of Israel, the United Nations that we’ve got permission to build” and then his organisation will start construc­tion with utmost haste. The Temple insti­tution, based in Jerusalem, declares in its “Statement of Principles” that it aims to be part of the “process that will lead to the Holy Temple becoming a reality once more” and says that “the Temple will be rebuilt.” In another interview, Rabbi Chaim Richman, Director of the Temple institution’s international Department, proudly describes some of the various items that they have made which are now just waiting to be used in the, as yet un-built, Temple, including the garments and gold crown of the High Priest, musical in­struments, a ceremonial table, ceremonial vessels and so on.
One would not normally object to the construction of a place of worship. How­ever, it must be kept in mind that this par­ticular project can only come to fruition following the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and other existing Islamic buildings on the holy site. More than one billion Muslims around the world would consider this to be an unacceptable price to pay.
Muslims worldwide are increasingly con­cerned with the Israeli excavations being carried out around and under the mosque and many Muslim governments have con­demned strongly such excavations, includ­ing the Malaysians, Jordanians and Syr­ians, among others. Nevertheless, Israel continues to use every possible pretext to justify the presence of their bulldozers on the Noble Sanctuary. In February 2007, bulldozers began excavations outside the Moroccan Gate (Babel-Maghriba); Israel’s unconvincing explanation was that it was repairing a ramp leading to the mosque. It has been estimated that “there are now 25 major excavations in the area around Al-Aqsa Mosque. Twelve of these are ongoing while 13 have been completed. Geographically, there are 11excavations to the south of the mosque, 13 to the west and one to the north.” These numbers are increasing.
The excavations are creating cracks in the walls of the mosque, making it a very real possibility that even a slight tremor could bring the entire structure crashing down. Already the:

“Persistent tunnelling beneath the mosque led to a landslide near the western side, leaving a crater mea­suring 2 metresin length and 1.5 metres in width. The UN Security Council has passed more than 20 Resolutions condemning Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem and its military occupation of the West Bank. Israel ignores each of these withimpunity.”

Knowing what a massive outcry it would cause if it was to send in the bulldozers and knock the entire structure down, as it is doing with so many other Palestin­ian properties, the Israeli government is literally chipping away at the foundation of the mosque from below instead. De­nying access to the Jordanian authorities, who are responsible for the maintenance of the mosque, it looks as if the Israeli authorities are hoping for it to fall into disrepair so that it can be knocked down for “safety reasons”.

Israelis violating international laws which protect freedom of religion
This includes Article 18 of the internation­al Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27 of The Geneva Convention and many others.
The world cannot wait until it is too late and the site is destroyed forever. Action is needed now to stop Israel destroying this holy site and compel the Zionist state to comply with international laws, permit­ting Palestinian Muslims free access to worship in their own mosques.
It should not be forgotten that there are also many Palestinian Christian com­munities in Jerusalem as well and Israeli restrictions on access to places of wor­ship affect them too. The recent (2010) Easter holiday, for example, saw Palestin­ian Christians being refused free access to Jerusalem for what are the holiest days of the Christian calendar.
It is not just the Al-Aqsa Mosque that is in danger but mosques throughout Pal­estine are under constant threat. Many of them have already been razed to the ground by the Israeli authorities.
The ability for any group to practice their faith in their own manner and in their own places of worship is one of the most fundamental ways in which they can express their cultural and religious identity and beliefs. Rituals of worship are central to many cultures.
The Native Americans, for example, have beliefs and rituals which are cen­tral to how they identify themselves. The same is true of Buddhists whose cultural identity is steeped in rituals of prayer and meditation; the Palestinians are no differ­ent. Palestine is a land steeped in historical and religious symbolism and significance and it was a land in which, under Muslim leadership, all were free to worship in their own ways.
However, since the Israeli Occupation began, countless numbers of mosques have been destroyed and desecrated across the land, as have churches, which are not exempt from Israeli efforts to Judaise the land. According to a recent report in the Lancet, “although the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is visited by Chris­tian pilgrims from all over the world, it remains inaccessible to Palestinian Chris­tians from Bethlehem and Ramallah living only 10 km away.”
On occasions the desecration of holy sites has been done during times of mili­tary conflict and under the guise of “secu­rity measures” - a justification that the re­cent Goldstone Report found no evidence for in Gaza last year. At other times it has been blatantly declared to be a part of the larger Israeli plan to Judaise the land and to make room for Israeli settlements, ho­tels and parks.
In his book “The ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, Professor Ilan Pappe points out that, “The Israelis turned the mosques of Majdal and Qisarya into restaurants, and the Beersheba mosque into a shop. The Ayn Hawd Mosque is used as a bar, and that of Zib is part of a resort village.” Other mosques have been converted into synagogues, such as the mosques at Wadi Unayn and Yazur as well as the mosques in the villages of Kfarinan and Daliyya. Mosques have been subjected to arson at­tacks, vandalism, desecration and demoli­tion. Worshippers at the mosques which have remained intact, or at least partially intact, face access restrictions, either in terms of physical barriers, or in terms of closures and curfews. As Professor Pappe explains, “as for the Muslim shrines and Christian churches that survived, these are not always accessible. The church and mosque of Suhmata are still visible today, but if you want to pray there or simply wish to visit these sites, you have to cross the Jewish farms and risk being reported to the police for trespassing.”
The disrespect for Holy sites from a people who claim that their very occupa­tion of the land is founded on adherence to religious dictates and a desire to please God is a very telling trait. The lack of rev­erence they have for another person’s holy sites reveals in them something distinctly unholy and is at odds with the Declaration of independence of the State of Israel in which it is claimed that the state will guar­antee freedom of religion and worship to people of all faiths.
This past, present and future planned erosion of Palestinian places of worship is taking place on an increasingly regular basis and is another example of the Israeli attempt to wipe out the cultural identity of the Palestinian people, be they Muslims or Christians. Not only do such Israeli ac­tions violate international laws which pro­tect the right to worship and the freedom of religion but they are also causing psy­chological damage. The medical journal the Lancetinits 2009 special edition report n “Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, points out that:

“Freedom of worship and practice of religious rituals have been noted as essential components of coping with psychological distress. Reli­gion and faith bring meaning, con­text and purpose to psychological healing, as noted in studies f om Kosovo and Somalia and recom­mended in guidelines for humani­tarian responses. In a region filled with religious symbolism and tra­dition, renowned for its Holy sites, inaccessibility to sites of worship is a source of profound distress for the Palestinians.”

The desecration of cemeteries
There are too many instances to count whereby cemeteries and grave sites have been desecrated by Israeli bulldozers, tanks and bombs. However, there is an ongoing process of vandalism that is oc­curring and it is important to look at even a few examples.
In November 2006 the Israeli Defence Forces permitted 1,300 Jewish worship­pers to enter a Muslim cemetery near the West Bank city of Nablus at a time when the Muslims were under curfew. Accord­ing to an official IDF statement “a hand­ful of worshippers chose to create a prov­ocation and vandalize Palestinian graves.” Under the watchful eye of the IDF many of them “sneaked away” and proceeded to vandalise the cemetery by breaking some tombstones and writing “death to Arabs” on others.
If such incidents are downplayed as the random acts of individuals beyond the control of the government, then what can be said about the numerous officially-sanctioned projects currently taking place. How can one defend, for instance, the construction of an Israeli Museum on the site of the Mamanallah Muslim Cemetery, which is the largest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem?
The irony of the situation is that the Israelis plan to desecrate this cemetery to pave the way for their “Museum of Toler­ance”! According to the Palestinian Cen­tre for Human Rights, the excavations on the site have already led to the remains of more than 300 people being dumped in a mass grave.
Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, the Head of the Is­lamic Movement inside Israel, has called the situation catastrophic. “He noted that 70,000 graves fill the 200 dunam cemetery which has tombs dating back thousands of years.” According to the Palestinian News Network:

“Sheikh Salah also noted that an Israeli American is undertak­ing the project with 200 million USD coming from California. It is backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The museum is a sister project for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center… Sheikh Salah said, “This resolu­tion is a serious violation of all the holy sites and not only to one cem­etery. There are other graves under threat, graves that symbolize our historical background, our culture and religion.”
Similar sacrilegious acts are taking place all over the occupied territories. In Jaffa, a city on the coast of what is now Israel, local residents have been protesting for years over the sale of a cemetery for the purposes of building a Commercial Cen­tre. Tel Aviv Councilman Rifat (Jimmy) Turk told Ynet News that he and a Jew­ish friend have been behind a poster cam­paign in Jaffa: “[I]n order to enlighten the residents of Jaffa to the present situation, which has not ceased to trouble me. They must awaken from the coma they are in before it is too late, to defend their holy sites,” he said. “What will we do in seven or eight years? Will they throw our bodie sinto the sea? This is what will happen if there is no change. There are no oth­er burial options for Muslims in Jaffa. I wonder about myself. Will I be cremated? Will they throw us away like dogs?” he added. He called on the residents to band together in non-violent protest against the destruction of the graveyard.
It is not only Palestinian cemeteries that have been treated in this way. In 2006 the British government lodged a complaint with the Israeli government for the dam­age inflicted on a Commonwealth war cemetery. Tim Butcher reporting for the Daily Telegraph from the site of the de­struction reported that:

“Israeli forces caused significant damage to the Commonwealth war cemetery in Gaza City, the last resting place for thousands of troops who died fighting the Otto­mans in 1917… six headstones and a perimeter wall were destroyed by an Israeli army bulldozer…More damage was done last week during an Israeli operation in the nearby town of Beit Hanoun, when an at­tack helicopter used its cannon to fire atone of the cemetery’s larger group memorial stones….Two dozen other headstones have been pockmarked by shrapnel from Is­raeli artillery and several have been completely destroyed.”

The destruction of archaeological finds and his­torical artefacts of cultural significance
The destruction of landmarks and cultur­ally significant property is an ancient tac­tic used by invading forces to demoralise and defeat the local population following a conquest. It occurred in the context of the invading Spanish forces and the Az­tec culture, as well as Nazi Germany’s at­tempt to destroy any remnants of Jewish culture. The Preamble to the 1954 Hague Convention states that “damage to cul­tural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world.”
There is no doubt that Israel has en­gaged in a campaign of deliberate de­struction of Palestinian cultural heritage over the years. The Israelis have not only destroyed historical records relating to an­cient artefacts, but also all evidence of the artefacts themselves. In order to facilitate the construction of
Illegal Israeli settlements, settler-only roads and the separation wall, there has been wanton but calculated destruction of Palestinian houses, agricultural land and cultural and social institutions. The destruction of the ancient landscape has also seen the simultaneous destruction of countless historical artefacts which are a crucial element of Palestine’s rich cultural heritage. If we divide archaeological finds into two broad categories, movable (such as ancient tools or household items) and immovable (such as historical buildings and ancient relics) we will find that both categories have been subject to destruc­tion by the Israelis.
In terms of movable archaeological artefacts, these are being uncovered all the time. In his article Stealing Palestin­ian History Kevin Chamberlain says that there are an estimated 4000 archaeologi­cal sites in Palestine. He adds, “When a site is uncovered the Israelis institute a ‘salvage excavation,’ i.e. the rapid removal and recording of artifacts before the site is covered up. In most cases this results in the destruction of the site… the effect of these ‘salvage excavations’ is that the all-important context of the site is destroyed and the knowledge that it yields is lost forever.” Furthermore, he points to “an­ecdotal evidence that in conducting many of these ‘salvage excavations’ only objects of Jewish interest are removed and the re­mains of other cultures are either ignored or destroyed.
It is also alleged that Israeli excavations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are politically motivated, namely, to uncover evidence of ancient Jewish settlement so as to bolster Israel’s current settlement policies.”
In addition to the sites interfered with on the direct orders of the Israeli gov­ernment, there is also a flourishing illicit trade in archaeological finds. It has been estimated by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in the Palestinian Authority that around “200,000 archaeological arte­facts were transferred annually during the years between 1967 and 1992 from the OPTs (Occupied Palestinian Territories). Since 1992 current estimates put this fig­ure at approximately 120,000 artefacts per annum…. there are also likely to be some items of significance within that figure. As occupying power, responsibility for such loss must rest with the Israelis.” The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza issued a warning last December that items of great archaeological value are be­ing stolen by the Occupation authorities from the south of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Je­rusalem.
It is believed that this is being done in an attempt, again, to change facts on the ground by destroying elements of Mus­lim heritage in the region and ultimately replacing them with Jewish items, be they real or forged.
In terms of immovable artefacts such as historical monuments, those too have been devastated by the Israelis. An article in the international edition of The Art Newspaper in 2002 noted,

“The Israeli army’s reoccupation of the West Bank and other Pal­estinian territories has devastated parts of the historic cities of Nab­lus, Bethlehem and Hebron in contravention of international law. The destruction has been deliber­ate, and observers say it amounts to a symbolic attack on the Pal­estinian presence in the territory. The deliberate destruction of cul­tural heritage contravenes the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protec­tion of Cultural Property During Times of War, of which israelis a signatory.”

The indiscriminate bombing from he­licopters and tanks has also damaged ir­reparably historic monuments in Nablus, Hebron, Tulkarem and Bethlehem. Re­cent reports have estimated that,

“In the ancient city of Nablus, the al-Khadrah mosque has been 80% destroyed; the al-Satoun and al-Ka­bir mosques, converted Byzantine churches, were 20% destroyed; 60 historic houses were demolished (and 200 others partially demol­ished); the 18th Century eastern entrance to the old market has been destroyed; and seven Roman cisterns and atleast80% of the paved streets have been ruined. UNESCO’s (United Nations edu­cational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage of­fice has condemned these acts of vandalism, describing them as “crimes against the cultural heri­tage of mankind.”

The razing of olive groves
If you ask most people about their defini­tion of culture, food will probably come into it somewhere. A country’s cuisine, a style of cooking or a particular type of food associated with the region is often one of the most immediately evocative aspects of a culture.
Palestine too has such an association and that is with the olive. For thousands of years Palestine has been referred to as the land of the olive, a connection made in many ancient texts including the Holy Qur’an and the Bible. However, even this simple cultural association has not been left undamaged by the Israeli authorities. It is ironic that the olive branch, which has traditionally been a universal symbol of peace, has now become a victim and stark reminder of Zionist aggression.

The connection between Palestinians and their olive crops goes beyond mere sentiment. Olive production is the life­blood of Palestinian agriculture. The pro­duction and export of olives and olive-based products have always been a major source of livelihood for Palestinian farm­ers. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Palestinians make a living from the olive crop, which is traditionally used for pro­ducing soap, cooking oil, oil for lamps and so on. Olive trees take about12 years to come to fruition and they live for an average of four hundred years but many in Palestine are reportedly between 700 to 1000 years old. it has become Israel’s overt mission to destroy Palestinian farm­ers’ livelihoods using brutality and van­dalism to prevent crops from growing at all. They have declared countless farms as “security zones” or “closed military zones” and then mown down thousands upon thousands of flourishing trees with bulldozers, replacing them with settle­ments on the Israeli side or deserted and untenable scrub land on the other.

The Palestinian independent Commis­sion for Human Rights has reported that since 1967 the Israeli authorities have up­rooted or destroyed more than one and a half million trees, 70% of which were olive trees, the staple crop of rural com­munities. Another Israeli tactic is simply to wall off the olive groves and deny the farmers access to their own land.

According to one report, “The village of Anin, west of Jenin in the West Bank, has seen 1,100 hectares of olive orchards cutoff by Israel’s security fence [sic]. Per­mits from the Israeli authorities are dif­ficult to obtain and there are severe time constraints for visits, making it so hard for farmers to tend to their trees that some have given up altogether.”

A report from the Ma’an News Agency reported how “olive harvesters said they went to their land in the morning but were surprised to find Israeli forces had put up large gates and barbed wire across the en­trances to the land. On further enquiry, soldiers told the group they were prohib­ited from accessing the land because they did not have proper permits to do so.”64

According to another report, “About11,000 Palestinian farmers will lose all or some of their land holdings to the fence [sic]. Sharif Omar, from the village of Jayous, near the Israeli town of Kochav Yair, said: ‘I have lost almost everything. I have lost2,700 fruit and olive trees. And 44 of 50 acres I own have been confiscated for the fence [sic].’ His village lost seven wells, 15,000 olive trees and 50,000 citrus and other fruit trees. ‘This area is the agricul­tural store for the West Bank. They are destroying us,’ he said.”
In a report in Haaretz, Gideon Levy re­ports how he:

“visited the olive grove of Ayash Abu Hilwan, a farmer from the vil­lage of Beit Dejan, east of Nab­lus…[where] twelve years earlier, he had planted his olive trees on the rocky hillside that overlooks his home, a place that had al­ways been considered part of the village’s land. He tilled the soil, cleared the rocks and pruned and irrigated the trees. For 12 years he worked his grove. There was no fruit for his labour because in the hard, rocky soil of Beit Dejan, it takes an olive tree more than a dozen years to produce fruit. But the farmer waited patiently and be­lieved that his children would har­vest the crop, just as his father had left him olive trees. Thirteen days after Tu Bishvat, the destroyers of the Civil Administration appeared and began cutting. They cut and uprooted, sawed tree after tree, not sparing a single one. Thirteen days after Tu Bishvat, 600 trees were cut down, the farmer related; the Civil Administration says the number was 291. “It is like raising a child for 12 years and, suddenly, heis gone. Someone killed him,” Abu Hilwan, his eyes moist, told me then in his blasted grove.”

Not only are olive trees subject to up­rooting, crushing by bulldozer and out­right theft but many unsettling reports are also coming out of Palestine whereby olive groves have been set ablaze, often by Israeli settlers. In one incident, for exam­ple, on 10th October 2009, a large group of settlers from the Kadomim settlement are alleged to have set fire to 290 fully grown olive trees in the villages of Kufur Kadoom and Amatin. This occurred at the beginning of olive picking season and was devastating to the farmers and their harvest.
In another incident, on Thursday 18th September 2009, in a coordinated attack, Israeli settlers from the Harvat Gilad Set­tlement reportedly set fire to 300 trees in the South Nablus village of Sarra as well as other trees belonging to other villages. According to the international Solidarity Movement, local Palestinian villagers told them that Israeli settlers from the illegal Yitzhar Settlement regularly set fire to their olive groves. “This (fire) is not the first time; this is the hundredth time…every year trees are burnt on this hill… These trees are from Roman times; they are ancient. More than 2000 years old.” Similar attacks are too numerous to men­tion but are increasingly vicious and more frequent.
This is a cultural and environmental travesty taking place, as well as a form of economic oppression. Crop output has suffered a major blow as a result of the Is­raeli destruction of crops and the restric­tions placed on Palestinian farmers bar­ring them from tending their own crops. It has also been a major contributing fac­tor to the soaring unemploymentrates.
The current situation is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe. In a land where Palestinians are struggling to find food and clean water as a result of dis­criminatory Israeli policies, olives are a vital source of nourishment, one that is being destroyed right in front of malnour­ished Palestinians.
Not only is the Palestinian land and natural produce under attack but Palestin­ian farmers themselves are also subjected to extreme violence. Some farmers have been killed and dozens injured by Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Reports of brutality against Palestinian olive farmers by Israelis include attacks by gangs of masked settlers hitting them with sticks, shooting at them with tear gas and rubber bullets and spraying them with un­known chemicals that burn the skin. One farmer commented, “It seems that we are going to pay with blood for each olive oil drop. The Palestinian olive oil this year is going to be mixed with the blood of its owner.”

The destruction of cultural institutions
No area of Palestinian culture is left un­touched by the Israelis; libraries, museums, theatres and even the Palestinian Ministry of Culture itself have not been safe from the onslaught.
During a month-long siege of Ramallah in 2002, the Palestinian Ministry of Cul­ture was vandalised by the Israeli forces. According to one Israeli witness, journalist Amira Hass, the sight that greeted Ministry workers on their return to work included overturned furniture, urine stains, rotting food, Israeli symbols emblazed across the walls and piles of human excrement. Someone “even managed to defecate into the photocopier” Hass reported.
Furthermore, “all the high-tech and electronic equipment had been wrecked or had vanished - computers, photocopi­ers, cameras, scanners, hard disks, editing equipment worth thousands of dollars, television sets. The broadcast antenna on top of the building was destroyed.” if the very institution setup to preserve Palestin­ian culture has not been excluded from an Israeli campaign of vandalism and de­struction how can we expect them to treat Palestinian culture as a whole any better?
This sort of behavior is by no means something new. Similar patterns of be­havior were recorded in the 1982 “Israel in Lebanon” report by Sean McBridein which he relates:

“The systematic destruction of or transfer to Israel of the records, documents, artifacts, books etc... associated with the Palestinian people. The total destruction of the work of the Centre for Pales­tine Studies and the removal of their archives, as with Palestinian offices in Beirut, has been clearly documented… There has been a conscious attempt to disrupt the social organization of the Palestin­ian people to ensure that, through their disposal, their sense of iden­tity and group loyalty would be weakened, if not destroyed.”

There is a widespread campaign which is attempting to stifle all avenues for cul­tural development and preservation in Palestine. In February 2008 Israeli admin­istrative orders were extended, once more, for the closure of over 80 Palestinian in­stitutions in Jerusalem.
This included cultural, media, social and economic institutions. There have even been reports of the Israeli destruction of Palestinian libraries. In 2002, for instance, “The largest association of libraries in the world... passed a resolution deploring the destruction of Palestinian libraries and cultural resources during Israel’s invasion of the WestBank.”
The charred remains of Palestinian buildings scar the landscape. Remnants of mosques, churches, schools, public baths, libraries, social and cultural insti­tutions, radio stations, schools, charities, soap factories and many others dot the land. Even those cultural institutions that have remained intact are still largely inac­cessible by virtue of obstacles such as, inter alia, the Separation Wall, the ongo­ing illegal siege on Gaza, the curfews and other restrictions, all of which impede any work that such institutions may attempt o carry out. No cultural institution has been spared the Israeli ravaging of Palestine.

To say that there has been a concerted and ongoing campaign of cultural genocide against the Palestinian people is stating the obvious. Even without a legal defini­tion in international law the requirements for accusations of cultural genocide as set out above and as understood by academ­ics and scholars seems to have been more than fulfilled by the Israelis in Palestine.
Those who reject the contention that cultural genocide has and is being em­ployed against the Palestinian people would be hard pressed to identify one aspect of Palestinian culture that has not been targeted and brutalised as a result of Israel’s Zionist policies.
In the context of the type of genocide that Israel is employing against he Palestin­ian people, the writers of the 1982 Israel in Lebanon Commission report said that, at the very least, “the specific form of genocide which can be said to apply is the adoption of all kinds of measures, short of killing, to destroy the national culture, political autonomy and national will in the context of the Palestinian struggle for na­tional liberation and self-determination.”
Today, following events such as Israel’s brutal Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 - January 2009, willful murder will be seen as the main aspect of the physi­cal genocide being perpetrated against the Palestinians. However, the conclusion reached in the 1982 report shows that there is an active campaign taking place to terminate the Palestinians culturally as well as physically. The existence of that report is evidence that this genocide is neither a recent nor an outdated policy; it is ongoing and longstanding. The vast ma­jority of examples have not been included in this document.
Even prominent Israeli figures have ad­mitted that several forms of genocide are taking place. Israeli professor and political sociologist at Ben Gurion University Lev Grinberg, for example, wrote an article in 2004 entitled “Symbolic Genocide”. In it he wrote, “What is symbolic genocide? Every people has its symbols, national leaders and political institutions, a home land, past and future generations, and hopes. All these symbolically represent a people. Israelis systematically damaging, destroying and eradicating all of these, with unbelievable bureaucratic jargon.” Despite the furor that Grinberg’s article produced in Israel, his report’s final analy­sis does not go far enough. It is not just a “symbolic” genocide that is taking place.
Even in the 1982 “Israeli in Lebanon Report” the authors concluded, “The ma­jority of the commission adopts the view that the pattern of activity dealt within the Report substantiates the allegation of the deliberate destruction of the national and cultural rights and the identity of the Pal­estinian people and that this constituted a form of genocide… which is of sufficient gravity to warrant the most serious con­cern and censure.”
Israel’s cultural genocide of Palestine is not a subversive act. The state continues openly and blatantly to attack every pos­sible avenue by which Palestinians could ever hope to preserve their cultural heri­tage and roots, and the world is sitting idly by watching it happen.
We have not even mentioned the most basic disruptions to family life caused by Israel’s withholding of water, gas and elec­tricity supplies to Palestinian regions. Nor have we discussed the curfews, the sieges, the extra judicial executions, the mass ar­rests of men, women and children or any of the countless other human rights viola­tions committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians. Each of these is intended to erode little by little Palestinian society and culture. Israel wants to make life as un­bearable as possible for the people living under occupation in the hopes that they will eventually break down and concede to every demand made by the Israeli gov­ernment, no matter how unjust.
Similarly, we have not even looked at how Israel’s aggressive human rights vio­lations have spawned a whole host of new cultural disruptions such as the distorted reshaping of traditional family and gen­der roles; the increase in the number of widows and orphans; the decrease in the number of breadwinners in the family; the decrease in the number of school leavers or even those attending school; the cre­ation of generations of Palestinian chil­dren physically and mentally scarred by Israeli aggression and so on. All of these factors have wrought incalculable havoc on the lives of the Palestinian people and is the legacy of destruction that Israelis leaving in its wake.
We can no longer just watch from the sidelines and do nothing. All who have borne witness to the Israeli devastation of Palestinian culture now have a duty to ensure that Israelis held to account for its actions and that Palestinian culture is no longer left to fend for itself and struggle to survive in the hostile shadow of Israel. Palestinian culture has a right to exist and to flourish and we all have a duty to de­fend that right.

1. David Nersessian, “Rethinking Cultural Genocide Under international Law.” Human Rights Dialogue: “Cultural Rights”, Series 2, No. 12, Section 1, (Spring 2005
2. Stuart D. Stein, “Culturecide”, (2003),­cide.htm
3. Kathleen and Bill Christison, Palestine in Pieces - Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation. Pluto Press (2009).
4. Sean Macbride, The Report of the interna­tional Commission to enquire into reported violations of international Law by Israel dur­ing its invasion of the Lebanon. [1983] Pub­lished by the international Commission.
5. “Al-Aqsa Mosque Under Attack 1967-2008”. Leaflet published by the Friends of Al-Aqsa organization.
6. The Geneva Convention IV.
7. “Health as Human Security in the Occu­pied Palestinian Territory - Health in the Oc­cupied Palestinian Territory”, The Lancet, 4th March 2009, By Rajaie Batniji, Yoke Rabaia, Viet Nguyen-Gillham, Rita Giacaman, Eyad Sarraj, Raija-Leena Punamaki, Hana Saab, Will Boyce.
8. Stealing Palestinian History, Kevin Cham­berlain:
9. Human Rights Bulletin for Jerusalem. Vol. 2, issue 1, Feb. 2008
80 Max Heur, Jewish News of Greater Phoe­nix, “Groups blasts destruction of Palestinian Culture.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 5th July 2002, Tamuz 25 5762, Vol. 54, No. 42
10. International Solidarity Movement. “IWPS: Settlers spray unknown chemicals on Palestin­ian farmers.” posted 22nd July 2008:
11. Atyaf Alwazir “Uprooting Olive Trees in Palestine.” November 2002, ICE Case Num­ber 110 “Israeli Aggression Against Palestin­ian Agriculture.”
12. Amira Hass, “Someone even managed to defecate into the photocopier - The IDF sol­diers who moved into West Bank cities left be­hind destruction and degradation, Amira Hass reports.” Haaretz.
13. John Pilger, “Palestine: Still the issue.”
14. “Muslim graveyard vandalized - Jewish worshippers desecrate Palestinian cemetery, break tombstones, write ‘Death to Arabs’ on graves.” 06.08.07Israel Newsefrat Weiss.
15. Alan Philips, “Palestinian olive trees sold to rich Israelis.”
16. Mark Tran, “Palestinian olive oil bucks UK recession.” The Guardian, 24th Feb. 2009
16. “Settlers harass Palestinians and steal crops during olive harvest in the West Bank.” Octo­ber 2009 http://www.btselem
19. Atyaf Alwazir, “Uprooting Olive Trees in Palestine”, November 2002, ICE Case num­ber 110.
20. Gideon Levy, “A tree grows in Palestine.” Ha’aretz, 23rd Jan. 1999.
22. Country of Origin information Report- “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” UK Border Agency, 6th August2 009, Para. 101: