Israel: Childhood field trip reveals ethnic cleansing


Nothing is more exciting that a field trip when you are a schoolchild; a temporary escape from the classroom to a field or a forest, enjoying (hopefully) the sunshine and the outdoors.

Growing up in Israel, the only downside to the whole experience was the talks. Every so often (too often, if you ask kids as sugared-up as we were), we would all have to sit down and hear a long explanation from a guide or a teacher, about the trees, flowers, rocks and the occasional heroic war story of the Israeli army.

When we did not have to sit and listen quietly, we enjoyed running around, climbing trees, playing catch or exploring ruins. What ruins, you ask? The regular ruins.

You know, every field or forest has these ruins of houses and buildings that blend with the natural environment. Or so I thought growing up as a child in a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Later in life, a bit after I learned about the mass expulsions of Palestinians in 1948, I connected the dots. I realised that all these ruins that seemed to us like an integral part of the natural landscape, were houses of people who were (and still are) exiled from their native land, perhaps even still living as stateless refugees.

Those ruins were parts of entire villages, raized to the ground shortly after its inhabitants were killed, expelled or fled ― and were not allowed to return. On many of them, new (Israeli) towns emerged, sometimes within months.

The rest were mostly covered by forests, planted to make the Palestinian landscape more “European” while hiding the last remains of towns and villages whose residents, their children, and grandchildren live in a stateless refugee status.

The normality of having 50-year-old ruins of buildings ingrained in the natural environment went unquestioned throughout my childhood. All those guides and teachers, who talked so much about geography, biology, and geology, never really explained what the story behind the ruins was.

I don’t know if I was ever particularly curious about this as a child. If you were to ask the 10-year-old version of myself what those ruins were of, I would have probably scratched my head and guessed that the people who lived there chose to move to a newer house.

On the bus back home from a field trip, we used to pass many towns, villages, and Kibutzes, many of which specify on their entrance sign, “established 1948”. Only later in life I realised what that so often meant.