Translated from the 2008 Hebrew edition, Noga Kadman’s Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Villages of 1948is an important contribution to this era of Palestinian-Israeli history, as well as having implications for the present. Kadman’s book describes in an accessible way the changing geography of Israel and the mechanisms used to alter and expunge the identity of what existed previously, and how this helps shape current ideas about the past. Indeed, with great clarity, Kadman shows how competing narratives are able to exist, through a meticulous erasure of the remains of the vibrant Arab Palestinian life that used to exist prior to the creation of the State of Israel.
Kadman uses the maps and atlases of Walid Khalidi and Salman Abu Sitta, who record the names and places of all or most Palestinian villages (over four hundred), as well as Israeli archives, her own field visits, and the works of other scholars, to reconstruct the history of the erasure of life prior to 1948. There are images taken by the author, as well as charts and tables to map out the original place names and their subsequent changes. But the book is far more than purely descriptive or derivative. Kadman examines the ways in which Israel has dealt with what existed prior to its creation, as well as the current representations of what used to exist, and the authorities’ efforts to shape Israeli consciousness. Kadman’s book takes us on a journey from the depopulation of Arab lands, to the process of “Judaization” of place names and physical remains, and finally, the Israeli encounters with those remains of the depopulated villages. She shows, for example, the processes of renaming the villages and areas, either by translating them into Hebrew or giving them a historical biblical name, or, where these options were not possible (if the village was named after a person, for example), changing the name to “sound” Hebrew. She describes efforts to plant new plants and trees to hide destroyed villages and give them a European aura. She also discusses some of the moral qualms that some communities had with living in the homes of those who were not allowed to return, and how they eventually made peace with this. This book is immensely useful in showing how systematically the newly created state ensured that traces of past Palestinian life were erased, and therefore, how Israel was able to construct a new future and fortify its emerging national identity.
The strengths of this book are many. Perhaps one of its strongest points is that it helps the reader make sense of the so-called “competing narratives” of Palestinian-Israeli history: one side sees and remembers Palestine as it was prior to the creation of the Israeli state, while the other sees a completely different history that begins from biblical times, with very little reference to any continuous Arab presence. This is not because historians cannot agree on what happened—indeed, there is practically no dispute that Palestinians were expelled or had to flee due to the war, and were not allowed to return—but because the deliberate erasure and replacement ensures that those living on the land today do not associate the remains with the people who used to live there before. What may have been more present to the first generation of Israeli settlers is all but gone for the generations who were born on the land and grew up calling places by Hebrew names. Altering the geography has created a general Israeli consciousness that cannot acknowledge the history it lives on, precisely because that history has not just been erased, but replaced. However, despite official efforts, some place names, such as Kabri and Tantura, have endured, either because the Israeli inhabitants insisted on keeping them, or out of habit. Still, with little reference to the Palestinians who had previously inhabited the land, it is the Palestinians who are viewed as foreign.
In recounting the history of the war in 1948, Kadman relies largely on historian Benny Morris. Morris has produced an impressive work of history, using Israeli military archives to reconstruct the history of the 1948 war; indeed, he is credited with being one of the first Israeli revisionist historians. However, his work is also considered controversial because of its sole reliance on military archives and his interpretation of the events. Kadman’s chapter on the 1948 war would have been stronger if other historians were referenced.
This minor point notwithstanding, this is an excellent book and an important contribution to the field of Israel-Palestine studies.
Jinan Bastaki is Assistant Professor of International Law at United Arab Emirates University.
Date Of Review:
April 27, 2018
Noga Kadman is a researcher and licensed tour guide whose main interest is to explore the encounter between Israelis and the Palestinian presence in the landscape and history of the country. She is co-editor of Once Upon a Land: A Tour Guide to Depopulated Palestinian Villages and Towns (in Hebrew and Arabic).
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