Eying Ethnic Cleansing from the Sky

Google Maps is an amazing tool. Followers of this blog will know it is a tool I utilize a great deal since so much of the issues we deal with are geographic. When it comes to understanding the Nakba though, Google Maps provides a whole new view which I have been sharing with followers over twitter in recent days and will continue to do so this week as we commemorate the depopulation of Palestine from the majority of its native inhabitants.

Thanks to the work of geographers and historians, we have geographic coordinates for Palestinian villages which were destroyed during the depopulation of Palestine. This allows us to see precisely where the villages were through Google’s satellite imagery and what that area looks like today. Another fascinating Google tool is “Street View” which, as you can imagine, allows you to see the view of the area from the street. Now not every street level view is available but many are. A feature of street view includes photos taken and uploaded by individuals with recorded geo-positions off the roads.

In some cases villages were completely destroyed with little physical evidence remaining. In many other cases, however, some structures from the villages still stand or village land is visibly strewn with rubble from the destroyed homes. I’ve been using the street view tool to tweet images of these remains, which I call the “Ghosts of the Nakba“, standing there, often in plain site, as a haunting reminder of a crime perpetuated against the villages and their people.

Google Maps also allows the opportunity to make an interesting juxtaposition in many cases. For hundreds of villages, high-quality aerial imagery of the village exists from before the Nakba. So we can take this imagery and put it next to Google’s satellite imagery of the area today. Take for example, the Palestinian village of Burayr where some 3,000 Palestinians lived before the ethnic cleansing. The before and after shot below shows how Burayr was wiped off the map.

The before image, on the left, shows a village packed with stone houses. The Google Maps image on the right (which you can see here) shows a clearly discernible outline of where the village was. The odd shape contrasts with the square plots surrounding it and, despite being sparsely covered with trees today some of the old village roads are faintly discernible as well. These shapes marking villages, which don’t quite fit in with the surroundings, are clearly visible in a number of cases like JulisBeit JibrinMaghar,  Tal UbaydaDamun, and many others.

The Ghosts of the Nakba are all around and you will notice them quite easily if you are looking and know where to look. As Moshe Dayan, a former Israeli Defense Minister and Army Chief of Staff  said “There isn’t any place that was established in an area where there had not at one time been an Arab settlement.” Of course, he should know, since he played a role in the depopulation.

Despite this many Israelis do not see the ghosts before them in plain site. Or perhaps, they don’t want to see them. Early this morning and in response to a Ghost of the Nakba tweet I sent about Kafr Saba, Barak Ravid, an journalist for the Israeli Daily Haaretz replied:


He has since deleted this tweet.

Of course, Kafr Saba did exist. It doesn’t today. But it was located right here. You can see an odd area in brown which stands out because it literally looks like something had been there before being erased from sight. That was Kfar Saba.

Ravid noted he had been mistaken after several tweeters informed him he was wrong. But this begs the question, just how much do Israelis actually know, or care to know, about the society that was destroyed to make way for the state they live in today? How much do they know or care to know about the Ghosts of the Nakba all around them? How can they not but feel responsibility for the dismembering of a society, a dismemberment that continues today in the West Bank?

If they or anyone else is interested, Google Maps is one place to start and get a bird’s eye view of the ethnic cleansing that took place. As long as, well you know, you’re not afraid of confront some ghosts.

(Source /16.05.2013)

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