We awake this morning bleary eyed but warm after a surprisingly good sleep in the garden of a friend of the guide who took us around Sar’a and Deir Aban yesterday. We had had a late night, writing up the blog in the tent in frenzied exhaustion, a pot of houmous in the middle of us. Freezing and knackered, we slept well. After a lovely breakfast with the family and some minor bike adjustments we were off.
Ajjur, which in 1944/5 had a population (predominantly Muslim) of 3,750 with over 500 houses. Ajjur had two schools and two mosques and would hold a weekly market every Friday. Wheat and olives were Ajjur’s chief crops.
Now the lands of Ajjur sit on land claimed by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) inside British Park, and on the Israeli town of Agur.
Ajjur is only a few kilometres from where we had stayed and we were given good directions on getting there and finding the ruins. We traversed some beautiful hills, as the sun climbed higher and higher and then, like it always is, we spot the golden ruins on the hillside. We slow down, sigh. We can see cactus – sabra trees everywhere, and one large ruin, with many arched doorways and windows, another building behind it which looks lived in (it is) and another furthur up the hill, stately and roofless. We stop and take some photographs from this vantage point, before making our way down the hill, laying our bikes down and heading into the ruins.
They are extensive and overgrown. Where once life, chatter and prayer might have found these walls, weeds and pigeon shit find them now. And graffiti. Lots of graffiti.
We sit amongst these bones of Ajjur. Of all the places we have been, I am hit hardest being here. Maybe because you can really sit inside the rooms here, or maybe because it feels so close to home.
As we cycle for miles around this area, roads surrounded by JNF parks and forests – we spot the familiar trademark of the JNF/KKL and their blurb of what the park or forest is, no mention of course, of the Palestinian history that lies beneath. The lands of Ajjur were seized by the JNF and transformed into British Park using funds raised through JNF’S UK branch.
And so it is me, my family, and my friends who planted the park that would try to make us forget the inconvenient truths of the Palestinian villages that lay beneath it. It was our pounds, in those blue and white tin boxes that helped destroy all this. We thought we were planting trees. But these trees have been used as a weapon of war, a weapon of forgetting and erasure. Trees planted to hide the memory of another people. And it is devastating to witness.
These buildings, or what remains of them are so beautiful, I imagine the flesh growing back over the rubble, the sounds of laughter and song again filling these fields and doorways – their owners inside them proud and happy to live in such a beautiful place. Beside these hills! Enjoying all these prickly pears in the summer. People lived here. And now they are gone. They were forced out. This is different to seeing a pile of skulls or a mass of hair or a heap of ash that indicates the mass cleansing of a people. Here, it is quieter and more subtle – it is a pile of rubble.
Between 23rd and 24th July, 1948 there was a military assault on Ajjur by Zionist forces, causing most of the population to flee. In October 1948, Ajjur was occupied fully as part of operation Yo’av, which sought to occupy both southern and central areas, and the remaining residents were expelled.
Now these refugees wait on the other side of the wall, in cramped refugee camps holding the keys to their houses, waiting to return. Knowing these people makes it so hard to see these villages today. When you meet Palestinian refugees you cannot forget them, you cannot forget their stories. You cannot stand at the ruins of their villages without thinking of them. You cannot talk to Israelis, particularly ones who have recently emigrated, from, say, the UK using the law of Jewish return without thinking of the Palestinian refugees who are not allowed to return.
Salah Ajarma from the Lajee Centre at Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem talks to us about what the Right of Return means for him.
And life under occupation.
And so in Ajjur, I feel it all; the loss and the absence of the people who were once here and the tragedy of their ethnic cleansing. I feel their history in this golden stone and it is heavy.
We call on the British public to know this history and to demand the British charity commission revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund which has been so instrumental in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people and the erasure of their memory.
And we encourage you to join the Stop the JNF campaign which is part of the broader BDS movement, a Palestinian call which aims to put pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and ends the illegal occupation of the Palestinian people.
Remember, in Hebrew