A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to post a photo that I took in Jerusalem last year on a social media platform. Everything was okay until I tried to tag the location to the post. As I took the photo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I tried to tag it as Al-Aqsa, which is the most famous and exact name of the holy place for the Muslims. I couldn't. There were many Al-Aqsa suggestions, but they all were mapped on the other sides of the world, not where it was supposed to be.
So I decided to tag the location as "Al-Quds," the name of the Old City for the Muslims, which means "the Holy One" in Arabic, instead of Jerusalem. I gave it a shot and searched for it, but all the "Al-Quds" suggestions were again showing other places. There were places, named Al-Quds in London, New York, Riyadh or even in Kuala Lumpur, but there was no Al-Quds at the exact location on the map where it should be.
I remember that I thought social media was the latest front in Israel's battle to erase Palestinian and Arab heritage from much of the Holy Land after thousands of road signs.
A couple of years ago, the Israeli government began to change the signs on the roads in Israel, east Jerusalem and some parts of the West Bank, stating that they would be "standardized." But it was just converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew names. For instance, the name of Jerusalem in Arabic underwent a change on almost all signs: the word in brackets, Al-Quds, which appeared there before, no longer exists. It has been Hebraized to "Urshalim."
That move was not only aiming to erase from the Israeli consciousness the Arabic language, but the Palestinian identity itself. Israel assigned the work of erasing the Arabic names from the land and replacing them with Jewish-Hebrew names to a naming committee, which was established in 1950 as a successor of the "Jewish National Fund Committee for Names of Settlements," which was formed in 1925, years before the foundation the state. Ever since, the purpose has been one: The Judaization of the land and wiping off the Palestinian identity from it and from the minds.
So, according to Israel, there is no such thing as "a Palestinian," they are just bunch of Arabs who came there; and there is no such place as Palestine on earth, there is only Israel. They have had to rename thousands of streets, roads, towns, villages and cities in order to erase their images from the memories and convince the world they have never existed. And they have done just that.
In this regard, Palestine's urban centers have always been a threat to the Zionist narrative that claims Palestine was a land without a people, for a people without a land. In the wake of 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine known as "al Nakba," Israel started to erase Palestine's heritage and identity from the Palestinian cities. Haifa, Akko or Jaffa, the cultural centers of Palestinian life, suffered a devastating blow, while Palestinians were driven out of these cities. The commercial hubs, which served as the crossroads of the Arab cities like Cairo, Beirut and Damascus were lost overnight. Families were prevented from returning to their homes. Merchants were denied access to their shops. An entire way of life was lost, and Israel depicted Palestinians as uncultured looters with no roots to the rest of the world.
Likewise, Mamilla, a neighborhood just outside of the Old City in Jerusalem, west to the Jaffa Gate, was a mixed Arab-Jewish business district where dozens of shops, consulates, guesthouses and banks existed until 1948. After years of destruction, division and rebuilding, the area lost all of its Palestinian identity and rose as the most striking form of colonization and apartheid. The pedestrian-only Mamilla Mall, whose plans were started in 1967 and opened in 2007, is now connecting west Jerusalem to the Old City at Jaffa Gate. It also separates Palestinians from access to their old lands. Mamilla Mall, as one of the most unsettling reminder of daily dehumanization of Palestinians under occupation, means a luxury destination for Israelis with expensive fashion brands, coffee shops, street music, theaters and business offices. There is no other experience like this: Walking through a mall full of life and feeling the death under it.
Of course, those were all in the framework of a series of steps Israel took for implementing the "Jewish State" slogan on the ground in years. And last week, Israel finally expressed it in law: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Zionists defend the law claiming that it is just formalizing the common understanding and that the new law will change almost nothing. And they are right about that as it's neither the first nor the last assault on the Palestinians.
Omitting any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, the law promotes being a Jew and downgrades being a Palestinian, which means the formalization of the current apartheid in order to advance discriminatory policies of Israel against Palestinians.
Further marginalizing 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and providing a legal basis to continue to erase Palestinian identity from the land, the new law stands for a new Nakba day for Palestine. While it is another catastrophe for Palestinians as they get closer to losing their lands completely, Jews celebrate it as a triumph and another milestone to complete the ultimate goal of Zionism.
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