on 4 June 2009
Khirbet Khizeh was first published in 1949, during the aftermath of the Israeli war of independence. In this short novel S. Yizhar, himself an officer during the war, describes the expulsion of Arabs from their village. It is a haunting story, full of coarse language and biblical references, that caused a hefty debate in its home country.
The story is about a small platoon of soldiers, ordered to collect the villagers of Khirbet Khizeh, a small agricultural settlement. All of them have difficulties coping with the situation. One soldier hopes the villagers wil put up a fight, so he will be justified to shoot at them. Another thinks it is plainly wrong what he is doing, but nevertheless carries on as he is ordered. Yizhar, as any good novellist, refrains from judgements, but pushes the facts into the reader's face so he may judge himself. Only in the final chapter, when his protagonist sums up his arguments, does he (unfortunately) leave this stance.
Khirbet Khizeh was not published in English before. It should be read for its political message, by anybody interested in the Middle East, as well as for its beautiful language, sparse but effective characterisation of soldiers and villagers alike, and superb sketches of the hot and dusty landscapes of Palestine.
I didn't think I was going to get into this work, with its sometimes meandering sentences, but made a determined effort and read it in one sitting (120 p) and it's absolutely brilliant.
First published in 1949, it's narrated by a young Israeli soldier out with his platoon, carrying out orders to clear out the eponymous Arab village, remove the occupants and blow up the houses. Yizhar brings the whole situation to life, with vivid descriptions of the Palestinian landscape and of the soldiers' demeanour:
'there was to be no battle for us today...today we were going on an outing.'
But as the remaining Arabs are heartlessly 'cleared' onto 'transports', the reader sees uncomfortable similarities with the awful situation of the Jews themselves in Europe just a few years previously. As the narrator, himself opposed to the situation, observes:
'the Diaspora...Our nation's protest to the world: exile! It had entered me, apparently, with my mother's milk. what, in fact, had we perpetrated here today?'
Very powerful read, and for readers like myself who weren't around in the 40s, very informative. This edition is enhanced by an afterword by David Shulman which explains some of the Biblical references in 'Yizhar's dense web of allusion', and discusses the situation today between settlers and their Palestinian neighbours.
on 7 February 2016
Should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in Israel and Palestine. I believe it used to be on the Israeli school curriculum but has been removed, since it does not reflect the narrative the government now favours. And nothing has changed on the ground, as the IDF continues to demolish homes and whole villages both in the occupied territories and in the Negev. The psychological effect on those asked to carry out this evil work is immeasurable, as described in this little gem; the testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence expand on it. With generations of Israelis emotionally damaged by carrying out such orders, no wonder the entire psyche of the country is so twisted.
on 23 December 2010
basically this is an account of a soliders path thru arab lands as they clear out the arabs and feeling more than a little queasy about it, as you would!
thoughtful and well written it describes how ordinary people, press ganged into service for the colony were asked to do some pretty nasty things to innocent people..
an example: "first of all, we still have to check all the arabs assembled below and identify any suspect youths. second, when the trucks come we'll load them all on and leave the village empty. third, we have to finish the burning and the demolition. after that we can go home"
also recommend "the ethnic cleansing of palestine" on a similar theme..