Haim Yacobi, the head of the Politics and Government Department at Ben Gurion University is a high-profile radical activist. During a recent conference "visualizing" the return of Palestinian refugees, he stated that Israel must go through a process of “decolonization” in order to level the playing field between Israeli “colonizers” and Palestinian “refugees.” He blamed the political reality (meaning the Israeli government) for not taking this debate any further.
There is nothing wrong in holding non-mainstream political opinions. Like any other citizen, Yacobi has the right to engage in political activities within the framework of the law. It is not permissible, however, to use an academic position as an extension of such activity. Indeed, reacting to the Council of Higher Education threat to close the troubled department, Yacobi seemed to make the distinction between scholarships and politics: “To be honest, I really don’t care what my colleagues are doing after they are teaching here or whatever they’re doing on the weekend."
Yacobi's resumé fits the profile of the RC. An architect by training, Yacobi devoted his career to a sub-field of critical geography pertaining to the political construction of space. Under research interests, he lists "the production of urban space, social justice, the politics of identity, migration, globalization and urban planning." In fact, most of his publications involve various facets of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with a heavy concentration of the "Zionist dispossession of the Palestinians." More recently, Yacobi has focused on African immigrants in Israel - a new cause célèbre of radical-leftist academics.
Yacobi's list of publications reflects what the RC considered fringe outlets. Virtually all has been published by left-leaning presses or journals, including the Hebrew language Resling Press and the Van Leer Institute - Kibbutz Hameuahd Press, created to popularize critical scholarship. Likewise, the English- language Ashage Press describes itself as "a family owned firm committed to social reasonability." When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Ashage stands shoulder to shoulder with Pluto, Verso and Zed in featuring a scathing critique of Zionism and Israel. In additional to Yacobi's book. Ashage boast titles by such radical detractors of "Israeli apartheid and colonists" as Marcelo Svirsky and Dan Rabinowitz, among others.
To rectify the serious flows in the department the RC urged to hire more main-stream faculty and reduce what was deemed as an excessive level of activism. While this is a much-needed correction for the future, the past practices of the department that resulted in the hiring of Yacobi and other activists, including the former medical doctor Dani Filc should also be investigated. The responsibility lies squarely with Professor David Newman, the former head of Politics and Government and the current Dean.
In a recent article by Newman in the Jerusalem Post, Newman complained about the neglect of social sciences by the government. In response, IAM would like to ask Dean Newman whether the government should spend more of taxpayers money on subsiding the political activism dressed-up as scholarship of Yacobi and others.
On the ruins of a village in Tel Aviv, Jews dream of Palestinian return
‘Merely addressing the return of Palestinians helps Jews overcome their phobia,’ one conference participant says
October 1, 2013, 5:12
Elhanan Miller is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel
The irony of holding a conference focusing on the repatriation of Palestinian refugees and their descendants over the ruins of an abandoned Palestinian village — now the site of Eretz Israel Museum in north Tel Aviv — did not escape the organizers of the event. In fact that village, Sheikh Muwannis, was highlighted on the conference poster.
A few dozen Jews and Arabs gathered Sunday and Monday at the museum — which, no less ironically, was named by its former director Rehavam Zeevi, an Israeli tourism minister and advocate of Palestinian transfer assassinated by terrorists in 2001 — for a conference titled “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of Palestinian Refugees,” organized by Israeli NGO Zochrot. Truth and redress are elusive terms in the context of the Arab Israeli conflict, though. The aftermath of the war of 1948 — known by Israelis as the War of Independence and by Palestinians as Nakba, or catastrophe — remains a major emotional and political point of contention for Israeli Jews and Arabs. While the notion of returning refugees to Israel proper may be gaining traction among some in the American Jewish left, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis find it difficult to square with UN Security Council Resolution 181, otherwise known as the Partition Plan, which calls for the creation of a Jewish nation state alongside an Arab one, west of the Jordan river.
Im Tirzu, an Israeli NGO which last year published a booklet titled “Nakba Kharta” (Nakba is nonsense), appealed to Finance Minister Yair Lapid to cut the museum’s funding for housing the Zochrot conference.
Yet the conference went ahead, with presentations varying from the extremely personal to the wholly abstract. Absent, unsurprisingly, were speakers from the Israeli mainstream or right, for whom the notion of a “right of return” for Palestinians currently living outside sovereign Israel is anathema, since a sizable influx would dilute Israel’s approximately 3-1 Jewish-Muslim majority. Also missing were speakers from that external community — Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza or beyond — meaning that the Arab speakers were Arabs from Israel, whose relocation to abandoned villages would not remake Israeli demography, only its geography.
Amir Ashqar, a 19-year-old from the Galilee village of Kufr Yassif, told the audience of a decision he took last year with 14 friends to resettle his abandoned ancestral village of Iqrit, near the border with Lebanon.
A Christian village, Iqrit was emptied of its inhabitants in November 1948 during Operation Hiram by the nascent IDF, which promised residents they would return within days. That pledge was never realized, and in 1951 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the army to allow the return of Iqrit refugees, but its homes were demolished before the decision could be implemented. Only the village church and cemetery remain on the site today.
“Returning to the village physically is different from hearing about it,” Ashqar said. “Today I know things about Iqrit which I never heard in the family stories.”
The family of Salma Heibi, a 30-year-old veiled woman and member of the Communist party, hails from the ruined village of Mi’ar in the Upper Galilee, on which four Jewish communities currently lie: Ya’ad, Segev, Misgav and Manof.
Heibi, who lives in the nearby village of Kabul with her three children, said she was unsure about what to do with “the settlers” occupying Mi’ar today.
“Should we deport them the same way they deported us? I’m undecided. I say: ‘The land is mine and I want to return to it.’ For now, my emotions override my logic.”
In a memorial video about Mi’ar screened following her presentation, Heibi sounded more resolute: “Mi’ar is for the Palestinians, not the Zionists.”
Ibrahim Abul-Heija said he can almost see the village of Al-Ruways — which his father fled at the age of 12 — from the window of his home in Tamra, northeast of Haifa. He is currently completing a history book on Al-Ruways based on oral testimonies he gathered, meant to educate the younger generation about their origins.
Every refugee from Al-Ruways, “even those living in London,” knows exactly where his home stood before 1948, Abul-Heija asserted. “I don’t care if my neighbor is Moshe or Yossi or Issa, or who rules me. Let me return to my land. If you live on the tenth floor of an apartment building in Tel Aviv, who cares who lives on the eleventh?”
American Michal Ran-Rubin helped Zochrot design the potential future layout of Mi’ar and Al-Ruways to receive returning Palestinians as part of her PhD dissertation in urban planning for the University of Chicago. Traditional one-story Palestinian homes would have to give way to four- and five-story buildings to accommodate the masses of incoming returnees, she said.
The descendants of Mi’ar and Al-Ruways are mostly Israeli citizens, still living in close proximity to the abandoned villages. That reality, coupled with the fact that Israel has no urban planning intentions for the land, makes Palestinian return to these two villages theoretically possible.
“This was the perfect site to test out some of the ideas about how urban planning could facilitate transitional justice, allowing people to re-envision what a space might look like,” she said.
While insisting on avoiding the political aspects of her research and focusing on the technicalities of planning, Ran-Rubin said there was significance in acknowledging the Palestinian Nakba even where the rebuilding of a destroyed village is impossible.
“In the US, we spent a lot of time thinking about the spaces we walked upon. When I was at Berkeley, before every talk a professor would stand up and remark upon the Native American villages that used to stand on the grounds that Kroeber Hall or any one of our administrative buildings are now based on.”
As a “society in transition,” it is normal for Israelis to fear being thrown into the sea by returning Palestinians, Ran-Rubin added, but said she herself did not share such concerns, which “almost never, and for very obvious economic and political reasons, come to bear.”
Some participants supported the return of Palestinians as a way of cleansing Israel of what they viewed as the primordial sin of Zionism. Ami Asher, a translator from Jaffa, joined Zochrot after realizing in 2009 that the mulberry trees on the corner of Arlozorov and Ibn Gavirol in north Tel Aviv were planted by the Palestinian villagers of Summayl. He urged the audience to embrace Palestinian return not as burden but “as something we really want to happen.”
“Our country is very sick and needs a remedy,” he declared. “Merely addressing the issue helps Jews overcome the phobia of return.”
That’s exactly what the conference was, said 84-year-old Amnon Neumann, injured in the Negev desert during the 1948 War as a combatant in the second and ninth battalions of the Palmach, the precursor to the IDF. Haim Yacobi, head of the MA program in urban design at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy, said that Israel must go through a process of “decolonization” in order to level the playing field between Israeli “colonizers” and Palestinian “refugees.” He wondered out loud, however, whether the entire debate was nothing more than a new form of political defiance, a mirage, given Israel’s current political reality.
“As long as our leaders remain in power, all this talk is baloney,” said Neumann, whose vision of one state on the entire land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, enabling mass Palestinian immigration from overseas, opened the second day of the conference. “It all depends on our regime. If our government is fair to everyone, hostility will dissipate with time. Of course such deep hatred will take a long time to disappear.”
A utopian Arab city in Israel? Turn left at Route 65
Plans for a theoretical Arab city show how the right of return could be implemented - in terms of design, at least
By Esther Zandberg | Oct. 6, 2013
The theoretical-utopian city, planned by architect Shadi Habib-Allah, is to be built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of al-Lajun - abandoned and destroyed in 1948, one of some 500 Arab villages removed. Since then, no Arab town has been established (except for the Bedouin towns). Kibbutz Megiddo now sits on the land of al-Lajun.There will be a large square in the center of al-Lajun, the city sited on Route 65 between Umm al-Fahm and Afula. Surrounding it will be public buildings to serve the future residents and visitors. Among the buildings will be a museum, art galleries, craft workshops, a visitors center, coffee shops, and even a center for the protection of nature. The idea behind the planning of the city center draws its inspiration from houses with courtyards, the standard style of building for local Palestinian construction. In the middle of the square will be a sort of low stage for meetings and performances. The buildings will be faced in stone and designed in the traditional oriental style, including arches and domes.
The new city is intended to house the families of the village's residents, most of whom now live in Umm al-Fahm, as well as additional Palestinian refugees who will come to live there as part of their realization of their right of return. The square will feature a "key" monument - an enlarged version of the symbol of the dream of the right of return.
A number of human-rights organizations involved with the dream of the right of return are partners in the al-Lajun project. The project was presented this week at the international conference titled From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of Palestinian Refugees, organized by the Zochrot nonprofit.
The conference was held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv - or, as Zochrot calls it, al-Shaykh Muwannis (a Palestinian village that was located in the Ramat Aviv area before the founding of the State of Israel) last Sunday and Monday. Zochrot said the multidisciplinary conference was planned to "discuss practical aspects of the return of Palestinian refugees grounded in the transitional justice principles of acknowledgement, accountability and a joint Jewish-Palestinian process of redress."
This was Zochrot's second such conference. It was not dedicated to the debate over the right of return in itself, but to a concrete discussion of ways to implement the return, in both a symbolic and concrete fashion - culturally, diplomatically and spatially.
“The objective of this conference is not to argue whether the Palestinian refugees have a right to return, but to see how this right can be realized," states Zochrot. The conference focused on "the implication of return for the country's physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and, last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other," said Zochrot.
Al-Lajun is a test case for a broader vision, the establishment of seven urban communities in the same area. The communities will be a memorial to the dozens of villages that existed there before the establishment of Israel, and will house their refugees, other "internal" refugees and possibly other returnees in the utopian future.
The power of an image
The center of the new city has a neo-traditional architecture style - and that is not by chance or an expression of personal taste. Habib-Allah, who agrees with the description of a Disneyland style of kitsch, explains the choice as a need to restore the architectural typology from before the Nakba (“the catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians for the establishment of Israel), as burned into the memories of the refugees from the original village.
The planning of the city was done by the al-Lajun Group, which deals with the vision of the right of return and as well as other organizations, including Zochrot. The group is mostly made up of young activists - the third generation of the village's original residents who left and now live in Umm al-Fahm.
The architectural return to the original village as they imagine it, said Habib-Allah, "is a real need. We thought to realize the memory to memorialize traditional Palestinian architecture and also to soften the shock of return to a completely foreign place," he said.
Habib-Allah, 28, is from the village of Ein Mahal near Nazareth. He is a graduate of the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan, one of some 25,000 Arab-Israeli students who have studied in the neighboring country. Since graduating three years ago, he has worked in an architectural firm in Nazareth to receive his architect's license, and has worked on a number of private architectural projects. He often visits Jordan and returns to the "Arab-cosmopolitan atmosphere of students from the entire Arabic-speaking space that I miss here. What bothers me there is mostly that women have no personal security," he said.
On the edges of the urban center planned for al-Lajun, there will be neighborhoods of housing in the "Western" Israeli suburban format, and a light industrial zone that could be a joint project with nearby Kibbutz Megiddo and other Jewish communities in the area. The city will also have a transportation hub that will serve neighboring communities on Route 65 (a major national thoroughfare). The destroyed communities, whose memory has been erased from the Israeli space, will be commemorated in the street names and public buildings of the new town.
Al-Lajun, like the other cities in the project, is located in the area that is designated as the only available land for the development of the Arab communities of Wadi Ara. In 1998, thousands of dunams of land in the area were expropriated for military needs and declared a closed military firing zone. The move triggered riots, which were cited by the Or Commission - examining the violent Wadi Ara riots of the fall of 2000 - to be a precursor to that later violence. To this day, they remain a warning sign and lingering scar. The investigative commission recommended compensatory land in return for the expropriated land. The final compensation did somewhat soften the anger and split created, but was not a true solution. The al-Lajun project could be a utopian correction.
Far from old Jaffa
In a lecture in response to the al-Lajun project, architect Dr. Haim Yacobi, the head of the masters degree program in urban design at Bezalel - Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, criticized the project on a theoretical basis - and the connection between architecture, politics and utopia. He saw it as an opportunity for residents and refugees to formulate a new position, including the demand for land in recognition of the remains of the built-up environment - and not just as a utopia of orientalist fantasy, such as in Old Jaffa or the Ein Karem neighborhood in Jerusalem, but as part of giving legitimacy to the fabric of history, identity and space of those returning.
Does architecture have a place in the process of right of return, asked Yacobi, or maybe it is only an illusion facing the political experience today in Israel? What is the place of ethics in relation to communities of refugees at a time when every discussion of the right of return has no practical horizon in today's reality?
As usual at such conferences, the audience may have been multilingual, but it was already convinced beforehand. Outside there was not even a single demonstration against the conference, and the police who were stationed in the museum courtyard just in case returned to their bases safely. Nonetheless, it seems the right of return made another step on its path to the threshold of public awareness.
BGU faculty threatens legal action over closure
By DANIELLE ZIRI
University politics department threatens to take Council for Higher Education to court for "dangerous" decision to shutter program
(This is the middle section of the article)
Department head Haim Yacobi responded that “the claims are very well-engineered, I would say, by groups who have a political agenda...It’s okay to have a political agenda, there is nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that their strategy has been adopted by people who have official responsibility.”
Their truth is taken as a fact, he added, but has no basis in reality.
“We shouldn’t be naive, it’s part of a wider agenda.”
Yacobi, who took up his position two months ago and has been dealing with the controversy ever since, explained that he does not believe that MALAG will shut down the department – an opinion which his staff and faculty members share. “It cannot happen. We can be very critical toward Israel’s politics, but we are not at a stage where a department at a university can be closed because of political interest – and I hope we never reach this point,” he said.
“Closing a department because of political reasons is a very, very dangerous thing to do,” added Yacobi.
He expressed his frustration with the current situation and stated he is very proud of the achievements of the political science department.
Regarding the attacks on his faculty members, Yacobi said: “To be honest, I really don’t care what my colleagues are doing after they are teaching here or whatever they’re doing on the weekend.
“I think if we reach a stage where I would judge the work of my colleagues or my students according to their political, social affiliations, it will be a very dark moment,” he added.