Palestine’s Scarred Landscape

Can you guess what these two images have in common?


You might be thinking what can the chalk outline of a body and some rural green landscape possibly have in common. The answer: these images both depict crime scenes. If that seems very obvious for the picture on the right, but not for the image on the left, that is precisely the point. A great deal of effort has gone into hiding the crime on the left.

Yes, the image on the left is a crime scene. The crime? Ethnic cleansing. In this case, it is the location of the Palestinian village of Bayt Tima. At first glance, especially if you do not know what you are looking at, the image of Bayt Tima might just seem like nothing of any significance and blend into the varied landscape of fields and trees. But once you learn what was there, a village of about 1000 Palestinians prior to 1948, you can see there is something odd about it. Surrounding it are agricultural fields divided by fairly straight lines but the oddly shaped village outline is the product of the natural growth of human existence for centuries. You can see that it was also next to what was once a stream, probably the village’s source of water, before it was dried up. Vegetation still grows along the moist serpentine path.

From 1947-1949 there were over 500 Palestinian villages depopulated of their native inhabitants during the Nakba. After the mass depopulation, the new Israeli state began razing most of the villages to the ground. In most cases, there are few if any standing structures remaining. The objective of these demolitions was to ensure Palestinian refugees had no homes to return to so they would stop trying.

Crime scenes like this are all over the landscape. Last year around this time we posted an example of what the location of a Palestinian village looked like before and after its destruction. Today, we bring you more examples juxtaposing rare pre-1948 aerial imagery of the same villages with what they look like today through Google Maps.

Houses and homes, refugees from which in many cases still hold the keys to, are visible in the older imagery on the left. On the right is what is left today, the erased landscape of Palestine, atop which the state of Israel was built. What emerges is a clear picture of a nation that was wiped off the map.

Can’t See the Village for the Trees

Al-Falujah today covered in a JNF Forest

The image to the right  is also the site of a Palestinian village. This is al-Faluja. It was the site of one of the last parts of the armistice agreements that ended the war. Zionist forces had besieged the town which was the site of an Egyptian army encampment as well as a shelter for thousands of Palestinian refugees. Ultimately, it too was depopulated and 5 days later, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris, Yitzhak Rabin ordered the village razed to the ground.

But today, there is a forest there. The Jewish National Fund (J.N.F.) began planting the forest there in 1956. They state on their website:

The Jewish community of Los Angeles raised funds for the project, and in honor of their contribution, the northern part of the forest was named Hamalachim Forest, which means the Angels Forest, true to the meaning city’s name in Spanish – City of Angels. Some of the forests of the lowlands, including Hamalachim Forest, were planted on the initiative of KKL-JNF by residents of the transit camp established there in 1956.

Al-Faluja before the Nakba

Faluja might sound familiar to some today who might confuse it with the Fallujah in Iraq,
which became known as the site of a bloody insurgency and repressive campaign during the height of the American war on Iraq. But while they are distinct, they are not unrelated. The Palestinian village, originally known as Zurayq al-Khandaq, got the name Faluja from a 14th century Iraqi Sufi cleric, Shahab ad-Din al-Faluji. He came to the area and later was buried there and the native villagers kept the name in his honor for centuries.

What was erased here and all over Palestine was not merely buildings but a history and a culture. They were then overwritten. A century before Columbus even sailed to the new world, and centuries before Europeans settled Los Angeles, Shahab ad-Din Al-Faluji became the namesake of Zurayq al-Khandaq. The people of the village commemorated his memory for hundreds of years and then, in a short period of time, it was erased. Trees, not native to Palestine were planted over an uprooted village, and in the greatest of ironies, a forest named for a city that was taken from yet a different native peoples marked a new narrative of history half a world away. The J.N.F. webpage on this forest talks a lot about history but does not mention the secret hidden beneath this forest’s trees; that al-Faluja, a village of nearly 5,000 people before 1948, is buried below.

And yet, The J.N.F. claims:

Israel is one of only two countries in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees. But Israel was not blessed with natural forests; its forests are all hand-planted. When the pioneers of the State arrived, they were greeted by barren land.

Qula is another Palestinian village depopulated in 1948:

On the left is aerial imagery of the village prior to 1948. You can see the village and how some of the houses abut the main road.  That main road is represented in the image on the right as road 444. The highway to the west of that road only began operating in the last fifteen years, so it obviously isn’t going to be in the older photo. You can see that a forest, the Kula forest, yet another man made creation, now exists atop where the village was. There was no forest there previously. The trees basically cover the village site, like a beard grown to hide the scars on a face. However, a Google Street View car went down road 444 taking images at the street level and it reveals some village houses between the trees.

The following images show more instances of village sites covered by forests or trees.

Iraq as-Sweidan:

Dayr Suneid:



An interactive map below allows you to see the location of numerous villages and the newly planted forests that cover up their locations:

The Big Picture

The map below allows you to see the scale of depopulation and destruction, and it also allows you to zoom in and see what the land where these villages were looks like today. Villages are marked with a place-marker.

A final note on the data. In the past, meticulous work by Palestinian historians to document each and every depopulated village has been done. Perhaps most well-known among these works is Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains. This work was and continues to be a primary resource on the Nakba. In addition to Khalidi’s work, the Atlas of Palestine: 1948 by Salman Abu Sitta is a more recent and more extensive presentation of similar data. Abu Sitta pieces together aerial footage of pre-1948 Palestine. That book is the source of the older aerial imagery today. The data in the above Google maps also originates from Abu Sitta’s atlas. Both are indispensable resources for understanding the landscape, history and events of the land at the time. The map below has villages indexed by exodus cause which is the reason for refugee flight in each village. This data was coded in Salman Abu Sitta’s Atlas based primarily on Benny Morris’ history. Abu Sitta supplements information from other sources for villages Morris does not mention. Another important category is the “destruction reference number” which is coded from the work of Ghazi Falah and orders the village by level of destruction.

Internet accessible satellite imagery, a tool that was not available when the first versions of Khalidi or Abu Sitta’s books were initially published, is available today allowing us to see the past and the present from the air side-by-side.

Some Zionists try to deny that the Nakba happened, others deny that Palestinians had any real connection to the land. Some will tell you Palestine was a land without a people. Still, one does not even need to hear from a Palestinian refugee to learn the truth. The land itself, visible from a satellite in the sky, screams out that these are lies. There was an entire society here. There was a people. There was a history. The scarred landscape of Palestine is a testament to the injustice done to its people at the hands of Zionism. How can there ever be peace without justice for this?