The Village Under the Forest

The real story of how the Palestinians were driven from Israel in '48

The Village Under the Forest What happened in '48? It's the question that haunts the Israel/Palestine dynamic and defines so much of the conflict. This doc strips back the layers of myth, from denial to stories of mass genocide, telling the real story through the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya. Lying under a purposefully cultivated forest plantation, it holds many of the answers not only to the country's past, but also its future.

"Shh, if I don't tell, it didn't happen", a Jewish occupier of Palmach in the 40s says in rebuke to his wife who has suggested there are some things you don't talk about. At the end of his life, Motkele was determined to tell his story: "We knew that if you destroyed the roofs of their homes, the Arabs would leave. So a group of us guys destroyed the village roofs and they left. So easy, as if people's lives weren't involved." In doing so he raises that unspeakable topic in Israel, the destruction of Arab villages and driving of Arabs from the land. Palestinians call it 'The Nakba' or catastrophe. Israel make's it illegal to commemorate the event.

Heidi Grunebaum, a South African Jewish scholar and writer, leads us through the stories of Jews and Arabs who recount the story of '48 through the perspective of the Arab village of Lubya. She first came to Lubya as a student. She often visited the beautiful forest picnic spot nearby and knew nothing of the town's ruins lying under the forest floor. Jews from around the world had donated money to create the tranquil wooded hideaway.

But the stones on the forest floor tell the story of Lubya's Nakba and are not so easily silenced. "Whilst we were fleeing, I looked behind and saw Lubya in the distance, its houses were in flames." A Palestinian woman recounts. But an Israeli soldier from the time admits, "The Arabs of Lubya fled and I was ordered to destroy the houses quickly to prevent their return after the conquest. There were more than 1,000 houses."

But why did Israelis embark on this systematic destruction of Arab villages, even after Palestinians had fled? Simply, in the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pape, "They really didn't like the fact that the country still looked Arab, despite the fact the Arabs weren't there any more." What they wanted was to wipe out the memory of villages like Lubya. And how they went about it was by planting forests to hide the evidence. "One way they hid the existence of Palestinian villages was to plant recreational forests over the villages with European pine trees. Where the towns were large, you can see the new Jewish settlement and beside it a recreational pine forest."

But as the stories from both sides testify, it is not so easy to wipe the memory of whole towns, even in a country where commemoration of The Nakba is considered a crime. Through incredible rare archive and stories from both sides, this film provides a striking testament to why the Israel/Palestine divide remains so difficult to heal.


The Producers

Mark J Kaplan is an award-winning filmmaker, whose 25-year documentary filmmaking career has been committed to human rights. His work treats themes of memory, social justice and the search for accountability. Between Joyce & Remembrance, Mark’s 2005 feature-length documentary, explored the response of three generations within one family to the death of their son at the hands of the Apartheid Security Police. It won the Award of Excellence, Film and Video festival, Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropological Society, 2006. His co-produced feature, The Lion’s Trail, won the Emmy Award (2005) for Outstanding Cultural and Artistic Programming, while Where Truth Lies (1999), a 30-minute documentary that examines issues of truth, healing and reconciliation in South Africa, won joint first prize at the One World Media Awards for Best International Documentary 1999 in London and Best of the Festival Award, Vermont International Film Festival, 2000.

Heidi Grunebaum is a scholar and writer. She works as a senior researcher at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape. She is author of Memorializing the Past: Everyday life in South Africa after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2011) and co-editor, with Emile Maurice, of Uncontained: Opening the Community Arts Project Archive (Cape Town: Centre for Humanities Research, 2012). Her work focuses on memory and trauma; the afterlives of war and genocide; and psycho-geographies of displacement in South Africa, Germany and, more recently, Palestine/Israel.

Making The Film

In September 2009, I was part of a group of four South Africans to visit South Africa Forest, a pine forest and leisure park in the Lower Galilee, Israel. Part of a larger Jewish National Fund (JNF) forest called Lavie, South Africa Forest was established by the JNF and funded by contributions from its South African chapter.Our visit to South Africa Forest was an attempt to find the remains of a destroyed Palestinian village, Lubya, that was covered by the forest.Lubya was forcibly depopulated in mid-July 1948 by Israeli military units, during what is called ‘The War of Independence’ in Israeli nationalist histories and what Palestinians call ‘The Naqba’ (The Catastrophe).Many of the physical remains of the 513 depopulated Palestinian villages were destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force in an operation called ‘Clear the Land’ in the 1960s. But the physical remains of Lubya were blown up, destroyed within two weeks of it being conquered.In the years following the depopulation of the Palestinian villages, the JNF planted 86 pine forests and parks on top of the rubble of the destroyed villages. One of the South African delegation expressed deep distress, since he had been a guest of a South African Jewish organisation’s visit to Israel and had been taken to plant a tree at the forest. He had himself been a victim of the mass forced removals in South Africa after the Group Areas Act of 1950 when he and his family were removed to a ‘township’ called Vergenoeg. We stood amidst the rubble of what had once been the cemetery of Lubya and expressed a common commitment to bringing the tragic resonances of Lubya’s destruction, concealed by the forest, to a wider audience.

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