Hundreds of Palestinian villages were left empty across Israel when their residents became refugees after the 1948 war, their lands and property confiscated. Most of the villages were razed by the new State of Israel, but in dozens of others, communities of Jews were settled—many refugees in their own right. The state embarked on a systematic effort of renaming and remaking the landscape, and the Arab presence was all but erased from official maps and histories. Israelis are familiar with the ruins, terraces, and orchards that mark these sites today—almost half are located within tourist areas or national parks—but public descriptions rarely acknowledge that Arab communities existed there within living memory or describe how they came to be depopulated. Using official archives, kibbutz publications, and visits to the former village sites, Noga Kadman has reconstructed this history of erasure for all 418 depopulated villages.
Kadman, a researcher for Israeli human rights organization B'tselem, relates how the Israeli government systematically erased and obscured the history of the Arab population that once inhabited what is now the nation-state of Israel. She traces the fate of more than 400 rural Palestinian villages, illuminating the application and results of Israeli state policy to remove from history the centuries of Arab presence in Palestine. In order to effectively remove the Palestinians from history, Kadman argues, the physical evidence of their presence has to be eliminated. This began with the removal of the Arab population during the Nakba ("catastrophe") of 1948, when approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled impending violence or were forced from their land. It has continued to the present through a systematic process imposed on the geography, including name changes, map changes, the razing of buildings and ruins, and the deliberate ignoring or diminishing of the Arab presence in Palestine in official publications. Kadman argues that the goal of this policy is to eliminate the written and physical evidence of the Arab presence as part of the legitimization of the Zionist ideology which underpins the Israeli state. Kadman's work is academically focused, but it is crucial reading for understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict.