Echoes of the Present: S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh and Israel Today

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VOL. 38


No. 1
P. 78
Review Essay
Echoes of the Present: S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh and Israel Today

Khirbet Khizeh, by S. Yizhar. Translated by Nicholas de Lange and Yaacob Dweck. Afterword by David  Schulman. Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2008. 134 pages. $16.95 paper.


A few months after the 1948 war, the Israeli writer S. Yizhar—the pen name of Yizhar Smilansky—wrote the novella Khirbet Khizeh, which was published in Hebrew in 1949. This year, it was published in English, under the same name, for the first time.


Khirbet Khizeh describes the violent expulsion of the inhabitants of a Palestinian village by a detachment of Israeli soldiers. At the time the soldiers arrived, most of the young men of the village had already taken to the surrounding hills. It was mainly the elderly, the infirm, the women and children who were left behind. The soldiers were following their pre-battle orders, when they blew up the houses, razed the village, and drove out its inhabitants.


The story is closely based on the experience of the author, who had taken part in a similar atrocity. Both in its achievements and its failures, the novella continues to have contemporary relevance. The moral and legal issues it raises, and the consequences of the 1948 war it illuminates, remain unresolved almost sixty years after it was first published. The passage of time appears to have made it no easier for Israelis to write about the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the way that Yizhar did, let alone deal with its moral and legal consequences. The majority of the Israeli public has preferred to hold on to the official line: that close to three quarters of a million Palestinians left their homes in Palestine on orders of the Arab leaders. And six decades after the cataclysmic event, the Israeli army continues to pursue policies based on the denial of Palestinians as a nation entitled to self-determination, and the consequent violations of their civil and human rights. ….


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RAJA SHEHADEH, a Palestinian lawyer and founder of Al-Haq, is the author of a number of books, most recently Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape, which won the 2008 George Orwell Book Prize.