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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948
Meron Benvenisti

Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000
417pp. Index. Hb.: 35.00; ISBN 0-520-21154-5



The Israeli writer Meron Benvenisti has, during the last two decades, produced an impressive body of work that is at once original and provocative. It is about the unfolding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the impact of Israel's policies in the Occupied Territories, the city of Jerusalem, and the changing political landscape of Palestine/Israel. Central in Benvenisti's production is the current book published by the University of California Press.

Sacred Landscape describes the purposeful and systematic 'destruction' of the Arab landscape of historic Palestine, in both its physical and cultural aspects, in order to create a Jewish one in a relatively short period of time. This dual process was massive in scale and horrifyingly cruel. The destroyed habitat of the 'other' has been part of the author's consciousness since adolescence. It is ironic, he says, "that my father, by taking me on his trips and hoping to instil in me a love for our Hebrew homeland, had imprinted in my memory the very landscape he wished to replace" (p.2).

In the second chapter, Benvenisti draws a portrait of the new Hebrew map as it was constructed. The replacement of thousands of Arabic names of villages, natural sites, and ruins by Hebrew nomenclature was a conscience attempt to 'purify' the holy land from its Arabic heritage. He then goes on to describe how the Arab communities were transplanted into mere 'white patches' in the 'mental maps' of the Jews.

Chapter 3 and 4, entitled 'exodus' and 'ethnic cleansing', respectively, are possibly the most controversial and provocative. Benvenisti advances the claim that while not a primary objective of the 1948 war, the systematic displacement of Palestinians from their homes even after the creation of the state of Israel amounted to ethnic cleansing. The following chapters describe in detail the erasure of villages, the implanting of Jewish immigrant communities, ethnic competition, the creation of internal refugees, and the destruction of the cultural landscape, including sacred sites and folkloric materials. Finally, the author describes how the Palestinians have become the 'last Zionists', wanting to restore a buried landscape.

Benvenisti's work is of such scope that it invites conflicting, or perhaps politicised, remarks. Although one can find ample occasion to criticise Benvenisti's assumptions and his selective use of evidence, such critique must not overshadow this very engaging and readable book. My view is that this work is not only truly original and creative, but also of great import for future assessments of the Palestine question. His creative use of many kinds of original data, his objective-sensitivity as shown in many 'picturesque' portraits of the lost Palestinian landscape and its varied forms of human experience, is truly fresh.


Marwan Khawaja, Fafo Institute for Applied Social



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