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Al-Rameh (Galilee)

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 30.06.2007:

Documenting Daily Life in Galilee Villages

By Khalil Nakhleh

In 1970 I came with my small family to spend a year in my village – Rameh, in Galilee – to carry out field research. I was accompanied by my wife (a “very American” nurse then, but fortunately, a “very Palestinian” artist now), our one-and-a-half-year-old first-born son, and our 1965 VW Beetle, which followed us by ship, arriving in Haifa about three months later. As a doctoral student in anthropology at Indiana University, I had to conduct a year of field research that would constitute the basis of my dissertation. The subject of my research focused on two specific villages and their internal conflict relations, as affected by the Israeli occupation and by a foreign-imposed political system on the Palestinian minority in Israel, on the one hand, and by traditional kinship and religious factional identities, on the other. At the time, these villages were commonly labelled “Arab” villages, and the “remnants” of the Palestinian people that stayed in what became Israel, as the “Arab” minority. During the field research, I made the mental and physical distinction between “us” the Arabs, and ‘them” the Israelis or Jews. My Palestinian identity, however, was concealed deep within me, never overt. In my dissertation of more than 350 pages, for example, which was based on my field research, I did not use the “Palestinian” reference unless it was to discuss historical events prior to 1948!

Of course, the villages I studied were, and are, Palestinian villages; they are the continuity of the indigenous and historical Palestinian presence in Galilee. The population of these two villages constituted a part of the approximately 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel/Palestine after al-Nakbah. Fortunately, the two villages were not included among the 531 Palestinian villages that were destroyed by Israel during and after al-Nakbah.

One of the villages I studied was al-Rama – or al-Rameh (as it is pronounced according to the local vernacular). It is the village in which I was born, 27 years earlier and five years before al-Nakbah. As I remember while growing up, the village was approximately two-thirds Christian (mostly Orthodox, with some Melkite Catholics (Katholike), Roman Catholics (Latine), and a couple households of Protestants) and one-third Druze. Although this composition shaped the historical image of the village, it was altered as a consequence of al-Nakbah. The village of Iqrith, which Israel destroyed in 1948, is a Melkite-Catholic village. Some of the people of Iqrith “relocated” to my village; hence they became internally displaced. Two other neighbouring Muslim villages, namely Farradyeh and Kufr E’nan, were also destroyed. They too were “relocated” to my village. “Relocated” is a euphemism used to describe what happened to the people who were forcibly, violently, and abruptly transferred from their natural and social habitat to another “replacement” habitat in the country – a “compensation” for the loss of their land, which was stolen from them and used to build Jewish colonies.

According to the house-to-house census that I did in 1971, al-Rameh had an original population of 3,012. The total number of internally displaced persons (IDP) from the three villages was 700. Consequently, the traditional and sociological composition of the village was changed. For the first time, and as a direct result of the political conflict, al-Rameh’s population included Muslims and refugees. And both groups of IDPs, Christian and Muslim, were treated as outsiders; social interaction with both was dubious and had to be conducted with utmost care and deliberation. For a long time, they were dubbed as “ahel Iqrith” (the people of Iqrith) and “ahel Farradyeh and Kufr E’nan,” to be distinguished from “ahel al-Rameh”!

The houses of al-Rameh were snuggled against the sloping, sunny side of Jabal Haydar, north of the main road that connects Akka and Safad, and protected from the cold winds that come rolling down from Jabal al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon) – thus named because of its snowy white peak, most of the year – watching over a valley of seemingly endless olive trees. I grew up knowing my village as the village of olives and oil, where the olives were picked shiny black during the coldest and rainiest time of the year. I was totally surprised to find out later that, in some Palestinian villages in the coastal area near Akka and in the West Bank, olives were picked green.

The other village that was included in my field research – Beit Jann – was a neighbouring all-Druze village, five kilometres to the north of al-Rameh, with double the elevation. Beit Jann was perched on top of a mountain, from which one could see, especially in winter, the white amame of Jabal al-Sheikh and from which one could have a commanding view of Lake Tiberias as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. Based on the first house-to-house census in 1971, which I did in collaboration with the local council, Beit Jann had a population of approximately 3,600.

Beit Jann was known then for its good grapes. However, being a Druze village, and given that the Druze had to serve in the Israeli army, its young men had access to jobs that required security clearance. In this case, however, due largely to Israeli racist policies against the Arab citizens as well as the low skill level of these young men, many were employed in menial, unskilled jobs in the Haifa seaport. Moreover, many made their careers in the “border police”, since they did not finish their high school education, which was not a requirement for the ranks of the border police.

I chose to conduct the census in Beit Jann during the coldest four months of the year – January to April – in order to ensure that the people who I wanted to interview could be found in their homes. The down side of this was that I had to spend the time during the day walking from one house to the next in the extreme cold; sitting in cold, unheated houses; and having to use very cold, wind-blown outhouses, which I learned to avoid except in extreme emergency situations! On the other hand, I was treated as a guest, which meant that I was first offered – without being asked – a very sweet, tall, hot glass of tea and then, shortly afterwards, a hot cup of coffee, both of which I was expected to drink in every house I visited. Having been enthusiastic about conducting the census in the village, I ended up visiting 20 homes during the first day and drinking 20 glasses of tea and 20 cups of coffee, without the benefit of indoor plumbing or heated outhouses!

Like all Arab Palestinian villages, al-Rameh and Beit Jann were agricultural villages. The cycle of their daily life was determined by the agricultural cycle. As I was growing up in al-Rameh, Christmas, for example, which fell within the middle of the olive season, was not celebrated; it came and went almost unnoticed. Of course, there was the exception of the all-night gambling on New Year’s Eve, in order to get a glimpse of how the new year would turn out! On the other hand, Easter, which came at a lull time in the agricultural cycle, was always celebrated big – mainly with onion-skin-coloured hard-boiled eggs and homemade rudimentary fireworks.

It was reported in 1931 that about 80 percent of the village population in Palestine was engaged in agriculture. Following al-Nakbah, the percentage of those Palestinian Arabs in Israel who gained their livelihood from agriculture decreased gradually from 50 percent in 1950 to 39 percent in 1963, whereas the percentage of those engaged in construction increased from 6 percent in 1950 to 22 percent in 1963. Affected by this trend, both villages that I was researching were being rapidly transformed into “dormitory” villages: their cultivable land area was being forcibly reduced, and their primary source of income was “depressed-wage labour” in the Israeli market. Buses of the Egged Cooperative were active on the main routes, bussing workers daily to neighbouring Jewish towns and colonies, and bussing them back to their dorm-villages to sleep. In 1971 a noticeable shift in Arab Palestinian villages from “agriculturalists” to a “depressed-wage labour class” was already taking hold.

By way of illustration, only 3 percent of al-Rameh’s labour force and about 25-30 percent of Beit Jann’s labour force subsisted on agriculture. The number of wage labourers in Beit Jann who were over fifteen years of age increased by 82 percent during the first 20 years following al-Nakbah, whereas the number of land holdings increased by only 42 percent. In the meantime, the shift in al-Rameh was more striking: the increase in the number of wage labourers amounted to approximately 184 percent, with only an 11-percent increase in the number of land holdings.

What lessons can we draw from the above?

What is worth noting (and somewhat worrying) is that, as I embarked on my field research, I was dubiously labelled by my fellow Arab students at Indiana University as an “Israeli Arab” from Israel, “as one of those who stayed inside.” This reflected, at the time, the prevalent uninformed, biased, and “anti-Palestinian” view of the large Arab World towards Palestine, in general, and the Palestinians, in particular. The more patriotic and nationalist the person claimed to be, the less daring, or willing, he or she was to mention “Israel” directly. Instead, alternative code words for Israel were thrown about freely to “liberate” the Arab and Palestinian psyche from defeat and loss: “Filastine al-muhtallah” (occupied Palestine), “Aradi al-thamani ou-arb’in” (the lands of ’48), and more recently, the fashionable “al-khatt al-akhdar” (the Green Line). What is worrying, in essence, is that neither our minds nor our psyches have been liberated; and, irrespective of labels, the history and fate of Palestinian villages inside Israel have not been internalized by us to be comparable to that of the Palestinian villages in other parts of Palestine.

All indigenous villages that existed, and continue to exist, in historical Palestine should be referred to and viewed as Palestinian villages, irrespective of the labels they have received at various time periods. Because the whole of Palestine is occupied by the same settler-colonial system, which is sustained by a unitary ideology of cleansing the land of its indigenous population, the land base of all Palestinian villages will be forcibly shrunk in front of our eyes, and the trend observed and documented in the two Galilee villages some 23 years following al-Nakbah will, most likely, prevail unless we transform our minds through resisting it.

Dr. Nakhleh is a Palestinian anthropologist and development expert. He has authored a number of articles and books on the socio-cultural transformation of Palestinian society. His latest two books are: The Myth of Palestinian Development, Muwatin: Ramallah (Arabic) and Passia: Jerusalem (English), 2004, and In Search of a Palestinian Identity, Passia: Jerusalem, 2005. He can be reached at


This Week in Palestine

July 2007

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