Yesterday, I came upon this blog post in 972mag, which had originally been published in the Hebrew-language Sikha Mekomit. The writer of the post (Ron Gerlitz) talks about the road sign he passes regularly when driving past the Israeli moshav Zecharia.
The Arabic letters on the sign had been scratched out–a manifestation of racism that Gerlitz felt he should–and could–do something about. Gerlitz contacted the proper authorities and got the sign–with the Arabic letters–restored.
Though I understand–and very much appreciate–the overall point of the article, and Gerlitz’s efforts to combat racism, there is another, insidious, form of racism at work in the example and photos that Gerlitz used for his blog post, a form of racism that Gerlitz failed to address.
Zecharia is built on the remains of the Palestinian village Zakarriyeh. The people of Zakarriyeh were forcibly displaced in 1950, many months after the 1948 War had ended. For those who enter Zakarriyah, rather than just driving by the road sign, you can find the village’s original mosque still standing–one of the few buildings that remain. And–even with the new sign up (thanks to Gerlitz’s efforts), with the Arabic on the sign “restored”–the Arabic on the sign is a transliteration of the Hebrewized “Zecharia.”
Arabic letters have been restored, but Zakarriyeh has still been erased. The “restored” sign itself is a marker, not only of racism, but of ongoing ethnic cleansing.
My colleague Sami Al Jundi wrote about Zakarriya (his mother’s native village) in his memoir that I had the honor of co-authoring, The Hour of Sunlight. In the book, Sami’s mother recalls her forced expulsion from Zakarriya as a 12 year old girl. Sami took me to Zakariyya a few years ago. We took photographs outside the mosque, now in a state of disrepair verging on crumbling. I saw the very sign that Gerlitz was responding to, with the Arabic letters scratched out.
The scratching out of the Arabic letters was an act of racism perpetrated by an individual. The replacement of the sign with the Arabic letters reading “Zecharia” rather than “Zakariyya” is an act of racism perpetrated by the state.
The deeper racism that undergirds both acts is the racism that permitted the destruction of Zakariyya, replacing it with Zecharia–the racism that continues to erase Zakariyya and its people today.