1948

By Mara Parkhomovsky

Translated from Hebrew by Atar Hadari

Volume 9, Issue 1 (Spring 2022)

There were two problems in the translation of this play with regard to its language, and one problem with regard to its length, or perhaps I should say with regard to its transition from a text to be used in a theatre to a text to be used on the page. The latter was quite simply an opening voice over which the audience of the play would hear as they filtered into the theatre and sat down. All of it drawn from the historical monograph which the play adapts, this opening two pages allowed for a degree of exposition and the creation of a certain mood in the audience which the translator of a play (and its publisher) simply cannot afford to risk imposing on the patience of a reader in a magazine, let alone a book. So I solved that problem by radically cutting the opening section and getting as rapidly as possible to what I take as the actual opening of the play, the words “Enter Marat.”

The two language problems were both ones of genre and both problems which arise from using a ‘found text’ in a theatre text. The main body of the play is the dialogue between the character of the author, Marat, and the ostensible subject of the play, “Benny Morris,” a representation of the living historian whom Marat Parkhomovsky interviewed after reading his book and whose own internal political transformation Marat attempts to intimate by the way he stages a long monologue in which ‘Morris’ recites the various stages of the war over Palestine which Israelis call “The War of Independence” and Palestinians call the Nakba or “disaster.” Parkhomovsky solves the problem of how to stage dense historical prose by having his lead actor go into seizures which lend an external tension to the long passages of prose. These are not included as stage directions in the script and are therefore invisible to the translator. The only option available to the translator is to render the dense historical prose in the most terse and easily apprehended language possible—to turn what was written to be a text book into some kind of speech. Parkhomovsky has done some of this work in cutting and selecting from Morris’s text, the translator has to do more by investing a second or third draft of the translation in pruning academic language—which is what may have been literally translated from the original—into shorter and quicker prose which can be spoken at speed and absorbed through the ear.

The second kind of “found text” was the popular song about the Sabbath in an army camp which Parkhomovsky chose to end the play with. It is a song about peace and tranquillity and (I assume) meant to be more than ironic, perhaps deeply bitter and disturbing at the end of this history of violence and unresolved conscience. What I bore in mind while translating it was John Arden’s use of the ballad form in his play about soldiers and violence against civilians, “Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance.” So the problem was to translate the song as a song, with full rhymes at least as good as a contemporary pop song, and to bear in mind the irony it was seeking to convey. There were local references to an army camp and to the exit of an Israeli cinema which had to be conveyed, but those were local problems on a word by word basis, the much trickier thing was the irony, which could only be got across by making the song as lyrical and wistful as possible. Whether that works on the page is one question, whether the effect has been successful in total one could only judge in front of an audience who had seen the play in English by listening to what they said when the music was over and the play continued to reverberate in their heads.

Marat Parkhomovsky is a theater and film director, writer, and entrepreneur, specializing in projects of preserving cultural memory.

Atar Hadari trained as an actor at University of East Anglia before studying playwrighting with Derek Walcott at Boston University. His plays have won awards from the BBC, Arts Council of England, National Foundation of Jewish Culture (New York), European Association of Jewish Culture (Brussels) and the RSC, where he was Young Writer in Residence. Plays have been staged at Finborough Theatre, Wimbledon Studio Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

1948

By Marat Parkhomovsky

Translated by Atar Hadari

(Enter Marat.)

MARAT: Good evening. Welcome to “1948.” I’d like to introduce you to the crew who will produce this show—the actor Gad Kinner, choreographer, composer and co-director Shimrit Malul and myself—director, author and actor: Marat Parkhomovsky. May we ask at this point that you turn off your mobile phones.

The extract you heard as you came in was from “1948” by Professor Benny Morris—a book that lays out in forensic detail the story of the 1948 war, the War of Independence, perhaps the most decisive and complex event in the history of the State of Israel. The book is written in a very pragmatic, cold, objective style and when I first read it a few years ago it set before me for the first time the full picture of events, without sparing either side—Arabs or Jews. After reading the book, what had been a jumble of impressions based on half-truths I’d got from newspapers and the Israeli school system, became one conclusion: you can’t talk about anything before you talk about ‘48. You can’t create anything before you talk about ‘48. But nobody, or almost nobody, wants to talk about ‘48.

1967—be my guest, there everything’s easy: we conquered, we stole, we built settlements—shocking. But the fact of the matter is when you get into ‘48 you realise, relatively speaking, ‘67 is a an afterthought.

After agreeing with the theatre in broad terms about putting on the show, last June I made an appointment with Professor Benny Morris, the author. Dialogues interspersed through the show are based on a transcript of a meeting, which took place on July 17th, the day before the start of the ground offensive in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Gadi, if you’d be so kind.

(Gad enters as ‘Benny Morris’ and sits across from Marat.)

MARAT: So where did your interest in 1948 and the war stem from?

“MORRIS”: Well it’s self-explanatory, I was born in that year. Ha ha… no, just kidding. It’s just interesting, an intriguing subject. I wanted to know what went on there. I wrote about different aspects pre-1948, especially the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and at some stage decided I wanted to look at the whole experience of ‘48, everything that occurred, so I wrote a book about it all. Ha ha.

MARAT: Because it seems to me that this event…

“MORRIS”: It was the most important event in the conflict, which started somewhere back in the nineteenth century and sadly goes on to this day. It was the central event of the conflict, both in terms of founding the Jewish state and in terms of the destruction… The shattering of Palestinian society, the central expression of which is the existence of a Palestinian refugee problem ever since.

MARAT: In conducting your research, what was the moment when what you believed before started to crack?

“MORRIS”: The truth is I didn’t believe anything. In that I didn’t know the history. I didn’t study anything anywhere. I never dealt with Israeli or Middle Eastern history. My training was in European History, BA and PhD. This whole field was new to me. Maybe I knew something like any Israeli, but I knew nothing as a historian. I actually knew nothing. I knew what they said but didn’t know if it was true…

MARAT: You were a clean slate?

“MORRIS”: Yeah, pretty clean. So I wasn’t particularly surprised. Of course, I was happy to find things that contradicted the usual Arab narrative, by the way, as well as contradicting the usual Israeli narrative.

MARAT: At what stage… let’s put it this way… say… being exposed to the materials in the book… actually this coolness and dryness, your sticking to the facts and lack of… emotion or sentimentality in your research… created this very powerful emotional experience for me that kept… My question is did you have a point at which all of a sudden…?

“MORRIS”: No, I don’t talk about emotions. I’m a historian. I have feelings in terms of family relations and so forth. But in history I really do think fairly coldly and fairly scientifically… I’m sometimes horrified by what I read, but ok, that’s what happened, and that’s what I write about. And that is what I write.

MARAT: But still—in an Israeli discourse where these things are highly charged, clearly even if you do very cold and practical research, it turns out political.

“MORRIS”: People attribute all kinds of political objectives to me. I don’t think I had political objectives when I started the research, just like when dealing with the topic of the refugees. And I don’t think I had political objectives when I wrote “1948”. I wanted to verify what actually happened, and what motivated the people and resulted from the things that went on.

MARAT: But I think you actually wrote more contemporary pieces…

“MORRIS”: It’s true alongside my historiographic work I also, partly to make a living, write articles, I’ve been a journalist in my time, so I like to write op-ed pieces and occasional other things in newspapers. I like to write that sort of thing too and that’s where I express political opinions, but they’re not necessarily connected to the writing of history. Sometimes people even make comments—what you write politically is the opposite of what comes across from your historical description. That may be the case.

MARAT: How do you account for that?

“MORRIS”: I draw a complete demarcation. I write historiography based on documents I find, and if that reflects well on Israel or Israel doesn’t come out that well—that’s what comes out, that’s what’s written, what I bring the reader. On the other hand, I have certain political opinions, like anyone, of what goes on and I express those opinions. So I’d say sometimes they seem to be a little bit in conflict, just seem to be, with my historic writing, but that’s not how I see it.

MARAT (addresses audience): The meeting with Professor Morris wouldn’t give me any peace. Was it possible he really drew a total demarcation between his research and his feelings and even his political beliefs? In the aftermath of that meeting, even as Hamas rockets were flying through Israeli sky and the IDF air force was pounding Gaza, I started reading Benny Morris’s op-ed pieces, then the famous interview he gave to Uri Shavit in Haaretz. I became aware of the apparent road to Damascus conversion Professor Morris apparently underwent somewhere around the turn of the century, with the outbreak of the second Intifada. Somebody who was considered a major left winger and even served time for refusing to serve in the army during the first Intifada, started talking about “justifiable ethnic cleansing” and “barbarians threatening our lives”. My confusion at the apparent transformation in Professor Morris quickly became an emotional insight—the case of a researcher who, in his quest for truth, is so seared by the sheer agony of the material that he’s forced to divide his own experience: a contemporary, post-modern tragedy.

Through the personality of Benny Morris we can turn the material of his book into an affecting, painful, touching performance. And so—“1948”, act one. Gadi, if you’d be so kind.

(Gad moves to centre stage.)

“MORRIS”: The first stage of the civil war was an Arab initiative and the Haganah[1] adopted a strategic defence. This stage was characterised by continual skirmishes intensifying over a period of months. Terror attacks and counterattacks carried out in the cities, ambushes carried out on the roads. But on December 9th the Haganah decided to move from defence to “active defence and retaliatory response”. A consideration behind the shift to limited retaliation was potential Arab interpretation of lack of response as a sign of weakness. Two days later on December 11th the troops of Alexandroni division ambushed Arab lorries on the Kalkilia—Raas-al-Ayin road. Ariel Sharon, a young officer commanding the squadron, reported: “We jumped on it and set it alight with Molotov cocktails. Three wounded Arabs went up in flames inside.”

The morning of December 30th an IDF squad threw grenades into a car moving toward a group of Arab factory workers waiting at a bus stop at oil refineries in the Haifa bay. Eleven factory workers were killed and dozens injured. Arab workers in the refineries responded by setting upon the Jewish workers in the factory with “sticks, steel bars, stones”. In the riot, which lasted about an hour, they cut down thirty-nine men and injured fifty. Haganah headquarters decided not to let the massacre go and decided to punish the large Arab village Balad al-Sheich east of Haifa, and neighbouring village of Hawasa, where many of the refinery workers lived. The raiding unit orders were to ‘kill as many adult males as possible’, but avoid killing women and children. Raiders went from house to house, pulled out adult males, and executed them. Several dozen villagers were killed, including two women and five children. Leaders of the United Workers Party condemned the excessive retaliation. Ben Gurion responded: “There is some injustice to it, but we will not survive otherwise.”

February 22nd Abd al-Quadir al-Husayni managed to inveigle three lorries and an armored car into the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. The convoy stopped by the Atlantic and Amdursky hotels on Ben Yehuda Street, where the Haganah fighting force were billeted. Lorries exploded at 6.30am, destroying four buildings. Fifty eight fatalities, mostly civilians, and thirty-two injured.

In early April a dramatic philosophic turning point manifested itself. The Jewish settlement went on the offensive and its war became a war of conquest. The morning of April 9th 1948 Irgun and Stern Gang troops—approximately a hundred and twenty men—entered the village of Deir Yassin, west of Jerusalem in two columns. Entering the village they encountered unexpectedly ferocious gun-fire from the stone houses, which pinned them down. Haganah snipers provided intermittent cover from the nearby hills. Irgun and Stern Gang troops went from house to house, threw grenades in and fired rounds from side arms. They blew up houses and occasionally killed villagers fleeing their houses into the village streets, among them a family or two.

On April 12th Yitzhak Levi, Haganah intelligence commander in Jerusalem, reported: “conquest of the village was accomplished with considerable viciousness. Entire families of women, the elderly and children were executed… some prisoners taken and moved to holding places, among them women and children, were viciously murdered by their guards.” In a supplementary report Yitzhak Levi wrote Stern Gang troops later claimed Irgun troops had “raped several girls and murdered them afterward (we don’t know if this is a fact)”. A total one hundred to one hundred and twenty Deir Yassin residents were killed that day.

For weeks afterward Arab media in Palestine and elsewhere continuously reported and broadcast descriptions of the atrocities—often with hair raising exaggeration—to provoke Arab public opinion and bestir Arab governments to action against the Jewish settlement. The broadcasts fanned outrage and firmed the resolve of Arab governments to invade Palestine five weeks after. The immediate and most decisive result of this Arab media campaign however was to sow fear among and cause the panicked flight of the Arab inhabitants of villages and towns.

By the close of March 1948 most of the rich and middle class families fled Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem, most rural Arab communities left the coastal plain areas settled by Jews. In the first stage of the civil war 75,000 to 100,000 Arabs fled their homes. In this period Jewish troops expelled the residents from just one village—Quisarya on the coastal plain. That policy altered at the start of April 1948. Discussions among consultants on Arab affairs in the Sharon region concluded: “Generally speaking the idea is to remove Arabs from the Jewish area in the division’s territory.”

[Shimrit’s voice starts gradually to speak in unison with Gadi’s]

Tiberias—April 17th… the business was done in twenty four hours… Arab leaders decided to evacuate the population… Tiberias Arab residents were removed by trucks in several convoys Eastward to Jordan and West to Nazareth.

Haifa—April 22nd… Three inch shells and mortars began raining down on the lower city… By 13.00 approximately 6000 had already gone, boarding boats which sailed for Acre… In the subsequent ten days nearly all Haifa’s remaining Arabs abandoned the city.

Jaffa—From April 25th to 27th Jaffa was showered with a total 20 tonnes of shells… 23,000 Arabs killed… Refugees left Jaffa headed South for Gaza. Only 4000 residents remained.

Safed—May 9th… Haganah mortar shells went off with terrific noise and enormous sparks causing widespread panic… a stampeded flight ensued…In the course of the coming weeks any remaining Arab residents left in the city were driven out.

Beth Shean—May 13th… Partial flight occurred in the wake of events in Tiberias and Haifa… brief negotiations concluded with surrender… Residents were informed if they were amenable to peace they would be permitted to remain… 1000 to 1200 people were driven out over a couple of days.

MARAT (cuts him off at crescendo):Thank you Gadi, that was very nice.

(Gad returns to his seat.)

MARAT: A remark attributed to you is actually the… you actually chose to say… you understand or to some extent justify the policy or decisions of the Zionist leadership in ‘48…

“MORRIS”: If you mean that one way or another they didn’t let the Arabs stay behind after the fighting, sometimes drove them out but usually people just fled and afterward they didn’t let them come back, which is what usually happened…

MARAT: But they did it by a step, I want to talk to you about that too, a step that’s…harsh.

“MORRIS”: In that sense I do justify and understand, both understand and justify, the leadership’s actions. They accepted the UN compromise proposal to divide the country. The Arabs rejected it and started the war, but to win there was no alternative but to eradicate the militias and really the community the militias lived within. The villages, towns etc. The side that won the civil war was the side that at the end of the day managed to drive out, not quite expel exactly, but drive out the other. If the Arabs had done it to us, they would have won, but they didn’t manage because they weren’t efficient enough, if you can put it that way, or powerful. And all this happened before May 15th when everybody around here knew there was an invasion by all the Arab regular armies coming. They had no alternative but to deal with the Palestinian population that way in April and early May. I would say effectively they did what they had to out of a need to survive, and if you don’t understand that you don’t understand the war of ‘48.

MARAT: The question is whether you think a humanitarian sin was committed here, which has to be acknowledged, especially in the Jewish context, the context of the Jewish refugee, of Jewish persecution. The link between that and what was done in ‘48 is suddenly… I mean, I wonder if as a Jew I can ignore the…

“MORRIS”: I’d be the first to say, regarding the Palestinians, a great wrong was done here. At the end of the day what was the local population for centuries were driven out of their homes, mostly. 700,000 out of a total one and a quarter million. Driven from their homes to the West Bank, Gaza, out of Palestine. In that sense they suffered a wrong. Jews came here, they had legitimate needs and a claim to found a state here. But founding a state almost necessarily brought about, had to bring about displacement of the locals, one way or another, either way, that’s what happened. I would go so far as to say Palestinian resistance from some point to the arrival of Zionist immigrants was understandable and would have arisen among any people given the immigrants’ wish to found a state here. That was the Zionist aim. In that respect a great injustice was done them. They were made an offer that would have reduced the injustice or minimized it, in that a territorial compromise would have let them have their own state, as well as the large Arab minority that would have lived within the Jewish state. Not the end of the world.

MARAT: The process, or let’s put it this way, what shook me or had the deepest emotional impact on me in what you report is, sort of, less the specific acts of murder, massacre, rape or… but instead the process of deliberate erasure of the Arab history in Israel, a systematic destruction of villages, buildings…

“MORRIS”: Ok, it’s not… it’s part of preventing a return. I don’t think it’s such a conscious enterprise. Erasure of that kind they didn’t attempt, but they did after the Arab departure try to prevent their return. And you do that mostly by erasing villages, so they have nowhere to come back to, and reassigning their land to Jewish settlements so they have nothing to till if they do return.

MARAT: But what you get, even if unintentionally…

“MORRIS”: What you get in the end is erasure.

MARAT: You walk around Israel today and you realise that under the surface…

“MORRIS”: Something’s there.

MARAT: There’s an Arab Palestine.

“MORRIS”: Ah… but beneath the Arab Palestine there’s a Jewish Palestine from before that. Or the Crusades, or the Romans. You get what I’m saying?

MARAT: Clearly. But it’s the freshest, just 60 years back…

“MORRIS”: It’s freshest, yes. It’s the freshest.

MARAT: At the end of the day, even that picture, I mean what we see… let’s say before I read your research, I said, ok, a handful of Arab villages destroyed, but look there are still villages. But when I read…

“MORRIS”: Well, they didn’t destroy just a handful. They destroyed them all. Actually 400 villages were evacuated or cleared and at the end of the day 400 villages were razed to the ground.

MARAT: But you interpret from the data there was no desire to erase the trace, just something practical…

“MORRIS”: It could be one goes hand in hand with the other, unconscious or unintentional, some kind of erasure that’s, as it were, ideological…

MARAT: Ok, “1948,” Act two.

(Gad goes to centre stage.)

“MORRIS”: In the spring of 1948 the Jewish settlement took steps to ensure the refugees would not return. The most vital was systematic destruction of nearly all Arab villages after they had been conquered and evacuated. This had a marked impact on political considerations, immediate and long-term: villages had to be destroyed to prevent return, thwart growth of a fifth column, minimize the Arab minority and ensure areas about to be annexed by Israel were clear of Arabs.

On April 9th a Haganah battalion destroyed the village of Abiha al-Fuqua, next day Haganah units seized control of Al-Kafrin and destroyed thirty houses, also destroying houses in Abu Zarik and Abu Shusha. On April 10th to 11th the Haganah took the village of Kalonia, West of Jerusalem and destroyed it utterly. Har’el division blew up all houses in Sarris on April 16th. Next day Project Nachshon command ordered divisions to take “temporary possession for purposes of obliteration, destruction and burning” of Bayt Sorich], Sajad and Beyt Jiz as well as to “raze” part of Al Kubab.

In spring of 1948 the Jewish settlements began harvesting crops in abandoned Arab fields across the country, thereby preventing Arab farmers from harvesting their crops. From mid-April 1948 national authorities began founding new settlements on Arab owned land, beyond the partition plan border.

These actions implemented a revolution in the human, physical landscape of Palestine, which kept being implemented in the coming years.

(“Tranquillity” starts playing.)

“MORRIS” (sings)

Above the camp a harvest moon is burning,

Above the tents a star slowly dawns

And time’s like a rubber band turning

Friday night without any sense or sound.

But the stillness breaks your heart down.

Such tranquillity, nobody doing a thing,

Such tranquillity, another week gone.

(“Morris” returns to his seat.)

MARAT: If there ever is peace or a settlement of any kind … Do you believe a settlement of that sort could happen without some reference to what happened in ‘48?

“MORRIS”: From the Arab perspective the right of return is a fundamental and sacred principle, it’s the ethos of the Palestinian national movement. That’s why I don’t believe they’ll ever give up on it. That’s why there’ll be no two-state solution here for two nations.

MARAT: The question is, if you don’t believe the recognition… simple acceptance of the justice…

“MORRIS”: You can’t accept as international law a principle like the right of return, then say “I never really meant for them to return”. If you accept the principle, you won’t be able to bar the gate. That’s why if we accept the principle of the right of return—the state will collapse in the end.

MARAT: You don’t believe in a possible settlement…

“MORRIS”: I can’t see it, not in my life time, not going to happen. The gap is so wide there’s no way to bridge it.

MARAT: You’re saying our future is dire? That we’ll live by the sword?

“MORRIS”: Well we’ve lived by the sword for nearly a hundred years…

MARAT (to audience): My last exchange with Professor Benny Morris was not easy, but work on the show over the last weeks getting ready to produce it put it out of my mind. Getting to grips with “1948” let me see myself in the mirror, breathing got easier, my mood lightened. I think my collaborators felt the same. I’ve no doubt this show could give some relief to a lot of people, in Israel and around the world.

(Starts to sing, Gad and Shimrit join him)

Not a word from you ever has reached me.

Pretty soon the commander will come round.

To make sure there’s nobody gone missing

Soon I’ll be at the matinee, laughing loud.

Buy two seats in the stalls near the stand.

Such tranquillity, nobody doing a thing.

Such tranquillity, another week gone.

(Blackout)


[1] There were three Jewish underground groups in Mandate Palestine. The Haganah was largest and absorbed the smaller Irgun and Lehi (or Stern Gang) to become the Israel Defence Force in the course of 1948. Morris sometimes uses Hagganah and IDF interchangeably. Each was associated with a different political faction and conflict between them nearly sparked internal Jewish fighting in June 1948. (Translator’s note.)

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