A Child Visits the Arab Town of Umm Khalid, Davar Leyeladim, 1949
Umm Khalid was once an Arab village next to Netanya. Now, the ruins inspire horror. Feelings of mercy filled our hearts during the visit. We walked through the long and wet grass and our eyes saw no Arabs, but rather many new immigrants from many countries walking with confidence. Here and there we saw small children dancing and rejoicing. We also saw a vision of hundreds of children walking and singing, then they were slightly alarmed and stared at us with puzzled and scared eyes. However, we came to the visit, not only to see the destroyed houses , but rather to celebrate the opening of a new branch of our school in the village. The school is for the new immigrants living there. The class was a preparation class to help them adapt to the situation in the new country and to learn Hebrew. The class is still small and has about 12 children.
When we arrived, we organised ourselves in their playground and led the ceremony. After the headteacher’s speech, we recited some words and sang. We then received permission to disperse and wander around the renewed village which has become a joyous Jewish village. We saw destroyed houses around us. Terrible filth and unstable buildings that could fall at any moment. Here and there we recognised single words of Hebrew, but the immgrants were mainly talking in Yiddish, Polish, and other foreign languages. We also saw filthy pottery utensils from the previous Arab residents. In the old mosque, we saw a platform that reminded us of the platform on whichthe chazan stands in our synagogues. We also saw Arab prisoners, and our hearts were filled with a feeling of joy and victory but also of mercy, because who more than the Jewish people knows the feeling of being exiled and expelled from their home. Indeed, we are capable of understanding the soul of any person, the soul of a refugee. Even though we remembered Gush Etzion during our visit, we also remembered everything that has happened to our people during the exile and Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter.”
This is a letter written for the children’s newspaper Davar Layeladim by a 10-year-old girl from Netanya named Aviva Sharoni, describing a visit to the Arab village of Umm Khaled (near Netanya).
Aviva writes of her regret regarding the fate of the Arab villagers who fled from the village during the War of Independence and that “feelings of pity fill our hearts” At the same time, she also express her happiness at seeing the new residents of the village, new immigrants from different countries.
Aviva makes it clear that this was not a visit just to look at the ruins of the village but to celebrate the opening of a new branch of our school in the village” for the immigrant children. After the ceremony, she describes the village, the filth, the old rickety houses, and the old mosque (that reminded her of a synagogue) as well as some old pottery utensils that used to belong to the Arab citizens of the village.
Aviva closes with a description of the Arab prisoners that she saw. She writes: “our hearts were filled with a feeling of joy and victory but also of mercy because who more than the Jewish people knows the feeling of being exiled and expelled from their home.”
Aviva’s mixed feelings of victory and empathy for the Arab prisoners are intensified by recalling the fate of the community of Gush Etzion and Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter.” She is referring to is the massacre of 127 residents of Kfar Etzion and its defenders during the War of Independence. The poem was written by Chaim Nachman Bialik following a visit to Kishinev after the pogrom of 1903 that resulted in 49 murdered Jews, many more injured and raped, and more than 1,500 destroyed homes.
The letter illustrates the dilemmas faced by the State of Israel in its early years. One issue was the situation of the Arabs who had lived in villages like Umm Khalid before the War of Independence and left their homes during the war . After the war there was a need to find homes for the many new Jewish immigrants, and they thus became the new residents of these villages. The letter demonstrates some of the steps taken by the general population to help the new immigrants to adapt to their new lives.
The village of Umm Khalid has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and it houses the remains of a first-century building and a crusader castle and village. The village appears on maps from the Ottoman era and in 1922 about 300 Muslim residents lived there. The village was evacuated on March 20, 1948 since the area was viewed as central to the planned Jewish State. Today, the village of Umm Khaled is part of the city of Netanya in the Shikun Sela area, east of the city centre. The settlement of Beit Yitzhak-Sha’ar Hefer is also located on part of the land of the former village.
Jewish History teachers can use this letter to explore the events of the War of Independence, the mass aliya after the establishment of Israel, and the different housing solutions found for the new arrivals. It also be used when discussing the roots of the Arab-Israel conflict and the issue of refugees, both Palestinian and others.
Civics teachers can also use this letter when discussing issues of immigration and refugees.
Literature classes can use this letter when dealing with twentieth-century Jewish writers such as Bialik, specifically when teaching Bialik’s poem ”In the City of Slaughter” and discussing its inspiration and how it was referred to in 1949.
This letter can also be used in advanced Hebrew lessons in the lead-up to Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Where did this letter appear?
What is the title of the letter?
Who was the author of the letter?
When was the letter written?
Which village is mentioned in the letter?
What new building was being inaugurated in the village?
What did the author see in the village?
What languages were being spoken by the new immigrants?
What were the writer’s mixed feelings on visiting the village?
Reading Between the Lines
The letter refers to the village of Umm Khalid.
Where is this village located?
What is the history of this village?
What happened to the village during the War of Independence?
What happened to the village after 1948?
Why, according to the writer, should Jews feel more empathy toward the Arab prisoners and refugees?
Why does the writer mention Gush Etzion?
What connection did she make between Umm Khalid and Gush Etzion?
The writer mentions Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter,” which was inspired by the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev.
What happened in Kishinev?
Why did Bialik write this poem?
How does this poem connect to the writer’s feelings on seeing Umm Khalid and the Arab prisoners
What can we learn from this letter about feelings towards Arabs among the general Jewish population of Israel at the time?
The letter also expresses feelings of joy inspired by the visit to the village.
How does the writer explain these feelings?
What challenges did the newly established State of Israel face upon absorbing so many new immigrants?
This letter shows one way that the government dealt with the challenge. Explain it.
What can we learn from this letter about the public’s attitude towards the new immigrants?
Which emotion expressed by the author most closely matches your initial reaction on reading the letter?
Do you know people who have immigrated to Israel in recent years?
How was their absorption into Israeli society similar or different to the description in the letter?
Describe the dilemmas facing the State of Israel regarding the Arabs who remained in Israel after the war and the Arabs who had fled their homes during the war.
Have these dilemmas been resolved in the subsequent years?
The young writer of this letter shows mixed feelings after visiting the village.
Imagine that she is telling a new immigrant living in the village about the previous occupants.
What would she say?