On the Side of the Road

On the Side of the Road
Director and scriptwriter: Lia Tarachansky

On the Side of the Road, written and directed by Ms. Lia Tarachansky, is an inconvenient documentary film about past events and times showing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.

Lia Tarachansky (left) and Tikva Honig Parnass on the site of Saris, a destroyed Palestinian village from 1948, ethnically cleansed by the latter's Harel Brigade  - Photo © Naretiv Productions

Hide Israeli history? Forget it!

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar….

—    “Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth

Israel is anxious to have its ugly birth forgotten, but On the Side of the Road, written and directed by Ms. Lia Tarachansky, is an inconvenient documentary film about it. The film records past events and times showing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, referred to as “The Nakba,” or calamity, by Palestinians. The film premiered on November 28, 2013 during an International Film Festival on “Nakba and Return.” It was the opening film at the fest, held in Tel Aviv — a radical break from the past.

“The dominant group’s narrative starts to unravel once one starts asking questions; so Israelis deem it important to condition people socially not to ask certain questions,” says Tarachansky, a Russian-Israeli citizen of Israel and Canada who resides in both countries.

It is clear that attempts to kill off all Aboriginal people weren’t successful in North America, but those very attempts have become a part of history. Israelis may fear that what they have done to Palestinians may someday be done to them. If that is so, their colonization may well be a work-in-process that continues until all Palestinians are killed.   The film has two Israeli ex-soldiers speak of the murderous ethnic cleansing to which they were accessories in 1948.  It shows that Palestinians who had lived in villages for centuries were driven out forcibly to make way for “Israelis,” thereby losing not only their chronological narrative of the past, but also their dwellings and their very country.

“The name (of the film) comes from the title of a book by Noga Kadman, which in Hebrew means ‘on the side of the road’, but in English has the title Erased from Space and Consciousness,” explains Tarachansky. Ms. Kadman, a historian, wrote that book about the erasure of 418 depopulated villages from Israeli history, based on official archives, kibbutz publications and visits to former village sites.

“It is also a reference to the remains of destroyed villages on the sides of the roads in Israel, and how that which we deny is never far from our sight,” continues Tarachansky: “As Stanley Cohen says in the opening remarks of the film — what do we do with that knowledge, and what does that knowledge do to us?”

A Golani Brigade soldier threatening to shoot leftists for bringing up the Nakba  – Photo © Naretiv Productions

It is illegal for Palestinians to observe Nakba Day in Israel. They are deprived of the right to voice their personal reactions, perspectives and feelings, much as Jews were stripped of their rights during the holocaust.

Meanwhile, it is not illegal for occupying Israelis to celebrate that very same day as their “Independence Day” or Yom Ha’atzmaut, with shocking insensitivity to what Palestinians or others may think. No one is sure what “Israelis” gained independence from.

For this film reviewer, one particularly poignant scene showed a Palestinian man who eventually got official permission to visit his grandparents’ former home in a village that the Israeli occupiers insist was “abandoned” by its erstwhile Palestinian citizens. The scenes of our childhood are dear to our hearts, and this man’s quest evoked memories of my own return to my old Calcutta home when I visited India in 2012.

To call such villages “abandoned” is but linguistic legerdemain, conveniently glossing over the fact that they were abandoned for fear of death. That is hardly the same as being impelled, as I was, to “abandon” my Calcutta home for better employment in another Indian city.

The Palestinian calls his grandmother on a cellular to inform her that he’s standing at the site of her erstwhile home.

Tarachansky points out, “There are many great historians who have worked on documenting and exposing the events of 1948. Historians such as Ilan Pappe, Noga Kadman, Benny Morris, Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, and others. There is therefore no lack of historians; there is at the same time a powerful project of propaganda and historical distortions, perpetrated by various levels of the Israeli government. Most Israeli school children do not learn anything about the Nakba, and are therefore ignorant of the basic facts.”

Not a film to enjoy with sodas, pretzels or chocolates, but one that exposes the cheery sadism of early Israeli “lawn-mowing,” which continues, tragically, to this day, aided and abetted by the UK-US axis.

“The dead cannot be brought back to life,” reminded Sun Tzu in “The Art of War.” But as long as a few conscientious writers and filmmakers exist, the dead may be out of sight but they are not out of mind. Perhaps Israel does not place too much confidence in its own immortality, then, in modern times.

[The film was screened November 9 at the Canadian Mennonite University Chapel in Winnipeg, and the stills are courtesy of Lia Tarachansky.]

Ashoke Dasgupta is an award-winning journalist.