Markers of Memory

Hirbet Zebabda 1984 Façade (no longer standing)

I grew up next to the small village of Hirbet Zebabda, actually more an of a hamlet few houses on a rocky hill. When we were children, in the winter, we used to go the rocky hill where the deserted houses stood. There, around the rocks and the few small carob trees spread red carpets of anemones, which we used to wonder around appreciating their beauty and enjoying the fresh, crisp air present after the rains. We did not pay any attention to the empty houses. The grown ups told us that these where houses of Arabs who lived there until 1948 and left when the war started. Apparently, this was convincing enough explanation, because I do not remember us asking any more questions regarding them. I do remember that we were very concerned with preserving the wild flowers that grew in an amazing abundance on that hill. We were told that it is absolutely forbidden to pick them and if we see any person from outside the community (as there were the occasional visitors during the winter months), we should tell them not to pick the flowers, or alert an adult in case they did not listen to us.

Hirbet Zebabda 1984

But somehow my early childhood encounter with these houses remained within me and I always looked at them as markers of memories, both for my own personal memory of what has been, and also the memory and its significance for the persons that were no longer there. In 1984, I started to photograph the houses on the hill, realizing that eventually these artifacts will not be preserved. Recently, I understood the connection between photography capturing of what has been and its similarity to the silent houses of Hirbet Zebabda, which like the photographs of them, testify to what has been, and is

no longer. In some fashion, intuitively, there is a void in my mind when I reflect about these houses. Because as events were described to us as children, regarding the foundation of our community, or the events before the foundation of the state of Israel, there was nothing here. A void invisible inhabitants, that evaporated during the war of independence. But in my mind the houses tell a different story, and they stand and refute such narrative, forcing us to think about what has been, in a similar fashion to the one we are having when we look at an old family album and see an unknown relative or an ancient great grandfather.

‘The lone House’ Hirbet Zebabda 1984

Navigation Point D-5 2003

A thought comes to mind today,realizing why the houses of Hirbet Zebabd are located where they are. It is because when you try to build a house with a minimum of expenses you try to build it without pouring a concrete foundation using instead a flat natural bed of rock as an organic foundation for your house. In this area the hill of Hirbet Zebabda is a natural place where such flat rock beds could be found. So in this fashion these houses are connected to the foundation of the land Physically but in a way also symbolically.

Trough carved in rock Hirbet zebabda 2003

When I think about markers of memory, almost all of the abandoned Palestinian houses in Israel are used as different kinds of markers. That is, as navigation marker points that the IDF uses for its navigation practices. This is done by marking the houses with a simple sign, usually a letter and a number, D-4, H-6 and so on. The soldiers practicing navigation have to find the houses, which indicate points on a specific route charted on the map, and as proof that they actually found them; they have to write down the letter and number they found on the houses and bring it back with them in the end of the exercise. Therefore, the markers of memory had been transformed into the practical markers for military navigations. However, I would like to ask if this is the right navigation and if we should not use the houses for markers of navigation into our memory of what has been - into what makes absence into presence. A presence we cannot ignore and must come to terms with.

Shlomo Lee Abrahmov
Yakkum, Israel November 2003

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