July 5, 2015 by Darius
In the American Jewish community, there are few topics more controversial than Israel’s purported expulsion of Palestinian villagers in 1948. This controversy has led to, among other things, the cancellation of an Israeli play dealing with the issue in Washington, D.C. (See https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/thinking-aloud-the-admission/.)
In Israel itself, though, the events of 1948 are dealt with in a much less dramatic way. This difference is largely thanks to the novel Khirbet Khizeh, published months after the founding of Israel by Israeli author and politician S. Yizhar.
Khirbet Khizeh is heavily based on Yizhar’s personal experiences in the war of Israel’s founding. An unnamed narrator is sent with his unit to take the Palestinian village of Khirbet Khizeh, expel its inhabitants, and demolish the village. The unit meets no resistance in the town; its only inhabitants left are old men and women. As the soldiers carry out their orders, the narrator begins to have serious misgivings about the moral implications of their actions.
From today’s perspective, Khirbet Khizeh is not earth-shaking. The expulsion of Palestinian villagers at the hands of Israeli forces in 1948 has been documented for decades. However, I can appreciate how revolutionary Khirbet Khizeh was when it was published just a few months after the war. It has been a part of the Israeli literary canon almost since it was published, even being used in some Israeli school curricula. However, Khirbet Khizeh was only translated into English in 2010. Perhaps this is why Israelis seem to have come to terms with the ugly but perhaps necessary nature of the 1948 war while American Jews are more likely to take the mere suggestion that there was ugliness as evidence of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiment.
Clocking in at only 120 pages or so, Khirbet Khizeh is not a very time-consuming book to read. The translation is excellent, and Yizhar’s prose is earthy and compelling. Like many other books written shortly after the end of a war, Khirbet Khizeh shows a grittier, dirtier side to war than what is often recorded. An important perspective.