Memory trajectories and their loss are well portrayed in Mustafa Kabha and Nahim Karlinsky’s book, “The Lost Orchard: The Palestinian-Arab Citrus Industry, 1850-1950” (Syracuse University Press, 2021). In the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and villages is well known in terms of Palestinian displacement. Kabha and Karlinsky’s take on memory is driven by the citrus industry – a well-established Palestinian business and source of livelihood which destroys the Israeli narrative of the barren land.
The authors define the book’s positioning in the introduction, acknowledging how the citrus industry was already thriving when European Jews arrived in Palestine. Zionism, as a European settler-colonial movement, is a premise from which the authors present their research, thus contextualising the chronological research and, more importantly, the analysis on how colonialism exploits memory to obliterate it. The latter has also affected Palestinian and Israeli academia, which is marked by inequalities in terms of research, as Kabha and Karlinsky write, “These segmented historical research channels were not created by accident. Rather, they were constructed from above in order to segregate the Jewish-Zionist history from the Palestinian-Arab one.”
In the first two chapters, the authors detail the Palestinian citrus industry and how it was affected by Zionism, British and Ottoman imperialism. With the establishment of the Jewish citrus industry in Palestine in the early 1890s, the authors note that “a clear cultural, social and economic rivalry between the local society and the settler-colonial one came into being.”
Kabha and Karlinsky made several important points, notably how the formal and informal cooperation between Palestinian and Jewish settler citrus growers were not based on the latter’s expertise but the advanced industry of the Palestinians. “Technological innovations were instituted in the Arab citrus industry even before the Zionist settlers joined the citriculture activities.”
The book describes Jaffa’s importance within the context of the citrus industry and how it became associated with influence and affluence. Palestinians resettled in Jaffa from Jerusalem and Nablus, while settler-colonies surrounded Jaffa, as Zionists attempted to distinguish between the local society by creating their own European settler one.
Business relations between Palestinian and Jewish citrus growers also shed light on the political intricacies. The British Mandate was shaping land ownership in the Zionist movement’s favour, thus increasing production, even as Palestinians suffered some setbacks in the aftermath of both wars as production costs soared. Palestinian citrus growers supported the Palestinian national movement, yet they still collaborated with the British and the Zionists in terms of business.
While Palestinian-Jewish cooperation was deemed “a reality, not an exception,” particularly due to the ramifications of the world wars on business, Zionist politics embarked upon excluding Palestinians from the labour market. From 1925 onwards, Jewish citriculture became the largest market in Palestine, and the 1947 Partition Plan furthered Zionist conquest of the land as some Palestinian industry leaders left Palestine at a point when the Zionist movement was intent on establishing itself as a demographic majority. In the aftermath of the Nakba, most Palestinian citrus groves were transferred to the Jewish settler-colonists, as Palestinians were prevented from returning to their land.
The final chapter makes for an interesting and profound discussion on memory. Kabha and Karlinsky write, “The active and continuous act of remembering the past is part and parcel of the effort to construct collective memory and identity for the contemporaneous national imagined community.”
Palestinians and Zionists have approached memory differently. The 1948 Nakba and its consequences created dissonance in both Palestinian and Jewish societies, notably due to the Zionist acts of memory erasure.
For Palestinians, the remembrance of its citrus industry and Jaffa is mostly done through oral history, literature, and art – all of which have been used to construct the pre-Nakba identity and history. For Palestinians, the industry is a direct remembrance of the land – the authors note, for example, 67 references to oranges in Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. Reconstructing the past became part of the Palestinian people’s national identity. The focus on national identity side-lined what Kabha and Karlinsky called a “shared past” with Jewish citrus growers. However, the authors note that there was no forceful attempt by the Palestinians to erase Jewish memory.
By contrast, Zionist obliteration of memory focused exclusively on settlement and economy, thus eradicating even parts of its own history as to how its citrus industry was shaped, partly on earlier settlers building ties with the local Palestinian population. The fabricated narrative of a “return” to the land clashed with international resolutions such as the Palestinian right of return, as Israel embarked upon the destruction of property within the Green Line. Notably, the authors point out that within five years of the Nakba, Zionists completely annihilated any mention of the Palestinian citrus industry focusing, instead, on abandoned properties and land. By 1954, the word “abandoned” was also removed from the Zionist narrative as it focused on Jewish ownership of land.
The authors’ detailed research makes this book a compelling read, as does the concluding analysis on memory and oblivion. Detailed glimpses into Palestinian history away from the popularised themes in the pre-Nakba era provide a complementary read to the existing literature, in a subject which had not yet been tackled in such detail and depth.