A Land Acknowledgment for Eurovision

Nearly every public event in Canada is preceded by a “land acknowledgment.” A host or organizer will publicly and verbally recognize the specific Indigenous people on whose traditional territory the event is being held. In my city of Calgary, for example, the host will say something like:

We wish to acknowledge that we are on Treaty 7 land, the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy that is shared with the TsuuT’ina and Stoney Nakoda people and today with the settlers and newcomers. The City of Calgary is also home to the Metis Nation of Alberta Region III.

I once asked an Indigenous theatre artist what he thought the audience response to the land acknowledgment should be. He said “I would hope they go and read the damn Treaty.” I took this to mean that we should learn what was lost in order for us to be here. And how it was lost. And by whom.

I was reminded of land acknowledgments when I read that Tel Aviv’s Eurovision event is being held on the former site of a Palestinian village called al-Shaykh Muwannis. I don’t suspect al-Shaykh Muwannis will be acknowledged from the Eurovision stage, so I am going to do that here:

We wish to acknowledge that we are the former site of the village of al-Shaykh Muwannis, named after a local holy man and settled by his followers hundreds of years ago. Villagers once grew oranges, bananas and watermelons here, and irrigated them with water from a river they called al-Auja, Arabic for “meandering.”

 

In 1948, during the early days of the Arab-Israeli war, Israeli forces lay siege on al-Shaykh Muwannis and cut off them off from the nearby port city of Jaffa. As their food dwindled, the villagers tried to negotiate with the Israeli forces. When this failed, young men took up arms against the army, but they had few guns and little ammunition. All 2240 villagers evacuated al-Shaykh Muwannis by May 30th, almost exactly 71 years ago today. They fled in such a hurry, one woman recalled, “I even left a pot of food cooking on the fire.”

 

Much of what I know about al-Shaykh Muwannis comes from Zochrot, an NGO dedicated to acknowledging the injustices of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. And much of Zochrot’s material comes from a research project from the 1980s which sought to catalogue Palestinian villages lost during the Nakba. The project, which resulted in the 1992 book All That Remains, was led by Palestinian historian Sharif Kanaana. I am grateful for both of these sources.

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