Friday, May 05, 2006

Dispossessed All Over Again

As I was doing research for my next post I came across this article written by an Australian-Palestinian girl who goes back to visit her destroyed village in Israel.

Since my queries of 'going home' again seems to have drawn so much attention I thought reprinting this would be appropriate.

Rihab Charida
October 2004

After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation. It has been shocking to witness what Israeli colonialism has done to the land of the West Bank yet inspiring to see what it has not been able to do to the people. The land: divided, exploited, exhausted, tortured. The people: imprisoned and controlled yet united, defiant and beyond control.

What has to a large degree been more shocking and difficult to witness is the occupation of Palestine '48. The Arab character of Palestine '48 has been completley erased, replaced. The streets, buildings, people and lifestyle are mostly European. In some areas there was not one trace of a Palestinian people or history, very similar to Sydney and the sacred Aboriginal land that lies just beneath the concrete paths and buildings there. Everywhere I looked there were basketball courts, soccer feilds, McDonalds, Burger King, skyscrapers, everything but Palestine.

And then we reached Yaffa. Beautiful anceint Yaffa on the coast of Palestine. The old Palestinian homes there are used as Israeli cafes, restaurants or nightclubs. The fliers advertising these places don't even hide the fact that these homes are occupied "an old Arab (never Palestinian) home has been converted into one of Jaffa's finest restaurants." I stood on the beach and thought about all of my freinds from Yaffa who mostly live in refugee camps and I prayed for their return. I cried and screamed inside that they couldn't be here watching the sun set behind the sea on this first day of Ramadan. Israelis swim and shop while Palestinians are trapped behind concrete camp walls. I felt like exploding.

From Yaffa we drove up to Acre where we spent one night. Acre has a large Palestinian poplulation however it is still scarred by European-Jewish colonialism. The area is beautiful yet it is dressed up with the bright colours and neon lights of commercialsim. When Jewish Israel was created, most of Palestine '48 was razed to the ground except for the large, strong and attractive buildings. The newly arrived colonialists were quick to use them for profit or leisure. For me to stand there and watch how they have been expolited was to feel disspossessed all over again.

In the morning we made our way up towards the north of Palestine to visit my village and the nearby town of Safad, the town of a sister living in Australia who too has been dispossessed. The drive up was the most breathtaking experience I have ever had. The untouched nature was beyond anything I had imagined. I didn't realise that I came from such a beautiful part of the world. It somehow hurt more because it was so beautiful. In Safad I stood on a hilltop and thought about Salwa. I thought about her family and filled a bottle with soil for a Palestinian father buried far from home.

From Safad we began making our way to Safsaf. It was in the refugee camps in Lebanon, before even coming to Palestine, that I realised that I had already seen the most important part of my village, its people. Most of the people from Safsaf live in Ain El Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon where the camps are divided up into areas which get their name from the people who live there. When I walked through the alleys of Safsaf in Ain El Helweh I knew that a very big part of me and my history lives within those walls. My cousins and other people from Safsaf asked me to bring them some soil from the grounds of our village and to film it so that we can watch it together during a Safsaf gathering when I return to Lebanon.

I felt angry and somehow guilty that I was able to visit Safsaf and they were not. I remembered photos that my relatives showed me of themselves at the Lebanon/Palestine border standing there with Palestine behind them, the closest they can get. Safsaf can actually be seen from the Lebanese border.

During the drive up I began to recall stories that my father had told me about the day they fled Safsaf. In October 1948 the men of the village fought to protect the lands and people of Safsaf. My father, who was nine at the time, remembered the day when his father returned home after weeks of fighting. His gun had melted and he no longer had the means to fight. The men of the village were insufficiently armed and outnumbered so they decided to gather their families and seek refuge in Lebanon until the situation calmed and they could return after what they believed would only be a few months.

On the 29th October 1948 Safsaf fell. On that day almost half of the 250 villagers were massacred, ten of whom were from my family. Many of the young men were lined up against the wall and shot down in front of their mothers. Those that were able to get away fled to Lebanon and have been dispossessed ever since, living in a refugee camp that is only three hours drive away. Safsaf is one of over 500 localities that were ethnically cleansed and destroyed in 1948-49, each with a history and a story that has been buried for over half a century.

The only reference point that we had to find Safsaf was an Israeli area called Sifsufa (its not just the lands that were stolen, but even the names), which was built by the Jewish Agency in 1949 beside the lands of Safsaf. The only way to find Sifsufa was by using an Israeli map which had all the names of the Jewish areas that had replaced Palestinian ones.

When we arrived to Safsaf I felt a rush through my body. The village is surrounded by beautiful green hills with tall Safsaf trees, the trees that give the village its name. Only three buildings still stand there, half demolished from the attack in 1948 which destroyed everything else in the village. Humbled by the beauty, history and sacrifice of the place I got down on my knees and cried into the earth and into the stones of the buildings.

One of the buildings was being used as a change room and bath for a sports team. Dirty clothes were thrown on the grounds of one room and a dirty bath in another. Each of the buildings had been spraypainted with hebrew words that I cared not to understand. While standing there a few Israelis walked over to the area and began walking through the unused building. "What are you doing here?" I asked.

"What are you doing here?" they asked me.

"What am I doing here? I come from here. This is my village".

What they were doing there was turning one of the buildings into a restaurant.

"But these are Palestinian homes!"


"No definitely. My father was born here, my grandfather and great-grandfather, all born here. These are our homes".

"Maybe," and with that he walked away to examine the building.

I felt so frustrated and powerless at the same time. They walked around the building right before my very eyes in total disregard for what I had just told them. I shouldn't have been shocked, they have been doing this since 1948, taking what's not theirs with full knowledge of who it belongs to.

I wanted to speak to my father and let him know where I was. I called him and heard his loud voice turn soft. When I heard that he was holding back tears I began to cry. He told me "Baba why are you crying? Haven't I always told you that we will back one day? That it's not over?"

"Of course you did Baba. Of course you did."


umkahlil said...

Thank you for publishing this, Abu Issa. This is poignantly detailed and timely for Al-Nakba.

And I agree with Palestinian Princess, I like your style!

Abu Shaar said...

Thank you for that, Abu Issa.

One of the most moving memories I have about seeing the Made in Palestine exhibit was the Palestinian families bringing their children to this piece by Emily Jacir and explaining to their children where their villages used to be.

Palestinian Princess said...

I am friends with Emily's sister! Ok, thats besides the point. This article is well written, and it allows one who isn't a refugee to really feel what it is like to be one.

Abu Shaar said...

Small world!

Abu-Issa said...


In no way is my situation as a refugee anything compared to what you are going through, nor is it even close to the situation in the refugee camps. This article touched me in a profound way.

As Laila said in her latest post On the Way speaking of being in Cairo she writes:
"I feel lonely here. And yet, somehow, as a Palestinian, it seems lonely everywhere."

After reading Emily's article I'm not convinced that my home coming would change that feeling...


Anonymous said...

I will never seem to get it, but my amazement just went on even more when I was half way through the story and realized that this young woman actually never lived there, and moreover, even her father was a very young child when he was either forced or defeated into leaving.
I myself came to Israel after I was born, brought up and finished high school and was 20 years of age (and no I was not jewish so was not brought up with sentiments for this country or any other country other than the one I was born in) but, after setting up a new life for me here, I just -really honestly - simply cannot see Holland as "my" land anymore. And - since I'm married with an Iraqi jew, who's parents - like so many others - were driven outta Iraq those days, I know that almost nobody still long for what was "theirs" that long ago.

Doesn't life ever progress and feelings adjust to the 'here and now' and the lives you guys are living at present, for Palestinians abroad?

I'm truely amazed, please perceive this message as such :S:


Abu-Issa said...

Thanks for your comment Tse,

To answer:

No, I don't think feelings adjust...

I think the collective Palestinian loss is just too deep, too profound. It's not just about the land, it's about family, it's about history, it's about roots in a place where roots run the deepest of anywhere on Earth.

Palestinians collectively lament: "After centuries living peacefully side-by-side why would our Jewish cousins turn on us?...How could they do this to us?"

Maybe Emily did not ever physically live in Palestine but through her Father and Grandparents stories, through sharing traditional Palestinian meals, through songs and tales, through her very being... she did live there.

Did you know that Palestinian refugees have been refugees the longest of any population in modern history...we simply wait...and wait...for this nightmare to go home to a home that we know no longer exists...


tomer said...

Did you know that Palestinian refugees have been refugees the longest of any population in modern history

It doesn't make the Palestinian cause more or less true, the occupation has to end as soon as possible. Regardless of how long it's been going on.

Making it an issue of time diminishes the plight of refugees of Burma, Tibet, North Korea, Senegal, Cuba, Liberia and many other states, who in many cases have been refugees only 2 years less than Palestinians. (Except for possibly a handful of Basque who have been refugees since before Franco)

I'm not exactly sure how long Assyrians have been refugees (Late 1890s?), and where their homeland actually is and if they can go back. I guess they just don't have the political power to make anyone care… or maybe they are just happy in their new homes.

Abu Shaar said...

I'm not certain what you're saying, tomer.

Palestinians should be "happy in their new homes"?
That they have political power? (which is a remarkable statement coming from an Israeli soldier)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer, Abu-Issa.

I just can't understand it, eventhough you explained about the stories Emily's grandparents told her about their land. I gather it's a matter of one's own perspective then. I would not and could not ever be able to consider anything that my grandparents lived and experienced see as my world, because that was their life and this is mine.

But I respect your & Emily's feelings of course.

My parents-in-law had a lot of stories and sentiments to their property in Iraq as well and I've heard many-a-story about that being told with a tear in their eyes. But my husband and for sure my children are completely involved in where and how they live right now and here and have no sentiments what-so-ever for Iraq. Maybe I make a comparison that can't be made.....

Palestinians collectively lament: "After centuries living peacefully side-by-side why would our Jewish cousins turn on us?...How could they do this to us?"
I have spoken to quite some Palestinians and Jewish Israeli's that lived in that time, and my overall feeling from those conversations is my strictest conviction (later confirmed by selective reading): the English betrayed the lot of them and did set sides up against each-other. We could discuss this if you would be interested but I don't know if this is the right spot since I do not want to intrude on your blog and neither do I know if you would be interested at all in such :)

Be well & take care,

shlemazl said...

"Did you know that Palestinian refugees have been refugees the longest of any population in modern history".

Does this history exclude Jews?

Abu-Issa said...

Good point Shlemazl,

Because by definition "Palestinians" (people of the Palestinian region) are Muslim, Jewish and Christian, I probably should have written:

"Did you know that Muslim and Christian Palestinian refugees have been refugees the longest of any population in modern history".

...for the fact that the Jewish Palestinian population simply blended in to the newly created Israeli nation. And those that were expelled from Arab speaking nations in retaliation we can probably agree, lost their official 'refugee' status upon arriving in Israel.


shlemazl said...

Yep. And you lost your refugee status upon arriving to Canada. And other upon arrival to Jordan and Lebanon... And Gaza good have been blossoming had the energy put into terrorist infrastructure been spent in useful manner.

On your definition of refugees, Jews have been refugees for 1850 years until 1948.

tomer said...

Abu Shaar,

First of all I haven't been an Israeli Solider for several years now, and I don't see how it has anything to do with anything.

What I said rather clearly was that making it an issue of time "Palestinians have been refugees longest" just makes other causes sound less worthy. If you are a refugee for 1 year or 50, it's still something that should be solved.

Instead of looking for one sentence in my content, why not try to read it all again and understand the general meaning.

Abu Shaar said...

I meant no offence.

You certainly show a lot more empathy than most Israelis
I have encountered, tomer