Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Haifa

Beirut and Haifa: They used to be twin cities, before Israel was created to block daily communication

Note: This is a re-edit of  “Tales of Twin Cities: Beirut and Haifa (April 1, 2009)”

By the year 1933, the city of Haifa was the main magnet for the Levant people (Lebanese and Syrians) and Iraqis.

A railroad linked Haifa to Egypt, Damascus and to the Hijjaz (Mecca) in the Arabic Peninsula (Now called Saudi Kingdom).

A pipeline was exporting half of Iraq’s production toward Europe.  A modern port was the main export location of Syria’s wheat and grain to Europe. A new oil refinery was installed. Haifa was the most prosperous and promising destination for the Lebanese.

Many streets were named after Lebanese towns and cities.  Anywhere you walked the stores had common Lebanese family names.  The Maronite Selim Khoury from Bkaseen (a town by Jezzine) was considered the richest in Palestine; he instituted a modern silk factory and many laborers from Lebanon flocked there.

The families of Bustros, Sursok, and Tuweiny owned half the fertile plains in Galilee ( of about 180 square kilometers). Suleiman Nassif had exclusivity on thermal pools. (These families sold their lands to the Zionists in order to establish their political foothold in Lebanon)

The CAT Company, a building contractor, erected series of houses outside Acre’ s walls.

Lebanese educators and intellectuals taught there.

The famous lawyer, Wadi3 Bustani was the special counselor to the British Governor Colonel Stanton.  Dailies were created.  Haifa was like Qatar and Dubai today for the Lebanese emigrants; they were welcomed and needed to absorb the fast pace economic explosion.

Then, in 1948, the infamous Zionist State was created by a majority of a single vote in the UN (when most countries didn’t yet enjoy “independence” from the colonial powers).

The administrations of the USA, France, and Britain wanted to get rid of the Jews in their midst.  The monster Stalin stupidly believed that Israel would be the first communist State in the Middle East.

The tide turned and the Palestinians flocked to Lebanon.

The prosperous and educated Palestinian refugees headed to Beirut.  What the English and USA governments could not do in Lebanon was done by the Palestinians:  the English language spread and prospered. The American University in Beirut got a new lease on life; most of the Arabs in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq studied in Beirut.

In fact, the most powerful bank in the Middle-East and based in Lebanon Intra was owned by a Palestinian Bidass. USA and Israel wanted to bankrupt this bank and ordered the Central Bank to cut off liquidity for the bank, though it had far more assets that the depositors needed.

The port of Beirut was modernized and expanded and replaced Haifa; oil pipelines and refineries were installed in Lebanon, most of the land transit passed through the port of Beirut.

South Lebanon was transformed into a vast garden of orange and apple orchards thanks to the expertise of the cultivators of Jaffa (Yafa).

The financial institutions in Beirut flourished.  The insurance businesses got foothold. Even today, most of the insurance executives are of Palestinian origins. Folk dancing, songs, theaters were initiated by Palestinian artists.

The rich Palestinian Christians were offered the Lebanese citizenship. The poor Palestinian Christian refugees were installed in camps in Christian districts such as the camps of Jisr Basha, Dbaiyeh, and Mar Elias.  The Palestinian Moslems were distributed in camps all over Lebanon.

These inexpensive Palestinian workmen were the main backbone for the emerging small and medium industries and in agriculture (currently replaced by Syrians refugees); until the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) disturbed the entire structure when it installed its headquarters in Beirut in 1969.

During the civil war that started in 1975, all the Christian Palestinian camps were overturned by the Lebanese Christian militias and the surviving refugees expelled from the Christian regions or cantons.

The PLO was forced to vacate Lebanon in 1982 and the Palestinian workforce was replaced by Syrians and the Palestinian refugees were confined to their camps; they experienced renewed constraints on work permits and selective jobs and restraining labor licenses.

Since time immemorial, the southern Lebanese seaport of Tyr was the administrative center for the entire region extending to beyond Haifa, Mount Carmel, and including upper Galilee.

Under normal circumstances, the coastal zone from Tyr to Haifa could have been the largest Megalopolis on the Mediterranean Sea.

The newly created apartheid Zionist State disrupted all kinds of major development in the region and blocked the daily trade and communication among the same people..

Note 1: I am reading the interesting Arabic/Lebanese book “This Life, my Sweetheart” (Ya Dunia, ya Gharamy) by Ussama El Aref.  One of its chapters inspired the theme of this article.

Note 2: After the Second World War, Germany welcomed the Kurdish workforce, arriving by train with fanfare and official bands, because it needed badly to reconstruct the country.  Germany thinks that it finished reconstruction and has no idea how to repatriate the Kurds of Turkey.

Germany is offering to finance private enterprises in the Kurdish region for any Kurdish family willing to return.  The catch is: would anyone Not feeling secure and safe in his homeland return?  Would Germany re-welcome any Kurds if political conditions deteriorate?

Plan D? Zionism devised that plan in 1935 to cleanse the Palestinians from their lands and villages

Plan D or beginning of “war of conquest”.

Zionism had many plans to be executed as the political climate and timing were appropriate. In the 100 years since the implantation of first colonies in Palestine, many plans have been carried out to occupy all of Palestine for the only the Jews, coming from all corners of the world.

With respect to Haifa, IIan Pappé writes:

From the morning after the UN Partition Resolution was adopted in November 1947, the 75,000 Palestinians in the city were subjected to a campaign of terror jointly instigated by the Irgun and the Hagana.

As they had only arrived in recent decades, the Jewish settlers had built their houses higher up the mountain. Thus, they lived topographically above the Arab neighbourhoods and could easily shell and snipe at them. They had started doing this frequently since early December.

They used other methods of intimidation as well: the Jewish troops rolled barrels full of explosives, and huge steel balls, down into the Arab residential areas, and poured oil mixed with fuel down the roads, which they then ignited.

The moment panic-stricken Palestinian residents came running out of their homes to try to extinguish these rivers of fire, they were sprayed with machine-gun fire.

In areas where the two communities still interacted, the Hagana brought cars to Palestinian garages to be repaired, loaded with explosives and detonating devices, and so wreaked death and chaos.

Prominent Israeli historian Ilan Pappé notes that, in Israel’s Plan Dalet (also known simply as Plan D), “veteran Zionist leaders” created “a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” They dispatched military orders in March 1948, Pappé explains:

“The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and, finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.”

Plan D “spelled it out clearly and unambiguously: the Palestinians had to go,” writes Pappé.

“The aim of the plan was in fact the destruction of both the rural and urban areas of Palestine,” he adds, and it “contain[ed] a repertoire of cleansing methods that one by one fit the means the U.N. describes in its definition of ethnic cleansing.”

Morris is correct that Plan D did not explicitly call for “expelling as many Arabs as possible from the territory of the future Jewish state”, as Blatman suggests. But neither did it order that “neutral or friendly villages should be left untouched”, as Morris contends.

Under Plan D, brigade commanders were to use their own discretion in mounting operations against “enemy population centers”—meaning Palestinian towns and villages—by choosing between the following options:

—Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.

—Mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be wiped out and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.[66]

Thus, while Plan D allowed for Arab inhabitants to remain as long as they did not resist the takeover of their villages by the Zionist forces, it did not order Haganah commanders to permit them to stay under such circumstances—as Morris falsely suggests in the second of his responses in Haaretz.

Nor is Morris incognizant of the critical distinction. In 1948, he explicitly notes that “brigade commanders were given the option” of destroying Arab villages (emphasis added)—which would obviously necessitate expelling their inhabitants—regardless of whether any of the villagers offered any resistance.

“The commanders were given discretion whether to evict the inhabitants of villages and urban neighborhoodssitting on vital access roads”, Morris writes (emphasis added). “The plan gave the brigades carte blanche to conquer the Arab villages and, in effect, to decide on each village’s fate—destruction and expulsion or occupation. The plan explicitly called for the destruction of resisting Arab villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants” (emphasis added).[67]

As Ilan Pappé expounds, “Villages were to be expelled in their entirety either because they were located in strategic spots or because they were expected to put up some sort of resistance. These orders were issued when it was clear that occupation would always provoke some resistance and that therefore no village would be immune, either because of its location or because it would not allow itself to be occupied.”[68]

By these means, by the time the war ended, the Zionist forces had expelled the inhabitants of and destroyed 531 villages and emptied eleven urban neighborhoods of their Arab residents.[69]

Pappé further notes how the facts on the ground at the time challenge Morris’s characterization of the Zionist’s operations as having been “defensive” prior to the implementation of Plan D:

The reality of the situation could not have been more different: the overall military, political and economic balance between the two communities was such that not only were the majority of Jews in no danger at all, but in addition, between the beginning of December 1947 and the end of March 1948, their army had been able to complete the first stage of the cleansing of Palestine, even before the master plan had been put into effect. If there were a turning point in April, it was the shift from sporadic attacks and counter-attacks on the Palestinian civilian population towards the systematic mega-operation of ethnic cleansing that now followed.[70]

In Haaretz, Morris adds that in the larger urban areas with mixed populations, under Plan D, the orders were for the Arabs “to be transferred to the Arab centers of those cities, like Haifa, not expelled from the country.” Morris also writes that the Zionists “left Arabs in place in Haifa”, and he cites it as an example of a place where Arabs “were ordered or encouraged by their leaders to flee”—as opposed to them being expelled by the Zionist forces.

But the details Morris provides in 1948 of what happened in Haifa tell an altogether different story.

By the end of March 1948, most of the wealthy and middle-class families had fled Haifa. Far from ordering this evacuation, the Arab leadership had blasted those who fled as “cowards” and tried to prevent them from leaving.[71]

Among the reasons for the flight were terrorist attacks by the Irgun that had sowed panic in Haifa and other cities. On the morning of December 30, 1947, for example, the Irgun threw “three bombs from a passing van into a crowd of casual Arab laborers at a bus stop outside the Haifa Oil Refinery, killing eleven and wounding dozens.”[72] (Ilan Pappé notes that “Throwing bombs into Arab crowds was the specialty of the Irgun, who had already done so before 1947.”[73]

And as Morris points out, Arab militias took note of the methods of the Irgun and Lehi and eventually started copying them: “The Arabs had noted the devastating effects of a few well-placed Jewish bombs in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa . . . .”[74]) Arab laborers inside the plant responded by turning against their Jewish coworkers, killing thirty-nine and wounding fifty (several Arab employees did try to protect their Jewish co-workers).[75]

The Haganah retaliated by targeted a nearby village that was home to many of the refinery workers. The orders were to spare the women and children, but to kill the men. “The raiders moved from house to house, pulling out men and executing them. Sometimes they threw grenades into houses and sprayed the interiors with automatic fire. There were several dozen dead, including some women and children.”

Ben-Gurion defended the attack by saying it was “impossible” to “discriminate” under the circumstances. “We’re at war. . . . There is an injustice in this, but otherwise we will not be able to hold out.”[76]

Marking “the start of the implementation of Plan D”, writes Morris, was Operation Nahshon in April 1948.[77] By this time, tens of thousands of Haifa’s seventy thousand Arabs had already fled.[78] The Haganah had been planning an operation in Haifa since mid-month, and when the British withdrew their troops from positions between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods on April 21, it provided the Haganah with the opportunity to put it into effect.[79]

The Haganah fired mortars indiscriminately into the lower city, and by noon “smoke rose above gutted buildings and mangled bodies littered the streets and alleyways.” The mortar and machine gun fire “precipitated mass flight toward the British-held port area”, where Arab civilians trampled each other to get to boats, many of which were capsized in the mad rush.[80]

The British high commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, described the Haganah’s tactics: “Recent Jewish military successes (if indeed operations based on the mortaring of terrified women and children can be classed as such) have aroused extravagant reactions in the Jewish press and among the Jews themselves a spirit of arrogance which blinds them to future difficulties. . . . Jewish broadcasts both in content and in manner of delivery, are remarkably like those of Nazi Germany.”[81]

It was under these circumstances that the local Arab leaders sought to negotiate a truce, and in a British-mediated meeting in the afternoon on April 22, the Jewish forces proposed a surrender agreement that “assured the Arab population a future ‘as equal and free citizens of Haifa.’”[82] But the Arab notables, after taking some time to consult before reconvening, informed that they were in no position to sign the truce since they had no control over the Arab combatants in Haifa and that the population was intent on evacuating. Jewish and British officials at the meeting tried to persuade them to sign the agreement, to no avail. In the days that followed, nearly all of Haifa’s remaining inhabitants fled, with only about 5,000 remaining.

While in his Haaretz article, Morris attributed this flight solely to orders from the Arab leadership to leave the city, in 1948, he notes that other factors included psychological trauma from the violence—especially the Haganah’s

 

While in his Haaretz article, Morris attributed this flight solely to orders from the Arab leadership to leave the city, in 1948, he notes that other factors included psychological trauma from the violence—especially the Haganah’s mortaring of the lower city—and despair at the thought of living now as a minority under a people who had just inflicted that collective punishment upon them.

Furthermore, “The Jewish authorities almost immediately grasped that a city without a large (and actively or potentially hostile) Arab minority would be better for the emergent Jewish state, militarily and politically. Moreover, in the days after 22 April, Haganah units systematically swept the conquered neighborhoods for arms and irregulars; they often handled the population roughly; families were evicted temporarily from their homes; young males were arrested, some beaten. The Haganah troops broke into Arab shops and storage facilities and confiscated cars and food stocks. Looting was rife.”[83]

This, then, is the situation Morris is describing when he disingenuously writes in Haaretz that the Zionist forces “left Arabs in place in Haifa” and that Arabs fled Haifa because they were “ordered or encouraged by their leaders”.

We can also compare Morris’s account of how the village of Lifta came to be emptied of its Arab inhabitants with Ilan Pappé’s. 1984 contains only one mention of Lifta, a single sentence in which Morris characterizes it as another example of how Arabs fled upon the orders of their leadership: “For example, already on 3–4 December 1947 the inhabitants of Lifta, a village on the western edge of Jerusalem, were ordered to send away their women and children (partly in order to make room for incoming militiamen).”[84]

Pappé tells a remarkably different story, describing Lifta, with its population of 2,500, as “one of the very first to be ethnically cleansed”:

Social life in Lifta revolved around a small shipping centre, which included a club and two coffee houses. It attracted Jerusalemites as well, as no doubt it would today were it still there. One of the coffee houses was the target of the Hagana when it attacked on 28 December 1947. Armed with machine guns the Jews sprayed the coffee house, while members of the Stern Gang stopped a bus nearby and began firing into it randomly. This was the first Stern Gang operation in rural Palestine; prior to the attack, the gang had issued pamphlets to its activists: ‘Destroy Arab neighbourhoods and punish Arab villages.’

The involvement of the Stern Gang in the attack on Lifta may have been outside the overall scheme of the Hagana in Jerusalem, according to the Consultancy [i.e., Ben-Gurion and his close advisors], but once it had occurred it was incorporated into the plan. In a pattern that would repeat itself, creating faits accomplis became part of the overall strategy.

The Hagana High Command at first condemned the Stern Gang attack at the end of December, but when they realized that the assault had caused the villagers to flee, they ordered another operation against the same village on 11 January in order to complete the expulsion. The Hagana blew up most of the houses in the village and drove out all the people who were still there.[85]

The lesson learned was also applied in Jerusalem. On February 7, 1948, Ben-Gurion went to see Lifta for himself and that evening reported to a council of the Mapai party in Jerusalem:

When I come now to Jerusalem, I feel I am in a Jewish (Ivrit) city. This is a feeling I only had in Tel-Aviv or in an agricultural farm. It is true that not all of Jerusalem is Jewish, but it has in it already a huge Jewish bloc: when you enter the city through Lifta and Romema, through Mahaneh Yehuda, King George Street and Mea Shearim—there are no Arabs. One hundred percent Jews.

Ever since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans—the city was not as Jewish as it is now. In many Arab neighbourhoods in the West you do not see even one Arab. I do not suppose it will change. And what happened in Jerusalem and in Haifa—can happen in large parts of the country. If we persist it is quite possible that in the next six or eight months there will be considerable changes in the country, very considerable, and to our advantage. There will certainly be considerable changes in the demographic composition of the country.[86]

Note that all of this happened well before explicit orders were given to destroy villages and expel their inhabitants if anyone resisted occupation by the Zionist forces. From mid-March onward, in Morris’s own words, “In line with Plan D, Arab villages were henceforward to be leveled to prevent their reinvestment by Arab forces; the implication was that their inhabitants were to be expelled and prevented from returning.”[87] The Haganah “embarked on a campaign of clearing areas of Arab inhabitants and militia forces and conquering and leveling villages”.[88] Plan D implemented a

“new policy, of permanently occupying and/or razing villages and of clearing whole areas of Arabs”.[89]

Morris’s contention that what happened wasn’t ethnic cleansing because most Palestinians fled, as opposed to being expelled by the Zionist forces, becomes a moot distinction in light of how, for example, a massacre that occurred in the Arab village of Deir Yassin in April was “amplified through radio broadcasts . . . to encourage a mass Arab exodus from the Jewish state-to-be.”[90]

David Ben-Gurion (center) with Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon during the 1948 war (Israel Defense Forces/CC BY-NC 2.0)

David Ben-Gurion (center) with Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon during the 1948 war (Israel Defense Forces/CC BY-NC 2.0)

In the Galilee, “the Arab inhabitants of the towns of Beit Shean (Beisan) and Safad had to be ‘harassed’ into flight”, according to a planned series of operations conceived in April (“in line with Plan D”, Morris notes). In charge of these operations was the commander of the Palmach, Yigal Allon.[91]

On May 1, two villages north of Safad were captured. Several dozen male prisoners were executed, and the Palmach “proceeded to blow up the two villages as Safad’s Arabs looked on. The bulk of the Third Battalion then moved into the town’s Jewish Quarter and mortared the Arab quarters”, prompting many of Safad’s Arab inhabitants to flee.[92]

After five days, the Arabs sought a truce, which Allon rejected. Even some of the local Jews “sought to negotiate a surrender and demanded that the Haganah leave town. But the Haganah commanders were unbending” and continued pounding Safad with mortars and its arsenal of 3-inch Davidka munitions.

The first of the Davidka bombs, according to Arab sources cited by a Haganah intelligence document, killed 13 Arabs, mostly children, which triggered a panic and further flight. This, of course, was precisely what was “intended by the Palmah commanders when unleashing the mortars against the Arab neighborhoods”—which, “literally overnight, turned into a ‘ghost town’”. In the weeks that followed, “the few remaining Arabs, most of them old and infirm or Christians, were expelled to Lebanon or transferred to Haifa.”[93]

Yigal Allon summed up the purpose of the Palmach’s operations: “We regarded it as imperative to cleanse the interior of the Galilee and create Jewish territorial continuity in the whole of Upper Galilee.” He boasted of how he devised a plan to rid the Galilee of tens of thousands of Arabs without having to actually use force to drive them out. His strategy, which “worked wonderfully”, was to plant rumors that additional reinforcements had arrived “and were about to clean out the villages of the Hula [Valley]”.

 

How my Grandmother Was Made Homeless: The dispossessed

Every year, on May 15, I ask my grandmother to tell me the story of how she was made homeless.

It happened 67 years ago. She was 14, the youngest of 11 siblings from a middle-class Christian family.

They had moved to Haifa from Nazareth when my grandmother was a little girl and lived on Garden Street in the German Colony, which used to be a colony for German Templars, later becoming a cosmopolitan center of Arab culture during the British Mandate.

When I ask her to recall what life in Haifa was like back then, her eyes fix on the middle distance.

“It was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The greenery … the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea,” she says, as her voice trails off.

My grandmother remembers clearly the night her family left.

They were woken up in the middle of the night by loud banging on the front door. My grandmother’s cousins, who lived in an Arab neighborhood of Haifa, had arrived to tell them that Haifa was falling.

The British had announced they were withdrawing, and there were rumors that the country was being handed over to the Zionists.

At the time, the German Colony had been relatively insulated from the incidents of violence in the rest of the country, which included raids and massacres of Palestinian villages by Zionist paramilitary groups.

Yet the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that later formed the core of the Israel Defense Forces, saw the British withdrawal from Haifa as an opportunity and carried out a series of attacks on key Arab neighborhoods where my grandmother’s aunts and cousins were living.

“That night our Jewish neighbors told us not to leave,” my grandmother remembers.

“And my father wanted to stay, to wait it out. But my mother … well she had 11 children, and of course she wanted us to be safe. And her sisters were leaving because of the attacks in their neighborhoods.”

The Bathish family. The author’s grandmother, the youngest of 11 children, is second from left in the front row. Taken around 1936–37.
The Bathish family. The author’s grandmother, the youngest of 11 children, is second from left in the front row. Circa 1936–37.

Courtesy of Saleem Haddad

The family debated all night. In the morning, they reached a decision.

They each quickly packed a small suitcase and left the rest of their belongings. “We hid the most valuable things we couldn’t take in a locked room in our house, thinking it would be safe until we came back,” she tells me, chuckling.

As the women of the family packed, my grandmother’s older brother, who had once been employed by the British forces, struck a deal, allowing them to leave on one of the last British vehicles withdrawing from Haifa. With what little they could carry, my grandmother’s family travelled to the Lebanese border, hiding in a British army vehicle.

When they arrived to Na’oura, on the border between Palestine and Lebanon, they were shocked to see so many other people from across the country.

“It felt like the world had ended. The borders were overcrowded with cars and trucks full of people and belongings fleeing the violence. Others were leaving by sea.”

At the border they were ordered into a car, which drove through Lebanon for a few more hours. They were dropped later that night in Damour, a coastal town just south of Beirut.

It was dark, they didn’t know anyone, and with no place to rest, the family of 13 slept on the streets in front of a supermarket, the dirty ground littered with rotting fruits and vegetables.

As the sun rose the next day, they walked the streets of the unfamiliar town, recognizing friends and neighbors from Haifa who were also wandering the streets aimlessly. After hearing that Beirut was too crowded with refugees, they headed to Jezzine, in south Lebanon, where friends helped set them up in a tiny room in the home of some family friends. (The same process is happening to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees)

“All summer we waited for news that we could go back,” my grandmother says. “By September, we realized there was little hope, and made plans to move to Beirut.”

For the next few years my grandmother’s family survived through the goodwill of friends and strangers, as well as through food parcels, given to them by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which contained, among other things, powdered eggs, much to my grandmother’s fascination.

Her older brothers eventually took up jobs in Beirut to support the family. My grandmother’s family was lucky on balance: As wealthier and Christian refugees, they were given Lebanese citizenship. However, the vast majority of Palestinian refugees were never naturalized, instead placed in one of the dozen UNRWA-operated camps in Lebanon, where they continue to live to this day.

My grandmother’s story is not a unique one.

In 1948 Zionist militias depopulated and destroyed more than 530 Palestinian towns and villages.

An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes, and many who were unable to flee were massacred.

By the end of July 1948, hundreds of thousands of  Jewish immigrants from outside Palestine, many of whom were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, had been housed in homes formerly belonging to Palestinian families like my grandmother’s.

In December, the new Israeli state implemented a series of laws commonly referred to as the Absentees’ Property Law.

These laws created a legal definition for non-Jews who, like my grandmother, had left or been forced to flee from Palestine. The laws allowed the newly created Israeli state to confiscate 2 million dunams (about 500,000 acres) of land from Palestinian families, including my own.

In April 2015 the law was extended to cover land in the West Bank, thereby legalizing the continued expulsion of Palestinians and the confiscation of their land and property in order to house new Israeli citizens coming from abroad.

The uniqueness of what has become known as the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, is partly the timing: It occurred at the dawn of state formation throughout much of Asia and Africa, which meant that hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians found themselves stateless, unrecognized in the new world of postcolonial nation-states.

Perhaps as a result, there is a joke that Palestinians collect passports obsessively, fearful that we might be stripped of one or the other.

But is that really surprising given our history, that moment where the door was shut, leaving us on the outside, unrecognized—not just homeless, but stateless as well?

Photograph of the author's grandmother's passports over the years.
Photograph of the author’€™s grandmother’€™s passports over the years.

Courtesy of Saleem Haddad

In 1948, upon Israel’s creation, David Ben-Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of Israel, remarked that “the old will die, and the young will forget.” Given the centrality the Jewish tradition places on memory and the commemoration of struggle and suffering, Ben-Gurion should have known better.

For the past 67 years, Palestinians have resisted the Israeli government’s continued efforts to erase the memories of trauma and resistance that began with the Nakba.

To this day, Palestinians of my grandmother’s generation often wear the keys to their old houses around their necks, a sign that despite the dispossession of their land, their memories refuse to dim.

Every time my grandmother recounts her experience, a new memory emerges, and I add it to the story, embellishing it with new details and anecdotes.

But as her memories made their way onto the page, I had a moment of self-doubt: In my grandmother’s recollection, she was clear that her family had made a decision to leave.

Might this play into one of the myths used to justify the establishment of modern-day Israel on Palestinian land—the myth that, despite overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, Palestinians left on their own free will?

“Are you sure you left voluntarily?” I ask my grandmother. “There was a war,” she replies.

“But no one kicked you out, yes? No one was directly attacking you?” I continue.

The author's grandmother and grandfather as newlyweds, Beirut, 1952.
The author’€™s grandmother and grandfather as newlyweds, Beirut, 1952.

Courtesy of Saleem Haddad

“Not us personally, but my mother was worried by the reports. We thought we would be gone for a few weeks at most.”

Could my grandmother’s memory of the Nakba bolster the false narrative that Palestinians voluntarily left, given that her family had not been physically removed form their home?

As I considered this, my thoughts began to coalesce around two points.

The first point—which seems particularly poignant in 2015, as boats of Arab and African migrants sink off European shores—is a question: What constitutes voluntary displacement?

On May 15, 1948, in the face of growing hostilities and the threat of a regional war, my great-grandmother did the only thing she knew to protect her children: She left. Does running away from an imminent war, with a small suitcase and plans to return, constitute a voluntary departure?

And if so, is the departed then unentitled to the land and belongings they left behind, and forbidden from ever returning?

My second thought centered on the politics of memory in war.

In his novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera writes: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Israeli politicians hope that, given enough time and pressure, Palestinians will forget and accommodate themselves to their loss.

This remains true to this day, as the Israeli state consolidates its occupation, constricting the remaining Palestinians into ever-shrinking ghettos.

Meanwhile, the collective Israeli memory of the Nakba continues to ignore the bloody events that led to the expulsion and displacement of the Palestinian Arab population.

In textbooks, the events of May 15, 1948, make no mention of how Palestinians experienced the Nakba and instead represent Israel as a heroic David defeating the many enemies arrayed against it.

Since 2011, the refusal to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba is enshrined in Israeli law, with organizations facing fines if they commemorate the day.

In the face of a powerful Israel that seeks to wipe away remnants of Palestinian life and culture, there is an instinct to close ranks and develop a single story.

Nuance and contradiction are luxuries that a people under threat cannot afford.

Yet to remember the events of 1948 and to recount them, with their nuances and diversities, is a form of resistance: resistance against forgetting. The collective memory of the Nakba is made up of 750,000 stories, one for each of those who left their homes and were never able to return.

Taken together, the stories offer a nuanced, real, and humane look at a community’s reaction to what is now widely accepted as an act of ethnic cleansing. My grandmother’s story, unique to her, is but one part of a collective memory of this trauma that must be told in all its shades of gray.

To recount the unique personal stories of those who lived through the Nakba is to commemorate the struggle and suffering of Palestinians who lost their land and lives at a time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived side by side on the land of historic Palestine.

It is to inscribe individual fates onto the canvas of history, which the victors painted in large, ugly blocks. It is personal stories like my grandmother’s, and their ability to be passed down to future generations, that serve as a reminder that peace and coexistence are possible, so long as the memories of all are acknowledged.


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