Adonis Diaries

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Fighting from the inside: Who is Raymonda Hawa Tawil? Pasionaria of Nablus?

Raymonda Hawa Tawil is the mother of Soha Arafat, wife of Yasser Arafat (the late leader of the Palestinian Resistance Movement).  The grand, grand father of Raymonda owned the citadel of Montfort in the coastal city of Akka (Palestine); the citadel is currently reverted to a museum.  Raymonda lived among the Jews and the Israelis till the age of 17 between the cities of Akka, Nazareth, and Haifa.

In 1948, the year Israel was recognized by the UN as a State by a majority of only one vote, Raymonda has 8 years.  Christmas, the mother of Raymonda, was born in the USA from a Palestinian immigrant family at the dawn of the 20th century.  Christmas returned to Kfar Yassif (Palestine) the town of her father.  Christina divorced but had to leave her daughter Raymonda and the other two sons (George and Youssef) at the care of the father, according to the Ottoman civil laws.  Christina had to wait till 1948 to see her daughter again.

According to the UN partition of Palestine in 1948, the region of Galilee was to belong to the Palestinian State.  Galilee was mostly populated by Greek Orthodox and was the bastion of Palestinian nationalism. The Israelis attacked Nazareth, and Raymonda (8 year-old) had to hide in the cave of a Catholic women religious monastery, where her father has left her to acquire education. Since Christina was believed to be dead, Raymonda was assigned in the orphans section.

Christina joined the Red Cross and landed in Akka to search for her daughter. Christina knocked at the door of the monastery in Nazareth and reclaimed her daughter, against the total reluctance of the “sisters”. Raymonda was relocated to another Christian religious institution in Haifa with majority of Jewish students. The father of Raymonda had fled to Lebanon and then returned to fetch his daughter, who was now in the custody of Christina.

The educational environment was far more liberal and freer from old customs than in Nazareth.  Raymonda learns Hebrew, read the Journal of Anne Frank, and her best friend was the Jew Drora.

Drora invited Raymonda to have lunch at her house.  Raymonda discovered that the family of Drora was living in her aunt’s house, who had fled to Lebanon 5 years ago.  The mother of Drora explained to Raymonda that the house was allocated by the Israeli government, and when her aunt will be permitted to return to Haifa the family will vacate the premises.  The mother of Drora is Polish, lived in the Warsow ghetto, and was incarcerated in Auschwitz.

Raymonda is relocated to St. Joseph school in the Israeli section of Jerusalem in 1954.  The brothers of Raymonda live in the West Bank section of Jerusalem, a few hundred yards away, where they study in a missionary school.

In 1957, Raymonda decided to live in the Palestinian West Bank: Her parents accompanied her to the demarcation line of Jerusalem, the “Mandelbaum Door” (the door of the ruined shop belonging to a certain Mandelbaum still remained).

Raymonda was very engaged in the struggle against Israel occupation of the Palestinian lands. In 1967, Israel invaded the town of Nablus in Galilee.  Soha was 5 year-old and lived in a beautiful house in the Rafidya quarter.  The family constituted of the father Daoud, mother Raymonda, the daughters Diana, Leila, Soha, Hala, and Gaby were confined in their domicile: “Stay in your houses. We shoot at sight after curfiew” was what the Israeli loudspeakers emitted frequently.  Raymonda was considered as the “Pasionaria of Nablus“.

Raymonda waged two struggles simultaneously: One front was against Israel occupation, and the second front was resisting the archaic customs of the Orient reserved to women.

Nablus was a hotbed for the emerging Feddayins sneaking in to Palestine and the resisting inhabitants within Nablus.  From April 1962 to Juin 1967, around 2, 635 Palestinian houses were demolished by Israel because one member of the family cooperated with the Palestinian Resistance Movement that started in 1962.

In 1968, the first stricly women demonstration took to the street demanding the release of 30 girls of age less than 20:  Most of these Palestinian girls were violently beaten and tortured.  Haja Andalib el-Amad was behind the march. Raymonda cotacted the Israeli press who were surprised to see these veiled detained girls exhibiting the injuries and contusions in their legs in front of cameras.  In the afternoon, another women demonstration was dispersed by the Israeli soldiers, but this time around, images of brutality were transmitted live around the world

Raymonda was the only Palestinian person in Nablus to converse in Hebrew and also the only woman to driving a car.  She braved the orders of the Israel military governor and organized peaceful marches and inviting the foreign press to her house.

The house of Raymonda received Nahum Goldman (President of World Jewish Congress), Uri Avneri (then deputy of the Israeli daily Haolam Hazeb), Eliezer Berri, Naomi Gal, Mario Soares (later President of Portugal), Herbert Marcuse, Eric de Rothschild (a counselor to president Mitterrand , Jean-Paul Sartre  Simone de Beauvoir, Lord Carradon (who wrote the UN resolution 242)…

Raymonda was under house arrest for 4 months.  Later, Raymonda experience jail life when Shimon Peres was Defense minister.

The first Palestinian Intifada that started around 1987 and lasted for 7 years: Palestinian kids threw stones at Israeli soldiers who were hiding behind tanks. Raymonda’s house and her press agency in Jerusalem were the focal points for foreign journalists and political players.  When Israel closed down her press agency in Jerusalem, Raymonda moved her activities to Paris:  She had a vast network of informants in the occupied territories and stories from Israeli peace activists.  Raymonda sent Arafat the latest news dispatched from inside Palestine.

In 1981, Soha flies to Paris to continue her education. Within 3 months, Soha feels the urge to return to the West Bank.  Raymonda tells Soha: “Don’t move. I am joining you in Paris.” But Soha had made up her mind:  She planned to resume her study at Bir Zeit university in Ramallah. Raymonda encouraged Hala

Hala, the younger daughter of Raymonda is engaged politically, and never misses a demonstration against the Israeli occupation.  Hala and her brother Gaby used to tour the schools to encite for demonstrations on particular occasions.  The “sisters” of the institution phoned the father of Hala to come and impress upon his daughter to desists.

Instead, Daoud made a speech to the students on Palestine history and conditions of occupation.  The other time was for Raymonda to confront the school administration.  The school had decided to eject Hala and raymonda said: “You have two alternatives: Either you retain Hala or I tranfer my two daughters Soha and Hala.”  Thus, Soha was transfered from the Rosary Sisterhood school to St. Joseph institute

Raymonda encouraged Hala to join Soha to studying in Paris in 1982.  Soha and Hala joined demonstrations in Paris for the oppressed people in Chili, South Africa… They plastered the photos of their leader Yasser Arafat in the university walls:  An extremist Jewish group, the Betar,  used to tear the photos down, only to be replaced the next day.

Note 1: Information gathered from the French book “Soha Arafat, child of Palestine” by Gerard Sebag

Note 2: The father of Soha had packed all the members of his family in his Hambar and traveled to Jaffa in order to see his birth place.  The house and the vast garden was occupied by an Israeli family.  Nothing had changed in the place, except that the garden was not tended and cared for.

Daoud had left the house in 1940 when he was transferred by the Ottoman Bank to Amman.  Daoud family joined him in Amman in 1948 as the Israeli invaded the city.  Daoud recalled that even in the 30’s the Palestinian kids threw stones at the new Jewish immigrants and blew their car tires as the Jews drove from Tel Aviv to Jaffa.

In April 1948, the military arms of the Irgoun and Haganah attacked Jaffa. The confrontation lasted 15 days. When the Israelis entered, only 5,000 of the 70,000 Palestinians remained in the city.  The other inhabitants had fled to Gaza, thinking that they would return within a week!




June 2023

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