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Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian Nakba

 

Three generations after the Nakba, still struggling to define home

For Madlaine Ahmad, born and raised in Doha to Palestinian parents with Jordanian citizenship, the answer to ‘where are you from?’ is never simple, and always seems to be wrong.

By Madlaine Ahmad

From left to right, the author's aunt, mother and grandmother on the land they used to harvest in Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

From left to right, the author’s aunt, mother and grandmother on the land they used to harvest in Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

I changed my Facebook profile picture the other day. It was a photo of a fair woman covered in gold and henna. It would have been clear to anyone from bilad al-sham (the Levant) that she was from the Gulf region, where women dress up a certain way.

“How beautiful,” one person remarked. The comment that followed, by a Palestinian girl friend, surprised me: “Women are beautiful, but the hands of our women in particular are the most beautiful.”

I didn’t understand what she meant, and a discussion ensued: “If you lined up everybody’s hands side by side, I would still be able to distinguish those of the Palestinian fallaha (peasant), and I would feel an immense love for her.”

We Palestinians stand out in many ways: with our scorched arms after the harvest, our diaspora, the occupation, our widows and orphans, and death – so much death.

Usually, the word “Palestinian” elicits images of a child hurling stones at a military tank, and the perception is that only Palestinians who live within the borders of Sykes-Picot (division of control of the region between France and England during WWI) still suffer, that those who freed themselves from these invented borders managed to survive and thrive. Well, let me tell you about my experience, as a Palestinian whose ancestors escaped.

My Palestine story is brief. It does not contain death, or soldiers, or hurling rocks. I have never had to face the occupier, but I also haven’t been fortunate enough to visit any part of Palestine.

During the 1948 war, my grandfather fled with his family to Karak in Jordan. They were told they would be able to return in a matter of weeks. They set up tents and planted wheat and waited for Palestine, but Palestine never came. In a heartbeat, the Palestinian dream was lost, and they became victims of history, uprooted, with nothing but a key to a home they would never return to.

They moved to Amman, where they tried to forge a new life with their 9 children. They could only afford a two-bedroom house – one room for the chickens they were raising, and another to sleep the family of 11.

My father told me how, at 13, he helped build the railway that still functions to this day. He told me how he would study under the street lights at night, because they did not have electricity at home. It was painful for him when he had to move to Lebanon to complete his studies. Upon graduating, he returned to Jordan, where he served in the military for two years.

Soon after, the dream of a job opportunity in the Gulf presented itself, and he moved with my mother to Qatar. There, I was born. I was raised in Doha as a Jordanian – my official papers had no mention of my Palestinian heritage.

My father would say we were from Palestine, but who ever paid attention to my father’s words? Whenever I was asked, “where are you from, Madlaine?” I would say, “from Jordan.”

The author's father, right, in the Jordanian military service. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

The author’s father, right, in the Jordanian military service. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

In 2010, a dispute developed between the two countries; Qatar would revoke all work permits for Jordanians, and expel them back.

I arrived in Jordan two years short of 20, thinking I had finally come home! It had not occurred to me that the dispute which ended my father’s work prospects would also destroy my childhood memories. I had never lived in Jordan, and was new to everything in my homeland, which, I soon learned, it was not.

Now, when asked “where are you from, Madlaine?” I simply say, “from here.” I am then confronted with a more precise question: “Which province in Jordan are you from?” To which I feel compelled to say, “I am Palestinian, originally from the city of Hebron.”

I soon learned that, whatever my answer, it would be the wrong thing to say in any situation.

If you say you’re Palestinian, you are usually reprimanded for denying a favor: “You [Palestinians] came here, were raised here, given the chance to study and work – is that not enough to warrant your assimilation?” But if I were to say that I’m Jordanian, I wouldn’t hear the end of it from fellow Palestinians who would accuse me of denying my identity and “selling the cause” for some privileges.

In my journey of discovery, I learned of two sports clubs in Jordan. Al-Wehdat was established in 1956, at the Wehdat Palestinian refugee camp, and remained a subsidiary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that every Palestinian in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan roots for Al-Wehdat. Perhaps they see themselves in the team, see proof that refugees, too, can succeed, and therefore find it easier to accept the stamp of diaspora. And then there’s the Faisaly Sports Club, which enjoys support and admiration from all Jordanians.

Any match between these two teams is a war: a cold war precedes the games, and then it turns into a full-blown battle on social media, where Palestinians are nothing short of bullied, with statements like, “pack your mulukhiyyahs and make your way home through the bridge.”

They mean the King Hussein Bridge, which most of our ancestors walked when they sought refuge. There have been plenty of violent incidents in the stands at these games, leaving many wounded, and some even dead.

I got engaged to my ex-husband – who was Jordanian-Jordanian, not Palestinian- Jordanian, as I am – after a love affair that lasted for months. His family, however, did not approve of a Palestinian woman. But I am Jordanian, I would think to myself. I don’t know what the trick was, but eventually, they accepted me.

Still, I would have to sit in their living room and endure the hurtful statements of news commentators, who would say things like “Palestinians are to be blame for selling their lands,” or “they [Palestinians] are all agents.” Perhaps his family thought that, now that they’ve accepted me as a Jordanian, I did not have the right to oppose those statements or defend Palestinians.

Once, when my husband and I were living in Saudi Arabia, my mother-in-law and her brother came for a visit on their way to Hajj (pilgrimage). As we walked down one of the streets, some souvenirs in the colors of the Jordanian flag caught their eyes. “Why don’t you get one for yourself,” suggested my mother-in-law, “since the colors of our flag are the same as those of the Palestinian one.” Her brother took offence: “Palestine? What is your nationality, Madlaine?” I said I carry a Jordanian passport. “Then you will buy these on the grounds that you are Jordanian.”

I had given up on talking back, or making any statements at all, really. Until I gave birth to my son. As any mother, I felt the need to pass on my culture and history to my child.

My husband and his family were not pleased with that. They made it clear to me that my son was Jordanian, with no stake in the Palestinian struggle. He is even to be prevented from listening to Al-Wehdat’s anthem. For this and several other reasons, I divorced my husband.

We fled from the occupier to find ourselves in countries that consider us, Palestinians, occupiers. They see us as people who have robbed them of their livelihood and stole their lands. As if our ancestors did not harvest this land with them, as if we had not built their railways with them, or studied in the flickers of street lights to complete our education, or served in their armies.

My childhood was wiped out because the country that saw me as Jordanian expelled me, but I came here only to discover that I am not Jordanian. That for my son to be considered Jordanian, he must not have any association with his mother’s Palestinian roots. Not everyone who fled Palestine has managed to survive, and the occupation is not the only source of our oppression. I can no longer tell where I am from, for my homeland denies my identity, and I have no evidence of my heritage.

Note: The creation of this monarchic Jordan State was the brain child of Churchill in order to eventually allow refugee Palestinians to settle in after the creation of Israel. Thus Jordan was created 2 decades before Israel when France and England enjoyed a mandate over all this Near-East region, including Iraq and a large part of Turkey.

Madlaine Ahmad is Jordanian of Palestinian descent. She lives in Jordan, where she works as a translator for local online platforms, and edits for aljazeera.net. She is interested in covering marginalized voices in society in a way that humanizes their experiences.

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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.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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