Haya Al Farra, Mahmoud Zware, Kamel Hawwash, and Ben Jamal on what the Nakba means to them.
Haya Al Farra works at the Palestinian Mission in London. Her parents, along with their families, lost their homes and land in Palestine when Israel was created in 1948. Like millions of Palestinians across the globe, Haya continues to live in exile. Israel violates international law by refusing to let them return home. Here, Haya describes how the Nakba affected her family in ’48 and how it continues to affect her today.
Our Nakba is still ongoing even though it began in 1948.
This is seen in the millions of Palestinian refugees who have not been able to return to their homes in Palestine and who are living in dire living conditions in refugee camps to this day; the thousands of Palestinians who are being displaced and dispossessed for the second time from the refugee camps in Syria; the mothers in Gaza who put their children on death boats hoping to secure a better future for them; the hundreds who are being forcibly displaced within occupied Palestine; the ethnic cleansing that is taking place in Jerusalem; the two million Palestinian citizens in Israel who are treated as second class citizens, and the 1.8 million Palestinians who have been subject to a brutal siege for nine years in the Gaza Strip.
Growing up as a Palestinian refugee has significantly impacted my life. I always felt ‘out of place’ as Edward Said eloquently described the state of many Palestinian refugees living in the diaspora.
I longed to return home, to Palestine, the land of oranges that was woven and depicted by my father and grandmother’s stories and memories.
Both my parents were displaced by the Israeli occupation. My mother’s family was expelled from Yafa in 1948 during the Nakba.
My maternal grandparents fled to Jordan then to Saudi Arabia, and finally settled in Egypt. As a consequence, they lost all their possessions and business in Yafa.
My father, on the other hand, was studying in Egypt when Israel invaded and annexed the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967. He was forced to remain in exile until 1994 and was not allowed to go back to Gaza due to his affiliation with the PLO.
After the Oslo Accords, we were some of the very few families that were able to return to Palestine. However, similar to millions of Palestinians across the globe, my maternal grandmother and my family from my mother’s side cannot return to Palestine.
The right of return remains the dream of millions of Palestinian refugees and the international community has a responsibility to bring it about.
In 1948, Israel, the occupying power, sought to uproot and dispossess Palestinians, challenge our existence, and wipe out our history.
However, we kept Palestine alive by preserving our memories, retelling our grandparents’ stories, creating a Palestinian narrative, holding onto the keys to our homes, and affirming our rights that are enshrined in international law and United Nations resolutions.
Perseverance, resilience and resistance continue to be our answer to the daily dispossession, violations, and humiliation of the Israeli occupation experienced by Palestinians in exile and within occupied Palestine.
Mahmoud Zware’s family was driven out of the village near Jerusalem, which they had farmed for generations, when Israel was created in 1948. His grandparents fled to the village of Al-Ma’sara in the West Bank, where Mahmoud was born and brought up. Mahmoud is now on the Popular Commitee which resists Israel’s land theft in Al-Ma’sara. Here he talks about what the Nakba meant for his family in 1948 and how it continues to impact him today.
My grandfather is a refugee from Al-Malhah, a small village to the south west of Jerusalem.
He was living in this village with his family, who were farmers, in 1948.
After they were forced out in 1948, my grandfather would say: “They uprooted us from our land and homes, the same as you uproot the tree from the field. We will never taste the meaning of real life until we come back to the land that we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers.”
My father has told me about the quality of the vegetables and fruit that his father produced, and how they would go to Jerusalem and to Jaffa to sell their goods.
My grandfather was involved with the Abed Al Qader and Al Hussieni groups, which resisted against the Zionist movement. I will never forget my father telling me how their members were repressed by the Israelis, violating their rights even after they had been forced from their land – my grandfather was arrested for his involvement in the resistance even after being made a refugee.
After they were driven from Al-Malhah, my grandfather’s family went to friends in the village of Al-Ma’sara, in the West Bank.
My grandfather sold the wool from his mattresses and my grandmother’s jewellery to buy a piece of land in the village, because he didn’t want to lose his connection with the land.
He passed the ownership papers of his home in Al-Malhah onto my father, and now my father keeps these papers in an iron box.
My family still lives in Al-Ma’sara, where I am part of the Popular Committee which peacefully resists Israel’s occupation and the Apartheid Wall it is building through our village.
For me, it brings great sadness to see how my grandfather suffered from the Nakba, and to witness my father today living with the building of the Apartheid Wall and the fresh colonisation of the land which his father bought after the Nakba.
My grandfather would say: “It is a shame that we’re reduced to beggars at the hands of the United Nations after being farmers who sent our products everywhere.”
For us Palestinians, the Nakba means injustice, the terror of the Zionist movement and the world’s betrayal of us.
But we are all able to resist this settler-colonialist project through the actions of our daily life and through popular unarmed resistance.
From the ash of the Nakba, we rise to resist.
Kamel Hawwash is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign executive committee. His family originates from Jerusalem. Here, Kamel talks about how the violent dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, as Israel was created, impacted on his family and continues to impact to this day.
They say an Englishman’s home is his castle.
Imagine then if 700,000 Englishmen were driven out of their homes, through terror, to make way for the establishment of a homeland for a group of people that had decided to migrate to England against the will of the English people.
That is exactly what happened to my people, the Palestinians in 1948 ( a period known as the Nakba) and then more were ejected in 1967 (the Naksa) in what is called the Six Day War.
This devastation haunts Palestinians to this day, some living as refugees in other parts of historic Palestine and others in neighbouring countries or in the wider diaspora.
Those remaining in what became Israel face daily discrimination, while those in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, face a daily brutal illegal occupation that has gone on for far too long.
Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and those who have always lived there, have been under Israeli siege for almost ten years.
The result of the Nakba and the Naksa for me has been the dispersal of members of my extended family to all corners of the Earth.
In particular I have relatives in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who long to return home, to Palestine – in my case, to Jerusalem.
This painful injustice has gone on for too long but it could end easily if Israel finally came to its senses, ended the occupation and discrimination and allowed the refugees to return home.
When my mother can return to Jerusalem, peace will have come to the Holy land.
Ben Jamal is the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. His father’s family was driven out of Jerusalem and into exile in 1948 when Israel was created in the land they had called home for generations. Here, as the 68th anniversary of those dark days approaches, Ben talks about what the Nakba means to him.
My family were a family of Christian Arabs who lived in Talbieh in West Jerusalem.
My grandfather, a man called Shukry Jamal, was one of five brothers who ran a travel business with offices across the Middle East, as well as having some publishing interests.
Those who have been to Jerusalem and seen stalls selling postcards of the city dating back to the 19th Century may have noticed that they were published by the Jamal Brothers in the 1920’s.
My great uncle was a man called Shibli Jamal who, in 1921, was the secretary to a delegation of Palestinians which came to the UK to negotiate with Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the colonies, to overturn the Balfour declaration.
The delegation remained in the UK for many months during which time it held what was, I believe, the first pro-Palestinian rally in Hyde Park.
My father was a man called Khalil Jamal who became an Anglican priest. He grew up in Talbieh and attended St George’s Cathedral School, the same school attended by Edward Said, whose family also lived in Talbieh.
In 1948 all of my family members were forced from their homes in Talbieh and left for a variety of destinations. My father at that time was a priest in Nazareth, and my grandparents went to be with him.
The Israeli plan for Nazareth was that its inhabitants be expelled, but the Major in charge of the operation, a Major Ben Dunkelman, disobeyed the order and negotiated a surrender with the leaders of the local community.
My parents divorced when I was very young and I had limited conversations with my father about his childhood experiences and about his life in Palestine which is one of my life’s great regrets. However, he did once tell me that he played a part in the negotiations with Major Dunkelman which saved Nazareth.
My father remained in Nazareth until 1955 when, on meeting my mother, an Englishwoman who was working as a missionary in a church orphanage, they married and moved to the UK. At this point my grandparents, who I met only as a three-year-old on a visit to the Middle East, moved to Beirut to be with my uncle who had been a student at the university in 1948 and remained.
I do not know what happened to all of the family homes, which are now regarded as some of the most desirable in Jerusalem. I do know that one, the home of my uncle Anis Jamal, was scheduled to be the home of David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first Prime Minister] but he rejected the idea.
My parents divorce, as can happen, created a family dislocation , which meant I grew up without much knowledge of my father’s side of the family, with little contact with my Palestinian relatives or family history.
What I know, I have pieced together as I have made contact with relatives, and explored what family history is available online, mostly after my father’s death.
In 2012 I took my daughter to Palestine for her first visit and, as part of our tour, we visited the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where many family members are buried . We spent an afternoon walking around Talbieh trying to locate the family home from a photograph we had seen online which appeared to show my grandfather sitting outside it in the 1920’s. We couldn’t find it.
Seeing my daughter exploring her family roots made me reflect on my first visit to Palestine as a young student. I had grown up, knowing I was Palestinian, but with virtually no sense of what that meant, of my family history, but, more broadly, no understanding of the realities of the political history of the Nakba.
I got on a boat from Greece to Haifa with student friends, secure in my identity as a young white British male about to go to university and travelling abroad with friends for the first time.
When I got off the boat in Haifa, was separated from my friends and subjected to a four hour interrogation about my name, my background and my reason for coming to Israel, I realised I had arrived as a Palestinian.