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On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

May 17, 2016 at 5:23 pm

The Nakba left a large wound in the conscience of the Palestinian people. On every anniversary of the Nakba, this wound reopens, causing a mixture of anger and pain, especially in those who experienced it or those who have found themselves being directly affected by it through the course of their lives.

I am from a Palestinian family who has suffered the effects of the Nakba, like other Palestinian families. Although I was born long after the Nakba, the pain and details of its events haunted us every night, as our family came together.

I still remember my parents, especially my mother tirelessly talking about the details of the event and about the unbearable suffering they were subject to. They talked about the massacres that occurred in some villages, which led to their need to flee and their displacement, and about the caves they were forced to seek shelter in and the fear, hunger, and deprivation of the children.

All of these matters have made me feel the weight of the responsibility that my parents handed down to me. The Zionist saying of ‘the parents will die and children will forget’ has been proven to be incorrect, as the parents did not die before handing their children the responsibility of telling the world about their catastrophe.

In this article, I would like to tell the world about my small village, Al-Muzayri’a before the Nakba, and then I would like to talk about what happened to the people of my village, especially my family, who were all displaced, expelled, and lost.

On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

An illustration of Al-Muzayri’a village, pre-1948.

Al-Muzayri’a was established near what was left of the Roman buildings, including the shrine of Prophet Yahya, who is known as John the Baptist. It was established on fertile land by the efforts of its people. As a result of their hard work, the land was split into a number of smaller agricultural plots, giving it the name Al-Muzayri’a, the Arabic word for small farms.

Its name may also be linked to the Assyrian farm that was recently discovered in 2014 near the town of Ras Al-Ain. This farm is said to be 2,800 years old and some sources believe it lies in the territories of Al-Muzayri’a and Majdal al-Sadiq.

On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

Saint John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya) Shrine

Al-Muzayri’a is located 12 km north of the city of Lod and south of Majdal al-Sadiq. It is also 15 km northeast from the city of Ramla and is northeast of Jaffa. The village is 110 metres above sea level and its area is 2.7 acres.

The village was surrounded by the German colonies of Sarona and Wilhelma and the Jewish settlements Kfar Sirkin and Petah Tikva.

Its inhabitants lived in the old Roman houses that are connected to each other. Most of these houses were made of stone and consisted of a number of small rooms.

Al-Muzayri’a is in a strategic location, as it is close to the main roads that link it to neighbouring cities and villages. Its location has given it a unique opportunity for the village to be a centre for education and economy.

On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

View of the main road

Al-Muzayri’a’s people and tribal clusters

Al-Muzayri’a’s population was estimated at 1600 before the Nakba in 1948. They are from a single family, the Ramahi family, and that family is divided into four tribal clusters: Weshah, Abu Shamma, Wadi, and Saqr. Each cluster is overseen by one of its members, known as the Mukhtar, and it has its own diwan, or tribal guest house. The Mukhtar and his committee oversee the village and solve its problems.

Al-Muzayri’a’s role in the resistance

The villagers’ struggle began in the 1936 Revolution (against the British mandate due to opening the door to Jewish immigration to Palestine and their encouragement to own Palestinian land). A villager named Mohammad Hassan Salah, an aide to Commander Hassan Salameh, formed a group of rebels from the villagers who were trained in used arms, and they carried out qualitative operations against the British military camps and Zionist settlements.

Various villages, including Al-Muzayri’a, were punished by the British Mandate Forces. These forces would raid villages, evacuate the people from their homes and then proceed to search the homes, destroying furniture, wasting food, and uprooting trees while they did so.

They would also target the village men who would go to their private properties, especially those near Zionist settlements. This resulted in the death of 6 villagers who were on their way to work on their land.

If the British forces found any weapons in the possession of Arab Palestinians, they would execute them. Meanwhile, the forces armed the settlers with various weapons.

After the British Mandate forces eliminated the revolution in 1939, it arrested a number of rebels. Some were able to flee from the British, including Commander Hassan Salameh, who took refuge in Iraq and then Germany. He later returned in secret to Palestine in 1944, hiding in Al-Abbasiya for a number of years, and then returned, disguised, to Al-Muzayri’a, with the help of his friend, Mohammad Salah, who hid Salameh in his uncle’s house for a long time. The villagers were unaware of the new guest’s identity and he remained in the village until the Partition Plan was issued.

After the Palestine Partition Plan was issued on 20 November 1948, a number of revolutions occurred across Palestine in opposition of this decision. The people of the village formed a group to defend the villagers, led by Mohammad Salah, and they began training the young men. One of the village’s prominent figures went to Egypt and Syria to purchase weapons and ammunition (which were later found to be fakes) and the villagers began selling their wives’ gold in order to buy weapons to defend their village and families.

Trenches were dug on the western side of the village in order to fight off the enemy, and the village youth took turns guarding the village in order not to be surprised by an attack by the Zionist gangs.

The people of Al-Muzayri’a also stepped up to help defend the cities and villages surrounding them that were being attacked by Zionist gangs, including Salama and Al-Abbasiya. They also participated in fighting off the Zionists’ attempt to occupy the Lod Airport (currently Ben Gurion Airport) and during the battle lasting two days, from 14-15 April 1948, in which the British forces told the Palestinians they would withdraw from a military camp and hand it over to the Palestinians. However, this was ultimately a trick to lure them to the camp. When they arrived at the camp, the Zionists opened fire on them. Given the fact that the Palestinians did not have any cannons or tanks while the British forces armed the Zionist gangs with various types of weapons, the battle ended in favour of the Zionists. This allowed them take control of most of the coastal villages, which the Palestinians fled and sought refuge in neighbouring villages. During this battle, Commander Mohammad Salah Al-Ramahi was wounded and three villagers from Al-Muzayri’a were killed.

The fall of the village

It is partially confirmed that Al-Muzayri’a was occupied as part of Operation Danni (the name given to the attack on Lod and Ramla carried out by Zionist gangs, the Haganah and Palmach). The stories regarding the history of the fall of the village and the displacement of its people differ. Some villagers, whose interviews I listened to, mentioned that they left on 10 July, which was also mentioned by Walid Al-Khalidi in his book In Order not to Forget, along with two other days, 12 July and 16 July. However, according to what I remember from my mother, she gave birth to my sister on 11 July, and left when my sister was four or five days old. That makes 16 July the closest to what my mother remembers.

The village was subject to a number of attacks:

-The village was subject to two attacks, but the villagers were able to deflect the attacks. The Zionist gangs then avoided the village for a period of time due to its strong resistance.

– The third attack occurred early in the morning on Saturday, 10 July 1948. It was a large-scale attack in which the Zionist gangs used all their equipment, including a large number of tanks, armoured vehicles, and jeeps, as well as airplanes. The villagers fought back, especially the resistance group in the west, near the trenches, and they were able to bear the attack despite their basic equipment. They fought for a long time until they finished their ammunition and a number of them were killed.

When news of the deaths reached the villagers, they felt both fear and anger, especially when the Zionist armoured vehicles began inching closer to the village and occupying higher areas. They began firing mortar missiles on the village. The villagers also heard the news about the massacre in Lod, where hundreds of civilians were killed inside a mosque, as well as the Deir Yasin massacre and the stories the Zionist gangs spread about raping women and killing children. This forced the villagers out of fear for their women and children.

The villagers had no choice for a safe passageway to leave the village. Instead, they were forced to take the route chosen for them by the occupation, which opened continuous fire on them. A number of the villagers were wounded by the gunfire, but none of them were left behind. They were instead treated and carried.

This occurred on one of the hottest summer days, in early Ramadan. The people set out on foot, while fasting, until they reached an elevated area overlooking the eastern part of a village called Marj Obaid. They rested, as they were exhausted from the hot sun, and the village’s imam gave them permission to break their fast. They stayed there for two days, thinking they would return to their homes. However, when they gave up on returning, they headed towards neighbouring villages, dividing themselves amongst the villages of Rantis, Aboud, Deir Ghasana, etc. They did not have much with them, so they were forced to make the risky journey back to their village to fetch necessities. Anyone who was caught doing this would have been killed by the Zionist forces.

Palestinian writer, Qasim al-Ramahi, described in his book Al-Muzayri’a, the moment he and the villagers fled the village:

“Thick fires surrounded us from every direction… Armoured vehicles and tanks were slowly closing in on us… fear and horror. We hid our birth certificates, land deeds, contracts, and important documents in our box of things and packed some of our necessary possessions in the car we owned. We locked our house with the large key and put it in our pocket before we set off in the car. Our path to the mountain was rough and harsh, as we suffered thirst, hunger, misery, horror, and panic. We gathered in Marj Obaid, waited, and a long time after, we moved to neighbouring villages. We slept under the olive trees in Kafr-ad-Dik, with no shelter or blankets. This went on for too long, so some of the villagers nearby villages: Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho. This then went on too long, so some of the villagers went to Jordan. This went on too long, so some villagers went to neighbouring Arab countries, and after this went on for long, some moved to foreign countries. I never imagined that after we had all lived in the same village for so long that we would be separated all across the world.”

My family’s suffering during the Nakba

My family left the village with the rest of the villagers, and their suffering, especially my mother’s, began the moment they left on foot and my father tried to find a car to carry her. Unfortunately, he did not find one, and therefore my mother, who had just given birth days earlier, had no other choice than to walk. She was exhausted from walking in the sweltering heat, with her four children huddled around her, afraid from the bullets that were flying all around them. The eldest of her children was not yet ten years old. They had only carried a few things with them and they sat with the rest of the villagers in Marj Obaid. When they had lost hope in returning, they had to look for a place to shelter them from the burning July sun.

The walk began once again, and they were joined by my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, and aunts. They headed towards Aboud and settled near Nabea’ Al-Zarqa (the Zarqa natural water reserve) in Wadi Al-Laymoun, located north of Aboud. They stayed there in the caves near the water reserves, and they were forced to light a fire to keep the wild animals in the valley away. At night, they would close the opening to the cave with stones, but this did not relieve the fear of the children and did not stop them from waking up at night, terrified by the sounds of the wild animals.

On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

Al-Zarqa Natural Water Reserve- Aboud

They stayed here for six months. They lived on very little, as they did not have much food. My mother told us that my new-born sister lived on flour, sugar, and water because my mother was unable to nurse her.

Six months later, they had to find somewhere better to stay. They moved to Al-Lubban al-Gharbi, where they stayed for about a year and a half. My mother was forced to give up her jewellery so that they could live since there weren’t many work opportunities.

In 1950, they moved to live in Al-Karamah refugee camp in the northern Jordan Valley, near the city of Irbid in Jordan. This was established by the UNRWA after the 1948 Nakba. My father worked there in whatever opportunities he managed to find, and my brothers helped him. In addition to going to school, they tried to help out my father in earning a living. My brother told me that he would sell nuts and sweets when he could and would walk around the camp barefoot because my family was unable to afford shoes.

After staying in Al-Karamah for five years, my family moved to live in the city of Al-Bireh after my father got a job there. My family then began a new phase in their life, especially after my eldest brother managed to travel to the UAE and held my father provide for our family, far from the suffering of the refugee camps.

In 1970, when the occupation forces allowed Palestinians to visit the territories occupied in 1948, we went to our village, along with many of our relatives. I still remember getting off the bus and the women crying and weeping at the sight of their demolished homes, something that remains engraved in my memory. I will not forget this sight for as long as I live.

My parents were made sure my siblings and I would visit our village, Al-Muzayri’a regularly, as we visited it at least once a month. We would spend the entire day there, despite the serious destruction of the village. Everything was destroyed apart from the shrine of John the Baptist, the school, which was demolished in the mid-eighties, and the ground floors of some homes. My parents would always remind us of where places and homes were, pointing out this person’s land or that person’s house. We would make sure to plant some small plants near our demolished home, such as fava beans or chickpeas, and we would go back and pick them once they had grown. The lesson of the Nakba was understood well by my family, as when the Palestinian territories were occupied in 1967, including Al-Bireh, my father refused to leave and preferred to die a migrant, as he still remembered the suffering of the camps. However, the occupation of course caused my family to divide, as my older siblings worked in the Gulf and were unable to return to Palestine except as visitors.

Settlements established in Al-Muzayri’a after the Nakba

On the western side of the village, the Moshav Mazor settlement was established in 1949. During the same year, the Nehalim settlement was established in the north-western part of the village.

In 1998, the Zionists took control of whatever remained of the village and built El’ad. It is considered one of the largest Jewish settlement complexes allotted to religious Jews. The buildings were built in a modern design and were given to Jews coming from New York.

On the anniversary of the Nakba: I haven’t forgotten, Mum

El’ad settlement built on the village’s land

This is only a small part of the suffering that my family and the people from my village witnessed, and serves as an example of the suffering of the Palestinian people, which is still ongoing.

After all of these years, I have not forgotten my country and unalienable right to my country. Anyone who believes that my distance from my homeland has made me forget the land of my father and ancestors is mistaken. It is not merely a piece of land that can be compensated for or replaced. It is the blood that runs through my veins and the beats in my heart.

The right of return is a natural right and is deeply enrooted in the hearts of every Palestinian. The attempts to eliminate and marginalise the Palestinians will end up in failure. No one on Earth has the right to concede the right to return, as it is both an individual and collective right that is guaranteed by all international charters, and it is a right that does not have a statute of limitations.

I have been very careful over the years to remain committed to my country and to teach my children to love their homeland and remain connected to it. Despite the distance between them and their homeland, it is planted in their hearts. I have handed down the responsibility to them of not conceding their land and refusing re-settlement and compensation, and I taught them that no right is lost as long as there are people demanding it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.