by Hanna Abu Hanna
Around a cup of coffee, in the garden of the club, a discussion is taking place:
— Does it make sense that the Jews are trying to kick the British out? They who have promised them a national homeland and helped them establish the foundations of that homeland in our country?
— Do you think that British intelligence is unable to uncover organizations such as Stern, Lehi, Irgun and others? They know that a “national homeland” calls for armed forces, but they turn a blind eye.
— Now America is moving in support of Zionism. Truman has asked that the immigration to Palestine of 100,000 European Jews be allowed. America is also taking part in the Inquiry Committee which has become the “Anglo-American” Committee.
— The Jewish Agency has rejected the Committee’s recommendations because they do not stipulate the establishment of a Jewish state. The Agency threatens that if no suitable solution is reached, Zionist extremists will take control in Palestine.
End of 1946
Jerusalem/ I walk with some schoolmates in Jaffa Road. On the walls, huge posters in Hebrew and Arabic promise the Arabs a treatment as citizens with equal rights in the Jewish state slated to be established.
We are flabbergasted. How do these people dream? We are the owners of the country... Does the majority become subordinate citizens?
Early September 1947
Nazareth/ I teach English and Arabic at the Nazareth secondary school. The English textbook is entitled Britain and Its Neighbors. In it the students live the history of the country that is imposing on us the Mandate and Jewish terrorism.
October 1947 and Later
Nazareth/ The atmosphere is oppressive. Attacks by Zionist military organizations against Arabs are on the rise, the last in the Arab market in Haifa.
The Palestinian question is in the hands of the United Nations committee. Arab speakers remind the world of King Solomon and the two women fighting over a child. Like the real mother in the story, the Arabs will not allow the precious country to be torn apart; they reject partition.
The UN resolution comes as a disappointment to those who had fought to extricate the problem from the hands of the British and to present it to world conscience.
Belief in countries that stand with the Arabs was built on an illusion.
The partition map confirmed by the UN is strange as to shape and distribution of inhabitants: more than 54 percent of the area is for the establishment of the Jewish state, while 93 percent of the lands are owned by Arabs who constitute 70 percent of the inhabitants.
The resolution is a victory for Zionism: their aspirations are recognized.
The Arab Higher Council rejects the resolution and calls for resistance against its implementation.
Troubles increase and so does news of terrorism. And in such an atmosphere we teach school and no change occurs in the curriculum.......
News of Zionist attacks on Arab towns and villages sow fear among the people. How can we protect ourselves from such attacks? Each neighborhood takes care of its own defense. Our house is at the edge of the village. We stand guard in shifts. A few rifles and a few pistols of all sorts of types, sizes and ages. A pitiful sight for a people not wanting in good intentions, and intentions are all they have. Can three, even two persons repulse a surprise attack?
In the village there is no committee or authority. There are only mukhtars appointed by the British Mandate as a channel between the authority and the inhabitants — registering births, deaths, or other matters.
On my way to Nazareth, I learn of Abdel-Qader Husseini’s martyrdom in the battle of al-Qastel. The news is a bomb exploding in our innermost being. Around Abdel-Qader, symbol of loyalty to the cause, was a halo that lit our souls and on which hung our hopes, and a succession of defeats culminated in this blow. Logically speaking, we realize that the Palestinian position lacks cohesion; it has nothing to indicate a coordinated stance commensurate with the challenge.
Another horrific blow and a day has not passed over the death of Abdel-Qader: an unbelievable massacre at Deir Yassin. The news arrives about a savage crime. Is this possible? A massacre in cold blood of 250 people, most of them women and children and old people, slaughtered like cattle?
[...] A statement of the British Colonial Office confirms the massacre: the International Red Cross representative confirms that he saw in one cave the piled bodies of about 150 Arabs, and in a well he uncovered 50 more corpses.
Another massacre in the village of Nasser Eddine, near Tiberias. Only a few survive. They escape and the village is emptied of its people.
This massacre crushes the Arabs besieged in Tiberias. The British authorities “save” the Arabs: they evacuate them from the city. Many take refuge in Nazareth, some in monasteries.
Tiberias is depleted of its Arab inhabitants and the British hand the city over to the Zionist organizations.
The Arab towns of Palestine fall like autumn leaves even before the British depart. Jaffa falls and so do Haifa and Safad and with it many villages. The people of Haifa are carried by boats to Acre... And from there...?
The refugees escaping to Nazareth increase. From Haifa and Bissan and Mjedel and Lubieh and others. The city suffocates.
“Will salvation come at the hands of the Arab armies and the Arab League after the British leave?”
“What Arab League? And its architects are the British Clayton and his cronies. Are you expecting salvation from Nuri Said and Glubb Pasha and King Farouk?”
My friend Saliba says: “There is no more solution save to accept the UN resolution. Partition is easier than losing everything. Are you expecting freedom from armies that are manipulated by the British?” Later, in July, he is arrested with seven others by the “salvation army.” They are charged with high treason for having approved the Partition Plan.
April becomes one of the cruelest months.
At the entrance to the village, on the paved road leading to Nazareth, the people gather waiting for Fawzi al-Qawukji and his “salvation army.” The leader’s car passes, behind it a few tanks and trucks. Some people applaud. The cortège does not stop, but the soldiers walk up the winding road to the hilltop.
This appointment burns the eyes.
From Nazareth, al-Qawukji sees the village of Affula and the surrounding kibbutzim. He reassures people and leaves the town, never to come back.
July 16, 1948
Tonight a Jewish plane bombed the city. It dropped a few bombs. One of them hit a cattle corral at our neighbors’ and killed a cow. Two other bombs did not explode. The sound of explosions is terrifying....
The air-raid this time is part of an operation aimed at occupying the area, starting from Saffurieh to Nazareth and the surrounding villages.
The news spread, bewildering. Hopes were built around Saffurieh. They said the mines that were placed under the Khalabdiyyah Bridge were removed because the “salvation army” was meant to attack in order to take back Shifa Amr. But lo and behold, it was the Jewish forces that crossed the bridge into Saffurieh. Who removed the mines? Fear turned into a moving panic. People up and fled, each carrying whatever possible, along the asphalted road going north, without asking themselves to where.
The massacre of Deir Yassin is a scourge spreading fear and terror.
I stood with my father and brothers and grandfather watching the bewildered human river swelling the street.
My father said, choking over a tear: “We have to leave.”
I said: “Where to?”
“Where everybody else is going.”
“And what awaits us there?”
“Here is death and there is the company of others.”
“And there is humiliation and death. Do we have enough money to support ourselves for a time? We are ten souls, mostly children.”
“Let us first escape death.”
“If we can avoid the shock of occupation during the first few days, we will escape death.”
Here my grandfather intervened:
The grotto in the khirbah (land owned by my grandfather) is spacious and has a commanding view; let’s take our mattresses and provisions for a few days and we will monitor developments from there.
We load bedding and provisions to last us more than a week onto my grandfather’s mule and we go to the grotto. We spread our mats on the ground and from there we are able to overlook the whole village, even the Saffurieh-Nazareth and Nazareth-Tiberias roads. We can see everything that takes place on all sides.
I did not forget to take with me some books and my diplomas — if we are forced to flee I would be able to find a job in the field of education!
Fear is driving many of the inhabitants of Nazareth too. And fear is contagious. The morning hours pass and the river of flight keeps gushing on.
Two o’clock in the afternoon:
Six tanks of the Arab “salvation army,” preceded by a jeep, move along the road leading to Nazareth. The convoy is coming from the Tiberias-Nazareth road, then proceeds towards the Nazareth-Saffurieh one. No sooner do they advance a few hundred meters under the Qishleh, than the jeep retreats and the whole group is shelled from tanks and armored cars coming from Saffurieh. Three Arab armored cars are put out of order and the other three retreat in haste.
The convoy of Jewish forces advances amidst a hail of bullets and bombs and enters Nazareth.
All this we see in front of us as though we are watching a film. The “battle” did not last more than half an hour. A part of the Jewish force surrounds the city. A group occupies a concrete watchtower (built by the British Mandate during the 1936 revolt) and starts shooting indiscriminately in the direction of the east... in our direction.
No one entered the village... and nothing moved there. My father decides to go to the village to check out the situation. Darkness starts to fall.
The houses are deserted, but when he reaches the church, he finds that a number of people have taken refuge there. He comes back and takes us to the church.
The church door directly faces the watchtower and bullets can reach us, but “death among company is sleep.”
The next morning, it is agreed that three men carrying a white flag would go out and surrender the village.
The three men, the white flag with them, have no sooner budged than they are shot at from the tower. They go back to the church.
No force came to the village today.
People — a few families — start returning to their homes over which they fly white sheets, as well as over the houses of their neighbors who have fled.
The occupation of Nazareth is complete...while Arab broadcasts talk of street battles and victories.
An army commander came to the house of one of the notables and asked for all weapons to be surrendered. After a lengthy argument, he agreed to give a list signed with the names of those who hand over their weapons.
Reaching Nazareth from my village now requires a military permit.
Thus started the military rule under the occupation.
The Jewish forces have not occupied all of Galilee yet. Upper Galilee is still in the hands of the “salvation army.” Some of those who have fled infiltrate back to their houses. News circulates about the killing of many “infiltrators” returning to their homes. They are pursued by snipers. The father of my colleague, Ibrahim Shibat, returns from the north. He is caught by the soldiers and is shot in cold blood. His body is delivered to his son. The military authorities have proceeded to take a census of the inhabitants in order to issue ID cards and to stop “infiltration.”
The remaining patch of our people is still threatened. It is encircled by an oppressive military rule. Movement is heavily restricted. How can you ask people to come back at once? How can you guarantee a living in this stifling atmosphere, so that people would stay and hold onto the land?
I obtain a permit to visit Nazareth. At the crossroads of Khanouq, soldiers check the permits. The situation is humiliating.
The military governor of Nazareth suggests that workers be sent to gather corn from the Saffurieh plain, olives from Lidd, Ramleh, Hittin and others. A few months ago, these crops were eagerly awaited by their owners. They planted them, our people who were made refugees. Shall workers from Nazareth and the district go to pick the crops of others in return for a daily wage to satisfy their hunger?
We are called to a teachers’ meeting to prepare for the opening of the school year 1948-1949. The speaker is Mr. Solomon, the Israeli supervisor of educational matters here. He speaks Arabic with a strange accent. He emphasizes the continuity of the educational process.
A peculiar feeling: You stand in front of the students you taught two months ago. The world has changed, but they haven’t. Have you changed yourself?
A regular teaching day starts. I am deputizing for the principal. Some members of the Union of Democratic Youth come and inform me that the army has surrounded the eastern quarter in Nazareth, got the people out of their homes, gathered them near the Jabieh and started counting the “infiltrators,” the residents of the quarter who have returned home, in order to kick them out of the country.
We agree to go out in demonstrations, starting from here — the secondary school. Within 20 minutes, the students stream out of their classes. The shops close. The whole city is mobilized. The demonstrators confront the police, but in the end the siege is lifted and people are allowed to stay.
Victory is gratifying.
We, teachers, are all invited to the military governor’s office. He begins by impressing on us that we are living in the shadow of military rule. Laws give the military governor unrestricted powers and yesterday’s demonstrations will not pass unpunished, and cannot be repeated. “You are all responsible and will all be held accountable....”
Before the school year is out, all teachers receive letters of dismissal.
News of massacres keep coming in. A massacre in Eilabun. The men are gathered in the town square, a group of youth are chosen to be shot in front of everybody. Some talk of 15 killed. How can a people who has known the bitterness of killing and oppression in Europe perform such killings?
The plot of transfer through terror and killings broadens. But the answer is increased tenacity and steadfastness... We remain firmly implanted in the land and our roots will grow deeper and stronger.
Excerpts from an article that appeared in Arabic in Al-Carmel quarterly of culture, Spring/Summer 1998, Nos. 55-56. Printed by permission.