I’m a refugee myself from the occupied village al-Majdal since 1948. I’m writing this article in a modest house covered with an asbestos ceiling granted by UNRWA to my grandfather Ahmed in 1952 as compensation for the house and orchard he owned in al-Majdal; which he was forcibly displaced from by the Jewish Haganah gangs. Luckily, some old members of my family are still alive telling us the story of their own Nakba seventy years ago.
On the 14th of May, 1948, the residents of al-Majdal evacuated their houses and escaped to save their lives from the Israeli bombs that directly targeted their houses and orchards. My grandmother Mariam was pregnant and expecting to give birth at any moment. While they were running she fell to the ground several times before she was able to go on. Her husband, my grandfather, Ahmed, gave her some water and helped her to stand and walk again towards Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.
My pregnant grandmother had to walk for eight consecutive hours suffering from the scarcity of water and food. By the end of the first day, they reached Deir al-Balah city in Gaza.
Ahmed decided to stop there in case his wife gave birth to the baby; he created a tent from palm fronds. A week later, Mariam gave birth to their first baby girl, Hajar.
In 1952, the family moved to Jabalia camp in a house granted by UNRWA. This is where Mariam had another seven sons, including Hania, who was born one year after Nakba.
My grandfather Ahmed died in 1975 of tuberculosis, then Mariam died in 1990, and Hajar passed away in 2010. My aunt Hania still remembers all the stories her mother told her repeatedly about the Nakba. As she always told Hania: “I’ll tell the story of our flight to my sons and grandsons, we’ll die, but you’ll not forget our right.”
The Palestinian Nakba is the humanitarian tragedy of Israel displacing 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands with British support.
The memory of the Nakba is a memory of displacing Palestinians from twenty cities and four hundred villages, all their farms and properties became a property of the Israeli state.
Hania is not able to participate in the Great March of Return because she has kidney inflammation, but she keeps encouraging her sons and grandsons to participate in the march.
The march started on the anniversary of Land Day on March 30th when Palestinians demonstrated in five locations near the border fence with Israel demanding for Palestinian refugees return to their lands they forcibly displaced from in 1948.
Hadia, who buried her child
In 1948, in the village of Hiribya, a young woman named Hadia al-Daour, age 24 then, was walking with her sisters and friends in her family’s orchard of orange and olive trees meters away from their house door, holding her newborn baby boy Khader.
At sunset, Hadia had finished her walk and went to her father’s house to wait for her husband Khamis, age 26 then, to return from his work. Suddenly, Israeli planes filled the sky of their village and started dropping bombs everywhere.
Hiribya is a village located 15 km north of Gaza, its inhabitants are known for their good heart and simplicity.
Her father started calling loudly to his wife and sons asking them to leave the house to a safer place on the outskirts of the village; to survive the Israeli attack. The family left everything behind and left the house.
Khamis followed them to the wilds where they spent the whole night without having food or water while the new child Khader started to get sick because of the cold weather. His mother had nothing to protect him except her hands holding him.
After hours of fear and cold, the sun shone, and the family returned to their house to get some warmth and food, and to get ready for another cold night.
For a week, the al-Daour family and all families in their neighborhood spent the morning hours in their houses until the sunset; when they all leave to the wilds area; as Israel was firing towards houses in the evening hours.
The night they fled
The sounds of planes’ shelling and Israeli tanks coming towards the outskirts of the village caused terror among the people hiding between the trees. What worsened the situation was Khader’s situation; as he was getting more and more sick without any possibility of getting medication or help.
Hadia kept trying to make her son warm, but her arms were not enough to protect him from the cold weather. He died in the night, and the family buried him between the trees.
Hadia’s father decided to leave the town towards Gaza to protect his family until the situation calmed down, Khamis asked Hadia to leave with her family promising her to follow them after checking his parents and brothers. At dawn, the family left the village towards Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.
All the way, Hadia never stopped crying for her baby boy and her husband. One day later, the family reached the middle of Gaza feeling lost, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. They settled in at a relative’s house who traveled to Gaza several years before.
For days, Hadia heard nothing about her husband and thought that she lost him forever, but luckily after three weeks he was able to find them. He took his wife to the al-Zaytoun neighborhood, where he built a mud hut and spent two years there before moving into Jabalia camp in northern Gaza.
Hadia is 94 years old today. She told me: “I remember all the details of that day as if I can see it in front of eyes now. I will never forget the loss of my baby boy or losing my husband for weeks.” She added, “I also still remember the beautiful days I lived in my village; I remember the time of harvesting olives, oranges, and grape. If we stayed and died there, that would be better from our life now, but we left our houses hoping to return soon.”
After Khader, Hadia gave birth to Saber, Jaber, and four girls. Her husband died 30 years after the Nakba. She now lives with her sons and grandsons.
Return March and Hope
Despite her old age, Hadia insists on participating in the Great March of Return on May 15th. She prepared her embroidered dress and took the key of her old house out from a box she has kept for her whole life.
She says: “I will go with my sons and grandsons. I never stopped thinking of my village Hiribya; I wish if I can return even for only one day.”
The grandmother Hadia said: “I hope that this march is a starting step to our return. We witnessed death, hunger, and oppression in 1948. I wonder how many times the refugee will die before returning?”
“I don’t think I’ll be alive on the day of return, but my sons and grandsons will keep demanding for their right of return.” She ended.
Fawzi, the stubborn old man
The old man Fawzi Halawa, aged 99, moves with a wheelchair and can barely hear. However, he participated in the previous six Fridays and the Great March of Return and intends to keep participating until the big day comes on May 15th.
Halawa is from Huj village; he still remembers the warm details of when he lived in Huj like the smell of grapes and taboon bread.
The old man, who lives in al-Shati camp western Gaza, said: “I participated in the great return march, I saw the settlements and borders. I was able to smell my land; I felt young again.”
Huj is 18 km east of Gaza. The first family that resided there was the al-Najar family from the al-Shaujaya neighborhood. The number of its residents in 1945 was 810 people. Israeli settlers destroyed it in 1948 and built settlements instead.
“I was 29 when Israeli gangs attacked us. Our fighters’ weapons were nothing compared to their weapons. The equation was very difficult.” Halawa said.
Halawa added: “We heard stories of Israeli massacres in the surrounding villages, so we decided to leave the village. We didn’t think that we’ll never return.”
“We walked from our village to Dumra village and stayed there in camps for two days, then we went to Beit Lahia and then to Shati camp,” he explained.
The old man ended: “I have a hope to smell the sand of my village again and to be buried there. It’s our country, and we’ll return one day.”