Trending Topics:

Yaffa – the city my family once called home

on 14 Comments

Amirah AbuLughod is a farmer living in New York and a granddaughter of one of the 120,000 Palestinians displaced from Yaffa in 1948. She visited Yaffa on Interfaith Peace-Builders’ recent Olive Harvest Delegation. To read more delegate reflections from the trip got to

I walked these streets – we walked these streets – with a man whose family stayed after the Nakba in 1948. His family was one of only 4,000 who stayed out of an original population of 120,000.

My family was one of those who had the means and opportunity to leave.

I learned on the tour of my grandparents’ city that those who stayed were forced into Ajami – the refugee camp ghetto created for Yaffa refugees on their own land. The ghetto was dismantled only after Holocaust survivors witnessed Ajami and saw something all too familiar.

We walked through the now artist village which was once the location of my siedo’s (grandfather’s) home. I’m told by family that the site of his home looks so very different than it once did. As we sat in the beautifully landscaped park surrounded by greenery, blooming bougainvillea, and a salty breeze from the Mediterranean, our guide informed us that any open space in Yaffa was once the most populated. The most populated areas were the first to be demolished, flattened to the ground – they now lay barren of homes, filled with people enjoying the view of the Mediterranean Sea.

According to most people’s definition, Yaffa is a beautiful city – sea side views, a bustling shopping scene, an artist’s village, restaurants everywhere you turn.

Amirah Abu Lughod in Yaffa

I found myself struggling to see the beauty. I knew what I was seeing was nothing like the Yaffa my grandparents called home and what did resemble their existence there felt like a restoration of mockery.  It looks nothing like what my ancestors called home because my ancestors were those people who lived on “the land with no people for a people with no land.”

I looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, a piece of the scenery that hadn’t changed since my family’s presence. I realized that the water, the sea still remembers my grandmother’s face looking out over its expanse. That sea holds the familiarity and memory of all of those ancestors.

And so, I turned away from the land and focused on the water. Grateful.

Grateful to have the opportunity to hear from those people of Yaffa who stayed, survived and continue to survive. Grateful to be able to look over the water and see what my ancestors saw and grateful to be able to show the sea my face. A hopeful face, a humbled face, the face of her granddaughter.

Amirah Abu Lughod

Other posts by .

Posted In:

14 Responses

  1. Tom Suarez on November 16, 2017, 7:30 pm

    Thank you!
    It is often overlooked that Yaffa was part of the Palestinian state according to UNGA Res 181 (Partition), not the Israeli state. The drafters of 181 of course realized that leaving Yaffa as a Palestinian island within Israel would cause logistical problems for the Palestinians, but the alternative divisions, they pointed out, would inconvenience the Israelis. The truth, I think, is that they knew that it wouldn’t matter. They knew that Israel would simply take it.
    By the way, are you related to the Abu-Lughods, the authors/researchers?

    • Jackdaw on November 17, 2017, 5:22 am

      “It is often overlooked that Yaffa was part of the Palestinian state according to UNGA Res 181 (Partition), not the Israeli state. ”

      No Tom, Yaffa was not part of the Palestinian state, because the Arabs rejected the partition of Mandatory Palestine into two States.

      • Misterioso on November 17, 2017, 11:06 am


        Of course the Palestinians rejected the Partition Plan (UNGA Res. 181, Nov. 29/47) and for entirely justified reasons based on international law. While Jews made up just 31% of the population (90% of foreign origin, only 30% had become citizens, thousands were illegal immigrants) and privately owned only between 6% and 7% of the land, the Partition Plan (recommendatory only, no legal foundation, contrary to the British Class A Mandate and the Atlantic Charter, grossly unfair to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs and NEVER RATIFIED BY THE UNSC) outrageously recommended they receive 56% of Palestine (including its most fertile areas) in which Palestinians made up 45% of the population. (10% of Palestine’s Jewish population consisted of native Palestinian/Arab Jews who were anti-Zionist.)

        48% of the total land area of mandated Palestine was privately owned (‘mulk khaas’) by Palestinian Arabs. To repeat, total Jewish privately owned land was only between 6% and 7%. About 45% of the total land area was state owned, i.e. by citizens of Palestine, and it was comprised of Communal Property (‘mashaa’), Endowment Property, (‘waqf’), and Government Property, (‘miri’.) (The British Mandate kept an extensive land registry and the UN used the registry during its early deliberations. It has in its archives 453,000 records of individual Palestinian owners defined by name, location & area.)

        Although Palestinian Arab citizens made up at least 69% of the population and to repeat, privately owned 48% of the land, the Partition Plan recommended they receive only 42% as a state. (The 2% of Palestine comprised of Jerusalem and Bethlehem was to be placed under international control, a corpus separatum.)

        Re: Jerusalem:
        Population of and land ownership in West and East Jerusalem in 1947: The total population of West Jerusalem (the New City) and East Jerusalem (the Old City) and their environs was about 200,000 with a slight Arab majority. (Professor Walid Khalidi, Harvard, “Plan Dalet,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn, 1988, p. 17)

        The total land area of West Jerusalem (the New City) in 1947 was 19,331 dunams (about 4,833 acres) of which 40 per cent was owned by Palestinian Muslims and Christians, 26.12 per cent by Jews and 13.86 per cent by others, including Christian communities. Government and municipal land made up 2.90 per cent and roads and railways 17.12 per cent.

        East Jerusalem (the Old City) consisted of 800 dunams (about 240 acres) of which five dunams (just over one acre) were Jewish owned and the remaining 795 dunams were owned by Palestinian Muslims and Christians. (“Assessing Palestinian Property in the City,” by Dalia Habash and Terry Rempel, Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and their Fate in the War, edited by Salim Tamari, The Institute of Jerusalem Studies, 1999, map, pp. 184-85)

        Rubbing salt into the wound, the United States quashed a proposal based on international law put forth by Arab delegates at the UN that a referendum be conducted in Palestine to determine the wishes of the majority regarding the Partition Plan. The United States also thwarted their request to have the matter referred to the International Court of Justice.

        Furthermore, members of the UNGA were pressured by the Truman administration to support the Partition Plan. For instance, although the Philippines initially opposed partition and Liberia and Haiti wanted to abstain, the United States and the Zionists pressured these countries to vote in favor, thereby gaining the necessary two-thirds approval. “Under threat of a Jewish boycott of Firestone rubber and tire products, Harvey Firestone told Liberia that he would recommend suspension of plans for the expansion of development there if Liberia voted against partition.” (Michael Cohen, Palestine and the Great Powers, 1945-1948, Princeton, N.J., 1982, p. 295-300)

        These bullying tactics were aptly described by James Forrestal, then U.S. Secretary of Defence: “The methods that had been used…to bring coercion and duress on other nations in the General Assembly bordered closely onto scandal.” (Millis, Walter, ed., The Forrestal Diaries, New York: the Viking Press, 1951, p. 363)

        David Niles, the Zionists’ point man in the White House, managed to minimize the influence of the State Department on formulating the U.S. position in the debate over the Partition Plan: “…David Niles was able to have Truman appoint a pro-Zionist, General John Hilldring, to the United Nations’ American delegation to offset the views of the appointees from the State Department. Through Hilldring, Niles established a direct liaison between the United Nations and Truman; indeed, U.S. positions were occasionally relayed directly from the White House without the State Department’s having been consulted. Thus, for example, after a private conversation with Chaim Weizmann, Truman phoned the U.N. delegation and told them to reverse American backing for the Arab claim that the Negev (southern Palestine) should be part of an Arab state; the United States would support its inclusion in the Jewish state as recommended in UNSCOP’s majority proposal.” (Charles D. Smith, Palestine And The Arab-Israel Conflict, 1988, p. 139)

        In response to Palestinians’ angry response to the Partition Plan, on 5 December 1947, Ben-Gurion ordered “immediate action to expand Jewish settlement in three areas assigned to the Arab state: the South West (Negev), the South-East (Etzion bloc) and Western Galilee.” (Political and Diplomatic Documents of the Jewish Agency, 1947- 48, no. 12). Thus, Ben-Gurion revealed that the Jewish Agency had no intention of abiding by the terms of the Partition Plan.

      • m1945 on November 17, 2017, 10:03 pm


        Evidence that “48% of the total land area of mandated Palestine was privately owned (‘mulk khaas’) by Palestinian Arabs?”

        What percent of Palestinian Arabs owned land?

      • m1945 on November 17, 2017, 10:33 pm


        Were Arab states willing to let Jews have control of any territory at all?

  2. JosephA on November 16, 2017, 8:11 pm

    Amirah, thanks for sharing your story so that others could bear witness to another example of the seemingly countless Israeli atrocities against the native Palestinians.

  3. Jackdaw on November 17, 2017, 5:19 am

    Why did Jaffa fall so easily, anyway?

    • Misterioso on November 17, 2017, 11:19 am


      Re: Jaffa

      To be brief:
      The Jewish assault on Jaffa began on April 25 with the same results that had occurred in Haifa. Its only means of defense was a small and poorly armed contingent of the ALA. (Indeed, desperate to mount some form of defense, the ALA even attempted to employ the ancient Ramadam cannon.)

      With Jaffa cut off from the rest of Palestine by advancing Jewish forces who controlled the Jerusalem highway, civilians could only escape what had become a relentless mortar barrage by sea. Shell-shocked and panic stricken, thousands of them jammed the port looking for any type of craft (even row boats) that could take them to Gaza or Lebanon and while they waited, many were cold-bloodedly murdered by Irgun snipers.

      Scores of those who managed to get on the overcrowded boats, yachts, and other vessels, fell overboard and drowned. Iris Shammout, who was then 12 years of age, recalled the scene vividly. “‘…bullets went through the bodies of people standing by the seashore…. Women and children were weeping and screaming’ as they filed into small boats in an effort to reach a Greek steamship that they hoped would take them to safety. Many people were drowned because the tiny fishing vessels could not hold the multitude. Babies fell overboard and mothers were forced to choose which ones to save. The Shammouts were luckier than most since all members of the family were able to get aboard the Greek vessel which eventually reached Beirut. But many of those who attempted to sail to Gaza or Beirut in small boats were lost at sea. Their bodies were washed up along the coast of Palestine.” (Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe, pp. 89-90)

      These terrible events were witnessed by British observers in the harbour. They noted in their reports that as had occurred in Haifa, “… refugees [were] fired on by Jewish snipers as they moved off.” (Palumbo, TPC, p. 90)

      Jaffa’s inhabitants knew their city would soon be in the hands of the Jews, so when the opportunity came to escape by land without coming under mortar fire, thousands took it despite appeals by the local Arab National Committee for them to stay. In a state of terror, a sea of refugees began fleeing the city in assorted vehicles heading for Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron, and Jordan. By April 30, more than eighty percent of Jaffa’s population had fled.

      The British commander at Jaffa, General Sir Horatius Murray witnessed the exodus: “I saw a scene which I never thought to see in my life. It was the sight of the whole population of Jaffa pouring out on to the road carrying in their hands whatever they could pick up. [They were heading south] as fast as their legs could carry them. It was a case of sheer terror…” (Palumbo, TPC, p. 87)

      In the end, about 75,000 Arab citizens of Jaffa were dispossessed and expelled. It was only the beginning of the Nakba.

    • Mooser on November 17, 2017, 1:03 pm
  4. Jackdaw on November 17, 2017, 5:36 am

    “According to most people’s definition, Yaffa is a beautiful city – sea side views, a bustling shopping scene, an artist’s village, restaurants everywhere you turn. ”

    More ‘lemon tree in the courtyard’, BS.

    Yaffa is either rundown and unattractive, or touristy. Amirah’s picture postcard shot , is not representative at all, and she knows it. Traffic, narrow streets, grime and gentrification.

    • JosephA on November 17, 2017, 9:18 am

      Notice the nonsense, the abrupt subject change. Classic non sequitur. Obviously he doesn’t care to address the ethnic cleansing of the city’s original inhabitants (the underlying point of the article). Such garbage, this Jack.

      • Misterioso on November 17, 2017, 11:20 am


        Well and truly stated!!!

      • Mooser on November 17, 2017, 4:09 pm

        . “Such garbage, this Jack.”

        He certainly gives us an unobscured look at the Zionist mind.

      • Jackdaw on November 18, 2017, 12:59 am

        Address it? I brought it up, schmuck!

Leave a Reply