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Rami Almeghari

Nakba survivors tell their stories in Gaza

Abu Talal, 94, has been a refugee for 70 years [Rami Almeghari]

Date of publication: 14 May, 2018

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In-depth: 'We will one day return to our homes,' say elderly Palestinians after 70 years of displacement.
On the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian people's Nakba - or "catastrophe" - elderly Palestinians, considered survivors of a remarkable event in Palestinian history, still dream of returning to their home towns, back in what was once Palestine.

Their dream on this date coincides with major Palestinian protests across the Gaza Strip, in which these community elders have lived since having been forcibly displaced by the creation of the state of Israel back in 1948.

Back in 1948, as the state of Israel was created, Jewish paramilitary gangs attacked 450 Palestinian villages and towns and were able to expel 700,000 Palestinian villagers.

The attacks came shortly after the British "mandate" over Palestine was ended. Those displaced Palestinians reached the nearby Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Arabs blamed for the Nakba

Yousef Mohammad Albahnasawi, an 87-year-old Palestinian refugee living in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, looks healthy for a man who has lived through what he has lived through. He now has more than 80 family members including children and grandchildren.

"At night, almost at 3 o'clock in the morning, Israeli troops began shooting at the nearby Basheet village," he told The New Arab and some of his grandchildren who had gathered to hear the story. "Someone called Yousef Bahnasawi, a cousin of mine, Mohammad Aldewi, Saleh Alhems, and two others were shot dead during the shootout, just before we were forced out of my Yebna village."

 
Yousef Albahnasawi blamed the failure of the Arab nations
[Rami Almeghari]

Yousef blamed the Arab nations.

"Sadly, the cause of our Nakba was the weak Arab armies, which came over to fight back the Israeli troops and defend our homeland.

After the Arab armies failed to fight the Israelis back, we moved to Isdod [now Ashdod], and stayed almost a month over there, before we were forced out completely from Palestine. By then, the Israeli troops were advancing." Yousef's voice begins to tremble a little at the recollection and the anger.

Life back in Yebna 

Yousef was born in the village of Yebna. "Over there, we had a school, a mosque and my family owned farm land. Grapes were one of my father's crops, which some residents from the now West Bank city of Hebron, used to buy," he recalled.

He completed the primary school there. "The most important crop was citrus fruit, mainly oranges. I did some work in collecting and packing oranges and I remember very well that we had our own Palestinian currency, mainly the Palestinian pound. But money was not available that much, by then."

During those times, wedding parties took from three days up to a week, where about 40 local men line up to sing and clap... Also, the mother or aunt of a bridegroom used to dance while holding a sword

Sports 

Back in Yebna, Yousef loved to go to the local football matches. "Some football teams from the nearby Qatra village and others used to hold tournaments right on Yebna's playground. I myself only attended, but did not take part in them," the elderly Palestinian refugee smiled.

Smiling more broadly, Yousef remembered wedding parties in his old village. "During those times, wedding parties took from three days up to a week, where about 40 local men line up to sing and clap - called 'Dihaya'. Also, the mother or aunt of a bridegroom used to dance while holding a sword. They were such nice moments that we miss these days."

With one more cheerful smile, the Nakba survivor recalled travelling across Palestine.

On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Yousef Albahnasawi still hopes to return to his village. "Even if they give me all the money of the world in compensation for my Yebna home and farm land, I would never accept," he told The New Arab.

"I will only accept returning back to the village and leaving this refugee camp. Also, I am recommending to my sons and grandchildren [that they do] not to bargain their right of return, at any rate."

Before 1948

Ahmad Alhour (Abu Talal), was 25 years old when he and his entire family were expelled by force from the Palestinian village of Almoghar. He also now lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Abu Talal has an extended family almost 90 strong, including sons, daughters and many grandchildren. At his Nusierat home, Abu Talal has a map of his Almoghar village, just about 40 kilometres from the Gaza Strip.

"I was the youngest of four brothers. I used to escort my father to our farm land where he grew various vegetables, but I did not work in farming," he told The New Arab.

"During my youth, I used to go to the coastal city of Jaffa. By then, I was newly-married and my wife and I watched a movie at the Hamra Cinema of Jaffa," he said.

Carpentry 

When the family was displaced, Abu Talal had a six-month-old daughter and was working in a carpentry workshop that was part of a military airport belonging to the British mandate authorities.

"The British principals at the airport dealt with us very well and they ran special vans for the local staff workers, taking them back and forth to the airport on a daily basis. I worked over there for five years," Abu Talal recalled.

Bread-making

Back in Almoghar, Abu Talal's family used to own a large area of farm land, where the family cultivated barley and wheat as well as garlic. "My father owned some cows and livestock, and my mother had an oven made of mud, which she used to make some bread and cooking," he remembered.

Local families used to feud among each other from time to time, but all their feuds were resolved swiftly and peacefully by a trusted arbitrator.

"Once, two families quarreled and were about to reach a flashpoint. By then, a community-based reconciliation chief, belonging to my Alhour family, imposed a solution on the two families and they accepted with no objection. Our life back in Almoghar was very peaceful; we only learned what violence meant when the Israeli troops began expelling us by force. This violence by Israel remains experienced by one Palestinian generation to another, since 1948."

The moment of expulsion

This week in 1948, Abu Talal and his family were forced to flee Almoghar for two nearby villages. "In May, under the heat, we reached a nearby area and one of the inhabitants offered us some food and a sleep at his home. Afterwards, we moved to Almasmiya village and stayed about five months, until Masmiya itself fell in the hands of Israeli Zionist troops," Abu Talal told The New Arab.

This map of Almoghar is here at my home in order to remind all members of my family that they have a homeland, called Palestine... Whatever the Israelis do to wipe out memories, we will one day return

As of today, 94-year-old Abu Talal still strongly believes in his right to return to his home village of Almoghar.

"You see, this map of Almoghar is here at my home in order to remind all members of my family that they have a homeland, called Palestine," said Abu Talal.

"Whatever the Israelis do in order to wipe out memories, we will one day return back to Palestine."

Over the past several weeks, crowds of Palestinians in Gaza have been staging large-scale protests, right near the Israeli border fence. As economic conditions worsen in Gaza, and the "peace process" between Palestinians and Israelis remains deadlocked - with the United States moving its embassy from Tel-Aviv to occupied East Jerusalem.  

Palestinians insist on their right to return, which is guaranteed by the UN's General Assembly resolution 194 of 1949.

According to United Nations records, Palestinians number more than two million in Gaza, a part of nearly five million Palestinian refugees registered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees worldwide.

"Though, I do not belong to the Nakba generation, I would say strongly that I will never give up my right of return to the village of my ancestors, Almoghar," says Abu Talal's 54-year-old son, sitting beneath the historic map of Palestine. "I will also tell my sons and daughters not to concede such an inalienable right."

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari

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