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I did not enjoy his words, my friend talked a lot about Yafa City. I didn’t like the conversation. I got bored from this topic, the topic of Yafa that does not stop in our flat. The image of Yafa was attached to the stories of deportation, poverty, depression and misery. I did not know at that time that there is another dimension of the stories of Yafa.
My knowledge of the Nakba of 1948 (catastrophe) was limited to what I heard from my family about the long years of Diaspora and exodus. The concept of Nakba was tied with the stories and the scenes of refugees gathering every month in the eastern part of the old city of Nablus, refugees were gathering there from the early morning to submit their UNRWA cards and waiting for the rest of the day till they got the chance to be given their monthly allowance of food. I was going there with my father and my older brother, we were waiting for our turn to get what the United Nations offered us that month, it depended on their generosity, they were giving us flour, sardines, sugar, rice and milk, the scenes of needy people were painful. Needy woman were waiting the whole day under the hot sun in summer and in cold rain during winter, surrounded by mud. The eyes of desperate refugees were waiting for the mercy of the workers who were distributing food. Our feet sinking in mud, we wore plastic boots in order to walk around. We would keep waiting for the man to mention our names. The people distributing food gave a cruel appearance. I was starring at them while they were putting the digest of every family in a sack, I was wishing that they will add more for my family’s sack, more rice please, more sugar please, but they were rejecting us toughly. My father was said to me “don’t even think that those people are giving us something of their own, we donÂ’t need their sympathy, the United Nations stole our land and gave it to Jews, they gave them our homes in Yafa city and gave it to the new comers from Europe, our house is more precious than all of this poor food, no thanks to them, we don’t need their wheat nor their sugar, we need to return back to our homes, and let them keep this poor provision for themselves, we were living a normal life in Yafa and we didn’t need anybody.
There were many people pushing their carts carriers, we were getting our own cart in order to save some costs. I remember a man working there who put a pocket on his chest, getting one plate of wheat in return of binding the sacks of wheat and sugar, that was easier for people to pull, without losing or dropping anything. I used to carry our wheat to the baker once every three days; I used to carry it to the backer across the narrow alleys of the old city. The baker would receive one loaf for himself. I did not know why he did that and did not usually ask him for the reason. I liked the scenes of loaves growing up and looking like balloons. I liked the athletic scene of his hands working on the loaves like he was performing some kind of dance.
I felt down when I was a school student because I was refugee in a governmental school, I denied my refugee roots when I attended this school, it was not easy to study in a governmental school while you were a refugee, you should attend refugee schools or what we called them the “UNRWA schools”. Why we are prevented to live like citizens! why are we refugees! this question never left my mind while we were studying. The Department of Education would send its inspectors to our school in order to check if there were refugee students who should be transferred to the UNRWA ones. I would lie if they asked me if I had UNRWA card. My family insisted on me to stay in the public schools and hide from the inspectors. They were trying to keep me away from the refugee atmosphere and its environment that is why I used to deny the refugee roots I had.
My Dutch friend did not stop talking about the Nakba of 1948. He said to me while we were walking in the old city, “hey, you should take care of the issue of Nakba if you would like to address the other nations in your work in media affairs, this issue is the most important one in the modern Palestinian age”, he added; “forget about Oslo and its implications, nothing remains but Nakba, it will never be forgotten as far there are refugee camps, while Oslo Agreement will disappear as most initiatives disappeared over the past decades, concentrate on the refugees issue,” he stopped next to the Nasr Mosque fountain and got some water, he said to me while he was cleaning his lips after drinking some fresh water; “listen, the issue of Nakba is not less important than the issue of the Holocaust for Jews” my friend left for Holland while his words still fresh in my mind, his words are next to me supporting me in my projects of Nakba and refugees.
I continued my studies for the master degree at Bir Zeit University, I studied oral history there. This course has had a deep impact on my character. I got a better awareness of the history of the conflict, step by step, I got involved in the documentation of the testimonies of the Palestinians who witnessed the deportation from homes in Palestine in 1948. I realized that this project was extremely important at the moment, especially when eyewitnesses were slowly passing away over time. We should pass the legacy and stories to the second generation. I got the energy from those who were next to me, they encouraged me to go ahead. The situation was not that suitable, people were busy in the current clashes and the current Intifada. While I was getting the tape recorder and leaving for the refugee camps to meet the elders, Israeli tanks would be gathering in the city. Nakba continues till now, it started in 1948 but it never stops.
I spoke to my friends about this project. They volunteered with me in order to do our best and collect the testimonies. We suffered a lot in collecting the testimonies. We had to be aware of the many slang and outdated words as well as the historical events. This project attracted neither people nor associations in the city. They were busy with other issues apparently more important than ours. I was trying to find funding for this project, but the international agencies and international associations were interested in teaching us the principles of democracy, they were not interested or even concerned about documenting oral history, an important part of our cultural heritage. The oral history project became my dream. I started it five years ago and I got so excited when I saw it expand and develop. I began translating the testimonies into English hoping the other nations will be interested to read what happened to our people. My belief in this project increased when I met many international intellectuals who encouraged me to continue.
These testimonies deserve the efforts offered to it. I should hurry up in finishing it. We should meet those who are living in the Diaspora as they are dying or getting old. Their numbers have diminished. We should write what they have experienced on their way from Al-Lud City to Ramallah region. They walked by foot in the holy fasting month of Ramadan when it was too hot. We should write the details of the massacre of Al-Lud Mosque, we should write how they were living in the refugee camps’ tents. It is our duty and it is their right to be respected. We should leave something for the coming generation about our cultural heritage.
A phone call made me feel happy. It gave me the push I was in need for. It was a call from the first man worked in documenting the oral history in Palestine, Dr. Sharif Kananeh who called to say: “I am very proud of you and your efforts”. I did not expect that one day, I would receive such recognition from that man. He called while I was putting the finishing touches on the Arabic version of first edition of this oral history book. his words were like fresh water for a thirsty man.