The Ongoing Nakba: Shaker Issa Odeh (Abu Maher)—watching the sun rise and set in his old village of Al-Malha (now part of Jerusalem)

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

We have returned, Young and Powerful
We have returned, We the Mighty
To conquer our Homeland, In a storm of War,
To redeem our land, with a lofty hand,
With blood and fire, Judea fell
With blood and fire, Judea shall rise

—A song sung by a radical political party in Israel, The Zealots, in the 1930s, and published by Uri Avnery, in his magazine, Ha Olam Hazeh, February 5, 1975

PHOTOS

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Shaker Issa Odeh was born in 1933 in Al-Malha, a village to the west of Jerusalem. It is bordered by Beit Safafa, al-Katamon, Ein Karem, alJoura, Lifta, Diryasin, and Beit Jala. Most of the villagers were farmers who planted vegetables and fruits. Some of them were laborers working in quarries and stone carving manufacture. The village contained five main clans and was headed by sheik Abdul Fattah Darwish. Al-Malha (means salty) was named after the water spring in the village that contains salty water. The people of the village were all Arabs and no Jews lived there before 1948. Near Almalha, Jews established the settlement of Sharafat, and headed by a man named Sofer. People heard about the massacre of Deir Yassin and were afraid of murder and rape. Some villagers wanted to defend their home and participated in battles that took place in the vicinity, such as in Qastal and Qatmoun.

It was the fasting month of Ramadan (July) when the Jews attacked Al-Malha. People of the village decided to fight, and there were some rebels “Mujahideen” in the village with a few old Egyptian rifles. Each one had only 5 bullets, most of them unusable. Bullets were extremely expensive, half a Palestinian pound for 5 bullets. With their modest rifles, villagers tried to defend the village but could not withstand the Jewish militia. On that day in the month of Ramadan, when the attack was heavy on the village from the western side, men of the village asked women and children to leave temporarily to nearby Beit Jala for protection. At night, the Jewish gangs violently attacked the village and expelled the rest of the inhabitants who had remained. At least three people from the village were martyred. That night, the village was occupied, and men were forced to follow their families who had gone to nearby Beit Jala the previous morning.

Shaker said: “on that day, my father asked my sisters and my mother to move temporarily to Beit Jala. I followed them later in the afternoon walking alone to Beit Jala. We rented a room temporarily. During that night, my father came to Beit Jala, after Zionists occupied had Al-Malha. Then we moved from Beit Jala to Bethlehem where the Egyptian army accommodated refugees in a building named Binny which had been previously a prison for women. 25 refugee families from Ein Kerem, Lifta, Diryasin and Almalha lived in the building. We lived there for 1 year, after which we moved to Ras al-Amud in Jerusalem and then moved to al-Bireh and Ramallah.

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After 1967, Abu Maher visited Al-Malha village for the first time and found it not destroyed. The houses were there, and Jews from Iraq and Tunisia lived in them. He found that the village mosque had been turned into a bar. Although Shaker holds a Jerusalem ID card and lives in Jerusalem, he is not allowed to return to live in his hometown, simply because he is a Palestinian. Ironically, when he became elderly, he returned once to Almalha, stayed for several days, and watched the sunset and sunrise in his old village. Those were among his best days when he had been admitted to an Israeli hospital built on his village’s lands.

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With his son, in his son’s home in Ramallah—Fareed Taamallah on the left, my colleague, journalist, activist farmer, and FaceBooketeer who lives in Ramallah
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Fareed’s son in the darkest shirt, with his son’s friend

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

One thought on “The Ongoing Nakba: Shaker Issa Odeh (Abu Maher)—watching the sun rise and set in his old village of Al-Malha (now part of Jerusalem)

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