The Ongoing Nakba: The Lost Paradise-Maryam Abdallah Abu Lateefa from the village of Saris

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 from Ramallah)

For Zionism, the Palestinians have now become the equivalent of a past experience reincarnated in the form of a present threat. The result is that the Palestinians’ future as a people is mortgaged to that fear, which is a disaster for them and for Jews.

—Edward Said, The Question of Palestine


In the midst of her extended family, including her two great-granddaughters sitting beside her, one gradually falling asleep, we interviewed Maryam in her home in the Kalandia refugee camp near Ramaallah.

June 24, 2019, Monday, Palestine-Israel, Ramallah

The older great-granddaughter frequently peered at me, suspicious perhaps. I noticed Maryam was at times abrupt with the girls, apparently pushing them, maybe away from her. Part of her story was about hitting a settler who’d tried to interfere with her and some women from the village who’d returned to harvest olives in the early 1980s. The man returned later and retaliated. This trait of hers, apparently well known in the Kalandia refugee camp, seemed evident in how she treated the girls. Abrupt, bold, at times perhaps even mean.

She said she would forgive the Israelis but only if granted her right of return. This impressed Fareed and he said he might write about her on his Facebook page. (He later profiled her; please read about it below.) That he adds material from our work to his Facebook page demonstrates his involvement with the theme and project.


Recently (October 14, 2020), I listened to part of the audio recording we made and learned her marriage story. A friend of hers had a brother, but Maryam oddly had never met him. Her friend told her brother about a young woman eligible for marriage, Maryam. They met, one month later they married. She also told us that the villagers had no relationship with their Jewish neighbors, who also were farmers on their own land; she saw them as human beings with a different religion; they had no problems with them, a frequent refrain from the old people we met. She added that the British empowered the Jews.

Our interview took place in the context of her entire family and several neighbors, all engaged in conversation, adding, disagreeing, filling out the story—even tho most or all of her family had not lived in the village of Saris.

Family and neighbors, including Mohammad Saleh Hussein Hammad Abu-Habsa, also from Saris village (middle with light blue shirt and mustache)

From Fareed Taamallah’s Facebook page, June 28, 2019:

Maryam Abulatefa was married and has a son named Yassin. She was living and farming in the village of ” صرعة Sara”, west of Jerusalem. Their land was fertile and located in a shallow land near the mountain, with orchards, vineyards, almonds, grapes and olives. There was a water spring called Ein al-Mardum located south of the village, as well as a water well called Bir al-Qantara to the north.

In 1948, the year of the Nakba, Maryam and her family were planting wheat, lentils and corn. They began harvesting the wheat and lentils, but could not harvest the corn because Zionist gangs attacked them during the harvest and bombarded the village using planes and tanks. The peaceful peasants fled to the mountain near the village at night. Maryam and her husband decided to escape with the people. She closed the door with the key and went. Then she remembered that she had forgotten her baby Yassin (six months old) at home. She went back and carried him and ran toward the mountain in the darkness of the night.

Maryam, her husband Mahmoud and her son Yassin stayed for two weeks with the villagers under the trees in the mountain overlooking the village, hoping to return, but the Zionist gangs came with bulldozers and destroyed the village under their eyes without the villagers being able to prevent that. People lost hope of returning, and walked on foot to the southeast, to the village of Beit Netif, but Zionist gangs followed and attacked them, destroyed Beit Netif and expelled them again, to the village of Beit Ula near Hebron.

They then fled to Jericho, and finally to Kalandia Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem, where they live today after 71 years of the Nakba.

Maryam is still confident that she herself or her grandchildren will return back home. Maryam says: “I am ready to forgive and reconcile, provided that I return to my village, even if they put me in a tent. What is important for me is to live the rest of my life and to buried in صرعة Sara .. The Lost Paradise”.

With Fareed Taamallah

Read Fareed’s post about Maryam with many comments in Arabic translated into English.

Here’s just one comment, from Monther Mohana:

This lady. in front of. all world am ready to kiss hair head and foot. those. Palestinian ladies the basic and. defence of our land. thank you my dear friend

عبد الرحمن السبععائدون لا محالحة ولكن لا امل على هذه الايادي والحكام اليوم سياتي الله في الفرج من حيث لا نعلم ولا يعلمون


Kalandia Refugee Camp (Grassroots Jerusalem)

Horrors Of Occupation: Qalandia Refugee Camp In The West Bank by Shubhda Chaudhary (2016)

Jewish Soldiers and Civilians Looted Arab Neighbors’ Property en Masse in ’48. The Authorities Turned a Blind Eye, by Ofer Aderet (March 10, 2020, Haaretz) and attached

Searching for Saris (video) by Jinan Coulter, 2013)

My current, upcoming, and previous exhibits and shows

About Skip Schiel

Contact information




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