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. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)
How I have yearned to hear ululations
Of women burdened by a thousand years
Of longing for song and celebration.
—Samih Sabbagh Al-Buqai’ah
Born in 1928 in the village of Saris, west of Jerusalem, Zakia described the village of Saris as similar to the mountains of Lebanon, with fresh air and cold weather. It was planted with trees cactus, grapes, figs, peaches, apricots and olives, in addition to wheat, barley, corn, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. In 1948, the Nakba year, she said “We were harvesting, threshing, storing figs and grains and we were self-sufficient.”. She was married then and had two children who died of measles.
“When we fled Saris, it was the beginning of summer, the beginning of harvest,” said Zakia.”The Jewish gangs attacked the nearby village of Emwas and then Sari’s villagers were displaced to Bet Susin, Beit Mahsir and Sara’a. The Jews killed three young men who tried to defend our village, Ahmed Hassan Ziadeh, Ahmed Sajjour and Mohammed Al-Hassan. They cut the leg of Ibrahim al-Najib. As the Jews entered Saris they killed three other old women, Watfa, Fatima al-Saleem, and Hilwa al-Mustafa.” Zakia adds that they stayed for about a month in the village of Bet Susin.
The farmers of Saris infiltrated from Bet Susin to their fields in Saris to reap their crops at night, and hide when day came. They threshed and hammered their harvest by hands indoors, since Jewish gangs would shoot them if captured harvesting. A month later, the Zionist gangs attacked Bet Susin. Zakia fled with her family to Bethlehem, to Bir Nabala and then to Qalandia.
Displaced farmers became refugees and had to work in construction in nearby villages such as Beit Hanina, Kufr Aqab and Bir Nabala. Others worked in Qalandia airport, as night guards to the airplanes, and some as tourist guides in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Zakia visited the village of Saris after 1967 and found the village demolished, but her house located to the side of the old shrine, still existed. She also found her cactus and fig trees remained, and took seedlings from her land in Saris to plant in Qalandia refugee camp while she waited to return, but has been denied returning to her home.
Zakia’s only wish is to die peacefully, buried with dignity in Saris. “The memory of my hometown remains vivid,” she said.
(Note: Zakia had lost most of her hearing; she did not use hearing aids, so we had to shout into her ear. Her son and granddaughter helped with our interview, along with her neighbor from the same village who had been born during the Nakba, Mohammad Saleh Hussein Hammad Abu-Habsa.)
Searching for Saris (video) by Jinan Coulter, 2013)
Bi-Weekly Brief for November 16, 2020 from the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine
(Special treat) In pictures: Olive-picking season in Gaza by Fatima Shbair (November 25, 2019)
Harvesting takes place from the start of September through to the end of November and is an economic lifeline for many families
Book suggestion: The Way to the Spring, Life and Death in Palestine, by Ben Ehrenreich (published 2016)
a first hand, up close, personal, unabridged view of life in Palestine during occupation—it is for me a review and a revelation. Nabi Saleh, for instance, the much oppressed and ever resilient West Bank village near Ramallah. I have some limited experience there and with a few of its leaders, but Ehrenreich opens the story much more widely. (Skip Schiel)
TO BE CONTINUED