The Ongoing Nakba: Fatima Ali Msaimi (Um Wajeeh) tells her early story

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 sojourns 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)

PHOTOS

The whole idea of trying to produce two states is at an end. The Oslo peace process is really in tatters… The lives of Israelis and Palestinians are hopelessly intertwined. There is no way to separate them. You can have fantasy and denial or put people in ghettos. However, in reality there is a common history. So we have to find a way to live together. It may take 50 years. However, the Israeli experience will gradually turn back towards the world they really live in, the Islamic Arab world. In addition, that can only come through Palestinians.

—Edward Said, Christian Science Monitor, May 27, 1997

A small woman, lying in bed, her family around her as Fareed (my Palestinian colleague) and I interviewed her, Fatima told us her story. As if only days earlier, she explained how she met her husband, how the Zionist militias (How to name them? Gangs, organized bands, soldiers as precursors to the Israeli army, known by some as the IDF or Israeli Defense Forces, or the IOF, Israeli Occupation Forces) violently expelled Arab villagers from their ancestral homes, and forced them into what eventually became refugee camps. As if yesterday, emblazoned in her memory.

Stage one. In 1934, her life began in the village of Jamaseen/Jammasin along the Mediterranean Sea, near Jaffa. A flat land, planted with okra, corn, wheat and other plant food sources, they raised animals as well. The village was self-sufficient and prosperous, all the food was fresh. A Jewish cooperative agricultural community, a moshav, was nearby. Relationships were good; her mother sold tomatoes and other vegetables to the Jews. At the beginning.

Arab resident of the Beer Sheva region talks with a Jewish member of the Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev in November 1947
Photo by Hans Pinn

Stage two, her marriage. When she was 14, she visited a nearby village where her older sister lived. A young villager spotted Fatima, and, as her story runs, fell instantly in love with her. As quickly she apparently became enamored of him. He was 4 years older, 18. The next day he proposed, her father refused the marriage, the suitor threatened to join the army which apparently meant suicide. With her father and a sheik (village leader) she visited his family, and all agreed to the marriage.

Because the villages were too far apart, they couldn’t use a horse so they borrowed a car. For the wedding, Fatima’s family bought her a pink dress with white decorations. During our interview some of her family surrounding us now broke out in laughter; they’d heard this part of the story many times, how happy she is recounting her marriage.

Click map to enlarge and then use magnifier tool to further enlarge for details about Fatima’s location—from [De] Colonizer
This map also expands when clicked—from Palestine 1948, prepared by Salman Abu-Sitta, 1998

Because of the terrain (sand?) they couldn’t drive the entire way but used 3 camels. She rode the middle one. Everyone sang for her, a wedding tradition; the mukhtar (village head, mayor) invited her and her father into his house. Someone slaughtered a sheep for the celebration.

She highlighted how people served “big meat,” not the usual small meat or small pieces. She explained that such a speedy agreement to marry is unusual. But he was so beautiful she explained, with his mustache and green eyes. I asked about another photo on the wall of a young man. He’s a shaheed, she explained, a martyr.

Stage three, the expulsion. One chilly day in May 1948, she, pregnant with her first daughter, was sitting on her porch with her family, husband, mother in law, sister, father, drinking coffee. They heard loud shouts and screams, and saw people running from the other side of her village. They learned the Zionist forces had killed two women in *Wadi Kabeera, north of her village.

Terrified, burdened by the new life within her, she discussed with her husband, father in law, and others whether to flee to the nearby village of *Madawee. They decided to join. She, being pregnant, rode on a horse to the village. She and 5 others took refuge in an old abandoned house.

The next day 4 Zionist militia members arrived in the village in Jeeps. The mukhtar welcomed them and put out chairs. The Jewish men asked for coffee; the mukhtar provided it. They asked the mukhtar if anyone had weapons. He answered yes. Can you show them to us? He refused. They tried to persuade him to bring out the weapons for over 2 hours; he continued to refuse. The Jews left.

They returned that night at 2 AM and attacked. They killed the son of the mukhtar, surrounded his house, and heard someone yell, aheem, aheem! Which means go inside the house. The men then left.

The next day, village men shot at the Jewish settlement. The mukhtar asked the villagers to delay their escape until he could bury his son. The entire village attended the funeral. They then set off, she on a horse, the rest walking to the Arab town of Tulkarm, journey of about 2 hours. They slept in the mosque the first night.

Her family had no money, they were starving. Some had given them money, the mukhtar contributed. Some people went to the mountains to gather wild herbs to sell in the city. In 1950 UNRWA (UN Refugee Works Administration) provided large tents for large families and small for smaller. They also built public toilets. Since then they’ve been poor.

Fatima’s home in Tulkarm refugee camp

Advertising nearby

Fatima has delivered 14 children, all born at home with the help of a midwife—pregnant, deliver, pregnant, deliver, she told us, chuckling. Five boys, 6 girls, and 3 who died young. Eight are still alive, she has many great grand children, too many to count, she said. Her youngest daughter added to our interview, interjecting details.

She wants us to bring her to her husband’s village now, where she lived until the Nakba, immediately! I remember everything, I can guide you. Yalla, let’s go, now! I will run there. I can describe it, our house next to the school, the large pall berry (palm tree?) next to my house. She’s never returned but was able to visit a nearby village, Sidna Ali, and prayed at a holy place there. Friends have visited Jamaseen and report a few houses remain. She also heard a recent report about the village from a Palestinian woman working in Israel.

Unfortunately, Fareed cannot cross the Green Line separating Palestine and Israel to return to his home, Haifa, and even if he could and she could (which might be possible because of her age) Israel has erased Jamaseen and the villages she told us about, now mostly buried beneath the new metropolis of Tel Aviv.

At this point Fareed sings a song, Fatima joins in. it’s about Sidna Ali. She told us it’s a holy place along the Mediterranean Sea, north of Jamaseen, near Herzliya. With a small mosque.

Sidna Ali Mosque (west of Herzlia, the most affluent city in Israel)

A grandson entered our conversation and told us that nearly every month she tells the family this story. Many people have interviewed her (true for others in this series). Last week someone from New York City interviewed her. Every year a South Korean team interviews and brings her gifts. I like their eyes, she said, laughing.

* Uncertain spelling, I spelled this village name phonetically listening to the audio recording of Fatima.

Fatima with Fareed

LINKS

Al-Jammasin al-Gharbi (Zochrot)

What was the Palestinian name of the Tel Aviv area before 1948?
Answered by Adam Heller (2019)

Detail Map Of Palestine Before al-Nakba by Palestine Remembered

Palestine Land Society maps and atlases

Mapping the Destruction
Launching the first Nakba map in Hebrew – at Zochrot and on Tel Aviv streets, by Eitan Bronstein Aparicio (2013)

Animated map of Israel taking over Palestine, by Aljazeera (2014)

Nakba commemoration ceremony at Tel Aviv University, by: Eitan Bronstein, Photography by Activstills (2012)

Hidden in Plain Sight, by Ofer Ashkenazi (2019)
The Nakba and the Legacy of the Israeli Historians’ Debate

Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries (Wikipedia)

TO BE CONTINUED

One thought on “The Ongoing Nakba: Fatima Ali Msaimi (Um Wajeeh) tells her early story

  1. Thank you so much. I’m moved by both the photos and the story. This blog is a veritable encyclopedia of articles and videos that will sculpt our thinking. Your eye witness informs the heart in a way mainstream media has forfeited on the Palestinian plight.

    Liked by 1 person

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