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.
My major intention is to convey the perspectives expressed by the people I interview, allowing for translation problems and misinformation on the parts of all people involved. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms to those I meet.
(With major assistance from Adnan Torokman, my colleague in Jenin, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)
Trees grow in all directions
So do Palestinians
and unlike butterflies
heavy with love
for their borders and their
no people can go forever behind
or under the rain.
It is now one year and eight months since my interview and photographic session with the Jenin folks occurred, then July 4, 2019, now late March 2021. Conditions have changed dramatically. The Covid-19 pandemic still rages in the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel leads in vaccination rates. Israeli citizens—not West Bank-ers or Gazans—have voted in the fourth election in two years, perhaps re-electing Netanyahu for a record-setting sixth term as Prime Minister, despite his being under indictment for corruption. Currently and expected after the election, Israel will have its right-most Knesset (parliament) in history. This contradicts the canard that a government should always be distinguished from its people—right-wing government for a largely right-wing Jewish Israeli population.
Such is the context for my writing about Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia (Abu Adnan), his son Adnan Torokman, and Ibrahim’s friend, Yahia Moneeb Al-Sadi.
A key contextual element is that the Freedom Theater in Jenin, world renowned, has, because of the pandemic mostly, shrunk its staff to just three people. Ibrahim rents space to the theater. Now that space and its consequent rent have diminished. My friend Mowia, who’s worked with me on this Nakba project, and Adnan, colleague and friend for this episode of the Nakba blog series, lost their jobs and are now working elsewhere. Adnan travels to Israel every workday to his construction job in Afula, a distance of 22 km (15 miles), requiring about 15 minutes, thru the Jalamah checkpoint. Compared to many Palestinians, he is lucky: Palestinian workers in Bethlehem begin their travels to jobs in Israel around 4 am; travel time may be several hours, both ways.
Our session begins around 11 pm, late for me (my bedtime is usually 10 pm), ends sometime after midnight. Near us, families laugh, chat, shout, and kids play; the three interviewees talk over each other, in Arabic except when Adnan translates for me. Later, listening to the audio to write this interview taxes my concentration.
Before the Nakba in 1948, life may have been quieter in the two villages where Yahia and Ibrahim were born and lived their first few years—Al Mazar for Yahia and Al Mansi for Ibrahim. The villages were about 18 km north of Jenin, and relatively close together (ironically near Adnan’s work site). Yahia was 4 years old when Zionist militia expelled him and his village; Ibrahim was much younger. At the time of the interview nearly two years ago, Yahia was 81, one year older than I am now, and Ibrahim, Adnan says, was 70. Which implies that Ibrahim had just been born when the Nakba thunderously struck—a lightning storm no one predicted but some may have anticipated, given the Balfour Declaration and the British and world-wide tilt toward Jews searching for their homeland.
Their families are Bedouin and lived in tents, farmers cultivating olives and wheat and raising animals, mostly cows and sheep. There were no schools; both learned reading using the Quran and other subjects from a sheik (educated person). Families had no money so they paid the sheik in food, like eggs. Yahia, the older, can recall roads, shops, buildings, and families.
Both repeat several times, “our problems all began with Balfour.” (UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in a letter to Lord Rothschild declared in 1917 the right to a “national home for the Jewish people”, with the little-honored caveat, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The declaration never named the Arabs, only specified them as not Jewish, and did not reference their political rights). They told me, “now, no one listens to our stories.”
Before the Nakba, the villagers had good relations with their Jewish neighbors, a memory most of the people I’ve met have told me. Many of the Jews came from Yemen, displaced before the Nakba. Arabs were generous to Jews. I’m not clear whether the villagers knew about the holocaust.
These relationships all turned violent when the Nakba began. Jewish villagers attacked their Arab neighbors, another story I regularly heard. Fleeing, most villagers thought their exodus would be temporary; the UN promised a quick return. Yahia tells me, “As if they took all my clothes and left me naked.”
Here the stories of the two friends diverge. After two phases, several different places of refuge along the way, Yahia’s family finally arrived in Jenin in 1952 and found refuge in the storage shed of the old railroad station built by the Ottomans a few years before World War 1, “The Great War.” Multiple families divided up the shed into small one-room living spaces, each family in one room. Eventually, for more space, they made tents by sewing burlap sacks together. A few decades later, the Freedom Theater acquired the building and converted it into performance and rehearsal spaces.
In contrast, Ibrahim, an infant, with his family fled to the Jordan Valley because agricultural land was then plentiful. Some families continued their flight, settling finally in Jordan across the river a short distance. Here in a place called Al-Jiftlik, Adnan was born. Families built homes. During the fighting between the armies of Jordan and Israel, many sheep were killed in crossfire.
“How did both families travel?” I asked. “By foot, horses, and donkeys. We carried what we could rescue from our villages. We slept under trees. We brought as many animals as possible.”
The UN Refugee and Works Administration (UNRWA), established specifically for Palestine refugees—and existing and serving to this day, despite the Trump administration cutting all U.S. funds (to be restored apparently by the Biden administration)—now certain that return was impossible, established the Jenin refugee camp in 1953. Until the Six-Day War of 1967, Jordan ruled this area, the West Bank. During that war, Israel expelled the family from the Jordan Valley, a period known as the Naksa, meaning setback or defeat in Arabic. This was the second wave of expulsions, the ongoing Nakba. By now, the family had sold all its animals.
Ibrahim’s family was expelled or lost their homes 3 times: Nakba in 1948, Naksa after the 1967 war, and then, because of one of his activist or fighter sons, once more in 2002, when Israel demolished his home as punishment.
The Talmud teaches: who can protest and does not is an accomplice in the act. (Sabbath, 54b)
- Balfour Declaration
- Freedom Theater Facebook page
- Building artists and leaders in Palestine: The Freedom Theater 10 years on, by Cynthia P. Schneider (2016)
(As of writing this blog, the main site of the Freedom Theater is not functioning)
- Al Mazar (Palestine Remembered)
- Al-Jiftlik (Zochrot)
- Al-Jiftlik Village Profile (The Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2012)
- Israelis cut water supply to a trickle (in Jiftlik) by Omar Karmi (2009)
- iNakba App
A trilingual mobile app (Arabic, Hebrew and English) based on GPS Navigation technology. This app allows users to locate and learn about Palestinian localities destroyed during, and as a result of, the Nakba since 1948.
- The lost potential of Jenin, by Ahmad Al-Bazz and Sarah Abu Alrob (The Electronic Intifada, October 2020)
With excellent photographs
- The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, by Benny Morris, Cambridge University Press, first published in 1988, revisited in 2004 (entire text online)
- Palestinians Uncover History of the Nakba, Even as Israel Cuts Them Off From Their Sources
- 1948: Creation and Catastrophe – The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a video by Andy Trimlett (2018)
provides another take on the Nakba, helps me tremendously with my project. This iteration features interviews with perpetrators as well as victims, including from the Deir Yassin massacre.
- Bridging Time, Distance and Distrust, With Music, by Aida Alami (New York Times, March 26, 2021)
About the music of Neta Elkayam, a Sephardic Israeli whose family emigrated from Morocco. She returns to her ancestral Moroccan home: “It was like drugs,” Ms. Elkayam said. “We (with her husband) both felt like we were walking on air. This is how our place needs to feel. I felt home. I felt filled with happiness. I felt like a complete stranger at the same time. A lot of people on the streets looked like me or like people I knew from my childhood.”
PART TWO IS COMING