Memories of loss
The expressions being used here are painful: uprooting, banishment and the desecration of graves. Even the Holocaust is mentioned on more than one occasion.
Those who are carrying out the evacuation experience a trauma, and that is certainly the case for the evacuees, especially the children: The scenes, the voices and the anxiety will be the strongest memories etched in the memories of those who were dragged away from their homes.
Dr. Katalin Katz teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Paul Baerwald School of Social Work. She gives a seminar on "Memory and interpretation in the individual and the collective." Six years ago, she compiled a selection of testimony gathered by her students and published them as a booklet, "Mifgashim shel zikaron" (memory encounters).
Here are some edited passages from this testimony - without any commentary and without the drawing of any conclusions.
`I was uprooted'
University student Samah Salima visits, together with her father and grandfather, the remains of the destroyed village of Sejerah ("tree" in Arabic).
The village, not far from Tiberias, was captured in February 1948 and all its houses were destroyed. Only part of the ruins of the mosque and church have survived. Sejerah's 770 inhabitants, most of them Muslims, were either banished or fled. The cowsheds of Ilaniya (whose name is derived from the Hebrew word for "tree") were built on part of the village's lands.
Salima, her father and grandfather visit an olive grove that once belonged to her great-grandfather. Salima: "The whole region is full of fruit: figs, apricots, olive groves." Her grandfather: "Have you forgotten that you are in Sejerah? Every few meters you cannot avoid seeing a tree and you must say hello to each and every one of those trees."
Her grandfather: "I returned to the village in the summer, at harvest time, and I found nothing but ruins... I went by foot to Turan, Lubiya and Kafr Kana. I was searching for Grandma Raya and the children and finally found them at Ein Mahal. You would not believe what experiences we had to endure during that period. Raya was afraid she would never be able to return to our home. I was confident that we would and promised her that she would one day go back. Your grandmother was in a very bad state. She did not know what to do with herself and she thought that she would go out of her mind... I cannot understand who could have had the audacity to uproot me from Sejerah, but the fact is that I was uprooted."
The trio tries to find the village cemetery.
Father: "You grandmother was buried in Turan, although she wanted so much to be buried here. But that is what God willed." Grandfather: "Raya's burial was no ordinary affair. I wanted stones from here, from Sejerah, to be placed in her grave. A few days before she died, she asked that on the day of her death one of the children come here and collect stones and earth with which to cover her in the ground. She wanted to feel that she was being buried in the right place."
Honoring the dead
Suhamta is located 25 kilometers from Acre. Today, it is the site of Moshav Zuriel. Tarek, aged 78, lives in Peki'in.
"We began to build a fence around the cemetery, to weed out the grass and remove the filth left by the cattle, because they took away the stones from the graves and the pillars. They even took the tiles on which the dead are carried. We found some of the stones and tiles in Ma'alot and Kfar Vradim in the gardens of people's homes."
Butrus was in the fourth grade when his family was banished from the village of Biram.
The village, which numbered 710 residents, 700 of whom were Christians, surrendered in early 1948 and the villagers were promised that the evacuation would be only temporary.
Kibbutz Baram was built on the village's lands. Butrus: "In 1953, they destroyed the village. We stood on one of the hills in Jish and saw how they annihilated our village, our house, our land. And we just stood there. We could not do anything. We just stood there. Like statues.
"All my most beautiful memories, all the games I used to play with my friends, all the experiences, all the days of my childhood and youth, my house, my possessions, the cemeteries - they annihilated everything in a matter of a few minutes. We always go there on holidays and pray in the church, which has remained and which symbolizes the villagers' survival. I go there and I weep. I weep and I write poetry about Biram. In our hearts, there is a wound that will simply never heal."
Giris, 62, is a priest and today resides in Ramallah. He was 12 when he was banished from Lod. "On the morning of July 12, Israeli soldiers knocked on our door. My mother emerged from the house and I followed her. One of the soldiers spoke to her in English. He told her that we must leave and that we must leave the doors open. My mother told us, `In 1936, the British ordered us to evacuate and to leave the doors open. We stayed for a whole day in the school yard and then we went back to our homes. I think the same thing will happen this time, as well. They will conduct a search and then they will let us go back to our houses.'
"We decided to go to the Mar Giris church. On the way, we saw the Israeli army setting up a roadblock to prevent us from going to the church. We walked as if we were part of a flowing river. We were approximately 4,000 people. When we reached Lod's outskirts, we were not permitted to continue and we were taken to the hills.
"The people began to get frightened. Their emotional state was dreadful. The adults asked, `Why are they taking us to the hills? They want to kill us, that's certain, just as they killed the young boys in the mosque.' We reached an orchard with a large gate where three soldiers were standing. They fired shots above our heads. I saw a cart before me. A horse was pulling it and a woman was riding in it. She was holding an infant in her arms. In all the tumult, the baby fell from her arms and one of the wheels of the cart crushed his neck. I will remember that scene for as long as I live."
Darwish, 61, was 10 when he was banished from Lod. Today he lives in Ramallah. "My father owned a large pastry shop and he was well known throughout Palestine. We had two other houses in addition to the one we lived in. One evening, planes flew overhead and dropped pamphlets. King Abdullah's face had been drawn on a plate used for serving watermelon and above the drawing were the words, `Good-bye, the Father of Watermelons!' The next morning loudspeakers told us that we all had to leave and go to Barwilla, a region not far from Lod.
"We rode a donkey to Naalin. All the while I clung to my mother and my sister and I kept on asking, `Where are we going? Where will we stay?' We arrived in Ramallah and rented a room measuring 16 square meters with an adjacent kitchen. The entire family lived in that room together with my five cousins. Altogether, we were 13 people and we stayed there for 12 years."
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