The idea of “the return” did not perish in the Zarqa camp for refugees who lived through the horrors of the Palestinian Nakba (“Catastrophe”) in 1948. With the exception of a small few, the majority of what they loved was destroyed. It is in waiting for the return, not in what what was written at the time, that the idea comes alive.
Although those who have gone are gone forever, their memories of the scenes of “Zionist” massacres, and the subsequent displacement of three-quarters of a million Palestinians from their homeland, are still passed down from the generations who live inside the camp which was established in the year 1949. They are told as if they occurred yesterday.
The remainder of the first generation of the Nakba is still committed to telling their stories and to broadcasting the cries of the homeland along with the wish to return to it.
Hajia Umm Salah, from the village of al-Bureij, west of Jerusalem, which was occupied by Zionist gangs on October 19, 1948, was one of that generation. She was among eight thousand refugees who came to the camp the day after its creation. Zarqa, which today has a population of approximately 18 thousand, is one of the oldest of the 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.
Despite the progression of her age, Umm Salah’s memory is still ardent and has not betrayed her. From its quiver, she lists the horrors of the day on which she fled from her village, saying, “The Jews confronted us, unleashed fire upon us, and for he who was located between their hands, his fate was slaughter. After that we roamed from country to country, until we arrived at Zarqa.”
She continues, “We were like a flock scattered through it. There were those who left their wives, and those who left their husbands, and I did not meet my husband until after five or six days. He was with me then with my two small daughters, and while we were fleeing bullets poured down upon us.”
Umm Salah sighs and it appears that the woes alter her, conjuring up those events, and then she says, “I call upon the Lord that I return to my country, and that I see her again, and that all the absent return to their homes.”
Then she nods to her grandchildren and says, “Even if I do not have a share in the return, then it will be returned to the young.”
So as not to forget.
Haji Abdullah Aziz Hamdan, also from al-Bureij, tells other details of what happened on the day that the Zionist gangs infiltrated the village, and he says, “The Jews occupied and released artillery shells upon us, between four and six of them fell,” in the village.
Hamdan adds, pointing his finger in a spiraling manner to illustrate the fall of the shells, “The shelling affected all parts with the exception of a particular region and that was where we saw a way to escape. We did not at that time possess weapons, and one of us was mutilated with an old English gun, which was discharging all sorts of ammunition with the firing of it. This is what made people homeless. At the time I was 15 or 16 years old.”
Zakaria was a village northwest of Hebron and Hebron was the first place the people of the village of Zakaria fled to, but the Zionist gangs soon attacked it as well. Then the people took the road to the town of Surif and from there to neighboring Beit Ummar, and after that to Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, and down to Jericho where they stayed in a refugee camp there.
Hamdan says that, a year after resting in Jericho, “It divided us in our diaspora into two parts: the part that went to al-Arroub (a Palestinian refugee camp north of Hebron) and the part that left for other places, among them Jordan. I came with my uncle’s family to Zarqa, while in turn my parents and my brothers went to the Jalazone refugee camp (north of Ramallah), and I lived with my uncle for a long time.”
He describes Zarqa, “It was at that time consisting of tents, and two families were staying in a large tent, and smaller families were established in smaller tents. Days passed during which the winds would rock the tents and we would find small pillars and attach cords onto them so that the tents would not fly away, and then after that people began to build. We built this house. First it was made of mud and reeds. Then we demolished it, redefined it and built it with cement.”
Hamdan stressed the importance of transferring the narrative of the suffering of the refugees from generation to generation, “This is the Palestine that should be planted in the minds of the children so as not to forget.” He says, “Someday the country will return--our country, our homeland.”
I am longing.
Hajia Fatima Mohammed Shaheen, from the city of of Ramleh, northwest of Jerusalem, was one month old when the Nakba fell upon her people, and she tells the fable which she heard from her parents, and which was passed onto her along with her two younger siblings in the cradle to get them to transport easily on their journey seeking asylum. In the fable, one of her brothers felt thirsty and her father did not find even a glass lamp to scoop him a drink of water.
Of the painful stories that came to her from the Nakba, both from its legend and from her parents, is the story of her grandmother who lagged behind the convoy of immigrants to reassure the cows in the town. It was later learned that a shell had hit the barn while she was inside of it, leading to her martyrdom and the death of the cows.
Shaheen, who grew up and was married in the camp of the return, and now has seven daughters and four sons in it, stresses that, “Palestine is our country, and though I am forced from her, I am proud of her. It is planted in my children to love and hold onto her.”
Afflicted by nostalgia, she says, “I am longing because I see our house in Ramleh, that was built by my father a month before the Nakba, and all that the Jews simply came and took away.”
The Palestinians have chosen on the 15 of May each year to commemorate the Nakba, the day which followed the announcing of the state of Israel, as a signal and a reminder to the world that this state grew up on account of the tragedy and suffering of an entire people.
*The Arabic of this article appeared on May 14, 2015
Translated by Julia Norris
*Translator’s note: The Arabic word اليهود literally translates to “the Jews,” and appears here in direct quotations. It should be noted, however, that the word is used interchangeably with “Israeli” or “the Jewish people,” and is not meant to connect the actions of the people it describes with the Jewish faith itself.