DISPOSSESSED ALL OVER AGAIN
By Rihab Charida
29th October 2004
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank
the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially
after being detained twice and threatened with deportation.
It has been shocking to witness what Israeli colonialism has
done to the land of the West Bank yet inspiring to see what
it has not been able to do to the people. The land: divided,
exploited, exhausted, tortured. The people: imprisoned and controlled
yet united, defiant and beyond control.
What has to a large degree been more shocking
and difficult to witness is the occupation of Palestine '48.
The Arab character of Palestine '48 has been completely erased,
replaced. The streets, buildings, people and lifestyle are mostly
European. In some areas there was not one trace of a Palestinian
people or history, very similar to Sydney and the sacred Aboriginal
land that lies just beneath the concrete paths and buildings
there. Everywhere I looked there were basketball courts, soccer
fields, McDonalds, Burger King, skyscrapers - everything but
And then we reached Yaffa. Beautiful ancient Yaffa
on the coast of Palestine. The old Palestinian homes there are
used as Israeli cafes, restaurants or nightclubs. The fliers
advertising these places don't even hide the fact that these
homes are occupied "an old Arab (never Palestinian) home has
been converted into one of Jaffa's finest restaurants." I stood
on the beach and thought about all of my friends from Yaffa
who mostly live in refugee camps and I prayed for their return.
I cried and screamed inside that they couldn't be here watching
the sun set behind the sea on this first day of Ramadan. Israelis
swim and shop while Palestinians are trapped behind concrete
camp walls. I felt like exploding.
From Yaffa we drove up to Acre where we spent
one night. Acre has a large Palestinian population however it
is still scarred by European-Jewish colonialism. The area is
beautiful yet it is dressed up with the bright colours and neon
lights of commercialism. When Jewish Israel was created most
of Palestine '48 was razed to the ground except for the large,
strong and attractive buildings. The newly arrived colonialists
were quick to use them for profit or leisure. For me to stand
there and watch how they have been exploited was to feel dispossessed
all over again.
In the morning we made our way up towards the
north of Palestine to visit my village and the nearby town of
Safad, the town of a sister living in Australia who too has
been dispossessed. The drive up was the most breathtaking experience
I have ever had. The untouched nature was beyond anything I
had imagined. I didn't realise that I came from such a beautiful
part of the world. It somehow hurt more because it was so beautiful.
In Safad I stood on a hilltop and thought about Salwa. I thought
about her family and filled a bottle with soil for a Palestinian
father buried far from home.
From Safad we began making our way to Safsaf.
It was in the refugee camps in Lebanon, before even coming to
Palestine, that I realised that I had already seen the most
important part of my village - its people. Most of the people
from Safsaf live in Ain El Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon where
the camps are divided up into areas which get their name from
the people who live there. When I walked through the alleys
of Safsaf in Ain El Helweh I knew that a very big part of me
and my history lives within those walls. My cousins and other
people from Safsaf asked me to bring them some soil from the
grounds of our village and to film it so that we can watch it
together during a Safsaf gathering when I return to Lebanon.
I felt angry and somehow guilty that I was able
to visit Safsaf and they were not. I remembered photos that
my relatives showed me of themselves at the Lebanon/Palestine
border standing there with Palestine behind them - the closest
they can get. Safsaf can actually be seen from the Lebanese
During the drive up I began to recall stories
that my father had told me about the day they fled Safsaf. In
October 1948 the men of the village fought to protect the lands
and people of Safsaf. My father, who was nine at the time, remembered
the day when his father returned home after weeks of fighting.
His gun had melted and he no longer had the means to fight.
The men of the village were insufficiently armed and outnumbered
so they decided to gather their families and seek refuge in
Lebanon until the situation calmed and they could return after
what they believed would only be a few months.
On the 29th October 1948, Safsaf fell. On that
day almost half of the 250 villagers were massacred, ten of
whom were from my family. Many of the young men were lined up
against the wall and shot down in front of their mothers. Those
that were able to get away fled to Lebanon and have been dispossessed
ever since, living in a refugee camp that is only three hours
drive away. Safsaf is one of over 500 localities that were ethnically
cleansed and destroyed in 1948-49, each with a history and a
story that has been buried for over half a century.
The only reference point that we had to find Safsaf
was an Israeli area called Sifsufa (its not just the lands that
were stolen, but even the names), which was built by the Jewish
Agency in 1949 beside the lands of Safsaf. The only way to find
Sifsufa was by using an Israeli map which had all the names
of the Jewish areas that had replaced Palestinian ones.
When we arrived in Safsaf I felt a rush through
my body. The village is surrounded by beautiful green hills
with tall Safsaf trees - the trees that give the village its
name. Only three buildings still stand there, half demolished
from the attack in 1948 which destroyed everything else in the
village. Humbled by the beauty, history and sacrifice of the
place I got down on my knees and cried into the earth and into
the stones of the buildings.
One of the buildings was being used as a change
room and bath for a sports team. Dirty clothes were thrown on
the grounds of one room and a dirty bath in another. Each of
the buildings had been spray-painted with Hebrew words that
I cared not to understand. While standing there a few Israelis
walked over to the area and began walking through the unused
building. "What are you doing here?" I asked.
"What are you doing here?" they asked me.
"What am I doing here? I come from here. This
is my village".
What they were doing there was turning one of
the buildings into a restaurant.
"But these are Palestinian homes!"
"No definitely. My father was born here, my grandfather
and great-grandfather, all born here. These are our homes".
"Maybe," and with that he walked away to examine
I felt so frustrated and powerless at the same
time. They walked around the building right before my very eyes
in total disregard for what I had just told them. I shouldn't
have been shocked, they have been doing this since 1948 - taking
what's not theirs with full knowledge of who it belongs to.
I wanted to speak to my father and let him know
where I was. I called him and heard his loud voice turn soft.
When I heard that he was holding back tears I began to cry.
He told me "Baba why are you crying? Haven't I always told you
that we will be back one day? That it's not over?"
"Of course you did Baba. Of course you did."
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