Back to overview

Even The Branches Of A Tree Were Separated

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Nadine ‘Ali

When I was a child, my dear grandmother used to live with us, and like many other grandparents, she told us many tales and stories. Some of them were traditional Palestinian ones, others were fairy tales and many came from her own imagination. But the most interesting were those which described her own childhood and life. In the summer she used to spend most of her time on the balcony, while in wintertime she used to have her own armchair in the middle of the living room near the fireplace. All of us grandchildren used to spend the evenings sitting around her to listen to her lovely warm voice telling us interesting stories.

Of course we liked some stories more than others and that’s why we used to ask her to retell them. If you want the truth, some of the stories we heard more than fifty times! Hearing these stories so many times allowed us to know them by heart and we used to interrupt her when she changed a word or skipped some details in case she got bored. She always reacted with a lovely smile, and then continued the story.

In 1998 my dear grandmother, born in 1936, died. You can imagine how sad we felt. Since then, there have been no more stories. But still I remember every single word she used to say, and I can hear her voice telling the stories but with a little difference – she’s not there sitting on her armchair and there aren’t new stories. I’m afraid that when I get older I’ll forget some of the stories she used to tell. That’s why I think it is a great idea to write them down because I believe they are a precious heritage which we should take great care of.

During the Al Aqsa Intifada we spend horrible nights together, with bombing, shelling and shooting. Most of the night the electricity is cut off, so I have no other choice but to sit in bed remembering what my grandmother used to tell us about the wars that took place during her childhood. As children we couldn’t feel how terrible the wars were because we didn’t live similar experiences. However, during these hard times I feel that one day I’ll have to take over my grandmother’s place to tell my grandchildren what is taking place now. If we have the chance to stay alive, that is!

Well, are you interested in hearing some of the stories she used to tell?

“In 1948 I was a twelve-year-old girl. I used to live peacefully with my parents, two sisters, four brothers and my blind grandfather in Beit Safafa, a small Palestinian village between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Our life was great. You can say it was simple without all these new inventions which exist nowadays. Because Beit Safafa is a very small village, everybody knew everybody else and lived as one family. I didn’t go to school but my younger sister did.”

“I used to do the housework in the morning and then go with my older sister to a spring near our village in order to bring some water. In the evenings my younger sister used to read me some romance and I can’t forget the moment that she stopped the reading when she arrived at the most interesting part in order to ask me to do her something in return. Of course I had to obey so as to have the chance to know what would happen. Around the house the rest of the family used to spend the evenings chatting.”

“That was how our life used to be before the 1948 war. But everything changed when the war took place. I still remember when my mother made us go to sleep with our shoes on and all of our best clothes as to be able to run away quickly at night in case the Israelis attacked us.”

When my grandmother reached that point all of us used to laugh while imagining how she looked in those clothes. Now I believe that the situation wasn’t funny at all and they weren’t happy at that time. Then my grandmother used to continue but this time with a shaky voice and with tears in the eyes because it was the time when she reached the first horrible event in her life:

“One night in 1948 I woke up by the loud voice of my father arguing with my blind grandfather trying to convince him to leave the village while my grandfather refused. At that moment my mother was packing our clothes and some food; then we had to wake up, hold our mattresses and follow my father who was carrying my grandfather on his shoulders because he refused to leave the village. My father thought it was necessary for our safety. We walked till we reached a small house at the far end of the city of Bethlehem. My father said that it was the house he had rented for us to live in temporarily. We entered without any single word although we were inquiring: Why did we leave our large house with the lovely garden around it? Why did we have to stay in that small, poor house? Why was my father so anxious? Would we stay in Bethlehem forever? Or would we return to our dear village?”

“The following morning, while we were having breakfast quietly, we wanted so badly to know why our life had changed. But at that time children hadn’t the courage to argue with their fathers. Suddenly the silence was broken by a question asked by my young brother: ‘Daddy why are we here?’ My father took a deep breath as if he moaned and said: ‘I know that all of you are wondering why we are here. We are here to stay safe far away from the malignity of the Israelis’ attacks. They had attacked Deir Yassin, Ein Karem and many other Palestinian towns, villages and cities where they committed terrible massacres against Palestinian children, youth, men and women. They are on their way to Beit Safafa; that’s why most of the inhabitants left the village. But hopefully, my dear children, with the help of God we will be able to return to our house and village with all the other families as soon as possible’.”

“Those words somehow calmed us down although we as children didn’t know well who the Israelis were and why they came to our land and attacked our people. We wondered if they were human beings or goblins; we were always trying to imagine the way they looked and dressed. We drew many pictures of them in our minds. And as children we wanted so badly to meet an Israeli in order to know how they really looked. (How simple we were!)”

“We stayed in Bethlehem for about six months. One night before going to bed, my father came home late but pleased: ‘Tomorrow we are going back to Beit Safafa’. My mother looked doubtful and said: ‘Are you sure there won’t be any danger if we go back? Did the Israelis leave Palestine?’ My father laughed in an hysterical way and then said: ‘Leave Palestine! What are you talking about? Do you think that they will leave so easily? We have to give up many of our valuable things in order to gain our dear land’. My mother interrupted him and said, ‘Many of our valuable things! What valuable things are you talking about? You know very well that the occupation under which Palestine had lived under for hundreds of years didn’t leave any wealth for the Palestinians!’ My father then said, ‘At least we still have our souls and bodies.’ These few words meant a lot for all of us although we were children. We realized that our father meant that we might have to give our lives in order to get back our land. With many questions in our mind we went to bed so as to wake up early as to leave for Beit Safafa.”

“We arrived in Beit Safafa before noon, and when we reached our home we felt both happy and sad. Happy because we returned home, and sad because half of our house was damaged, we had to manage with the small part of the house which wasn’t damaged till we would finish repairing the other side. The real strange thing that happened in Beit Safafa was that the Israelis occupied one part of it while the other part, where we used to live, stayed under Jordanian control. They divided the village by a fence that kept us away from our relatives who lived at the other side. We weren’t able to visit each other, but we used to meet behind the fence. You can imagine the many people behind the fence shouting in order to be heard, which was even worse when there was a funeral; people used to gather behind the fence and walk together as one group. The real problem was when somebody from the Israeli side wanted to marry one from the Jordanian side. They used to solve that problem by helping the bride run away to her groom’s side at night so as not to be noticed by the Israelis.”

“It wasn’t just the people who were separated, even the branches of a tree were separated. A fig tree happened to be both on the Israeli side and the Jordanian side. The inhabitants of both sides shared the fig tree… We stayed in that situation for many years and you can say that we got used to it.”

“That was how I spent my childhood, my dear grandchildren. By the age of eighteen I married your grandfather and left Beit Safafa and lived in Bethlehem where he came from.”

Because my grandfather was dead, my grandmother used to shed some tears when she reached that point and then all of us felt sad. To change the atmosphere we used to ask her: “How did you meet grandpa although he wasn’t from your village? And how did you marry?” Then she used to continue her story: “Your grandfather had a friend in Beit Safafa who was a shopkeeper, and because it was a village, it was the only shop there. While your grandfather was on a visit to his friend, I went to the shop to buy some food. At that moment your grandfather noticed me, and then visited the shop every single day in order to see if I was going there regularly. When I didn’t, he was sure that I was a polite, well-raised girl. At that time polite girls didn’t go out very often. Moreover, when a man wanted to marry a girl at that time, he used to follow her and whistle, and if she turned to see who was behind her, he didn’t marry her.”

“Your grandfather asked my father to marry me. My father agreed after asking about him because he was concerned whether your grandfather was known to be a gentle and generous man. The day of the marriage came, and I was prepared. All my sisters and friends were crying. My mother was also crying because at that time they thought that someone from Bethlehem or any other Palestinian city or village was a stranger. And instead of singing joyful songs they sang sad songs, about living far away, leaving your village and missing your people. And brides at that time used to cry and cry.”

“I left with my groom to Bethlehem where we lived. And as you know I had my six children, three boys and three girls. We lived a really quiet life till 1967 when we had to face a new war. The Israelis wanted to occupy all of Palestine. They attacked the Palestinian lands which were under Jordanian control. After they won the 1967 war, they also occupied parts of Syria and Egypt.”

“When the Israelis were on their way to Bethlehem, I was making wara’ dawali [grape leaves]. Your grandfather came home very upset. He told me that we had to leave our home to a safer place far away from the Israelis. At that moment the sight of my father telling my mother in 1948 that we should leave crossed my mind, and I said to myself: ‘No! Not again! We can’t bear more wars and flights’. But after a while I realized that for the safety of my children I had no choice but to leave. We packed our things and left to a small house at the end of Bethlehem. We heard bombing at night, and in the morning Israelis were walking in the streets of Bethlehem. When we were sure that our home was safe, we returned. What shocked us especially was that the only part of the house which was damaged was the place where I sat cooking. I was about to die, my dear!”

That’s true, my dear grandmother, you were about to die then, but God wanted you to live longer but at the end you died leaving all of these precious stories behind you. But I promise you to keep these stories alive and to tell them to as many people as I can, so they will form evidence of the crimes caused by the Israelis towards us Palestinians. Now, after experiencing all that happened during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, I understand much better what happened to you at the time.

From: Your Stories Are My Stories: A Palestinian oral history project. Saint Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem, Wi’am – Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows. Culture and Palestine series AEI-Open Windows 2001. For more information: nancy@alami.net or aei@p-ol.com

There are no comments. Add one!