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From Very Rich To Very Poor

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Rana Juha

The new Intifada reminds the old people about their life when the Israelis occupied their land. Last night, after the electricity was cut off during the Israeli shelling, my grandmother recalled her memories of 1948 when the Jews came into Palestine and occupied it. I showed a keen interest in hearing her story so I brought her a cup of tea and sat next to her in the dark. Her memories started to flow:

“I was born in 1935 in Gaza. My father and mother were originally from Gaza but after my birth they left Gaza and went to Bir al Sabe’e [Beer Sheva] because my father had work there. At that time Bir al Sabe’e was a small village near Gaza that consisted of 11 families and was occupied by the British. I lived there with my parents, five brothers and two sisters. We were rich. We had two pieces of lands and many precious properties. I used to go to school with my sisters and brothers. I enjoyed my time after school playing with my sisters and friends in the street. We were living a very simple, quiet and happy life until that terrible day, 15 May 1948, when the British went out of Palestine and Israel came into existence. It was a big shock for all the Palestinians. No one expected this to happen. The Israelis first occupied the middle and northern areas of Palestine, like Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Nazareth and Tiberias. There were heavy battles between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis committed massacres among the Palestinians there, similar to the massacres in Deir Yassin in which many Palestinians were killed. The Palestinians became terrified of what they heard about the new enemy. Many Palestinians who lived in the northern areas fled to the southern areas. They hid in schools, churches and convents. As a result, schools were closed so we stayed at home. My mother used to send my brothers and me to those places, especially the schools, to give people who were hiding there some food and blankets.“

“In December of that year, Israelis bombed all the Palestinian cities for 11 days, every night from seven o’clock till 11 o’clock. It was really scary. I remember crying all night until my father took us toward a school one night. There I felt a little safer since many people were staying with us. We went to the school every night and returned home in the morning. The Egyptian army that controlled the southern part of Palestine asked the people not to go out of their houses so we stayed in our house for several days.”

“One day when my father went out to buy us some food, he found that there was no one in the village. Everybody had run away and had left their homes. When he came back and told my mother about that, she became very anxious and afraid and pressed him to run away like the others, but he refused. He kept repeating the same answer, “I won’t go out of my house.” But after many arguments he finally agreed. My mother convinced him to go and stay with the Bedouins who were living in a safe place, the desert near Bir al Sabe’e. The next morning my mother boiled 15 eggs for our breakfast, took some of her jewelry and we ran away. We left everything in our house in the hope of coming back after some days. We left Bir al Sabe’e and exactly at 11 o’clock in the morning, Israelis surrounded Bir al Sabe’e with tanks and planes and occupied it.”

“We didn’t know that our village was occupied because there was a mountain that separated us from our village. At four o’clock in the morning, when the shelling had stopped, some men together with my father and brothers went up to the mountain to have a look at our village. Suddenly they started screaming and shouting. They noticed that the Israelis had occupied our village. We would never be able to return to our homes. Men and women were screaming and crying like babies. I can’t forget that scene. And what made it worse was that my father and brothers were lost. We kept looking for them all night. We were scared, and we kept crying until we found them the next day.”

Here my grandmother’s tears ran down her cheeks: “I can’t and will not forget that night, ever. It was the worst day in my life.” She continued: “The next day when the sun rose, we were very hungry but there was no food. My father went to ask the farmers who had flour on their donkeys to give us some but they refused. They said that they didn’t have enough for themselves. At the end the only choice we had was to eat some barley together with its husks. It was really awful. In the afternoon the Bedouins made bread for everybody. We went to take some but we had to line up for hours so as to get one loaf of dirty bread with a terrible taste. We were hungry so we ate it without saying a word. Ten of us shared the same loaf.”

“A few days later we decided to leave that area. It became dangerous as the Israelis were very close. We decided to go to Hebron. We started walking until we found another group of Bedouins and stayed with them for the night. The next day we continued walking. On our way we saw a truck and asked its driver to take us with him to Hebron and, thank God, he accepted but he took one Jordanian dinar for each one of us, which was very expensive at that time. Finally we arrived in Hebron. There we didn’t know where to go or what to do until my father remembered that he knew some people in Bethlehem so we decided to go to Bethlehem on foot. There my father asked about his friend, Bishara Saleh, and fortunately we found him. He was a good man. He welcomed us and gave us a small house that he owned and did not need. It was cold in Bethlehem compared to the weather in Bir-el-Sabe’e and we didn’t have any warm clothes with us. Unfortunately, that winter was very cold; it snowed seven times. Rain used to come into our house. I remembered freezing all night.“

“We became very poor after being very rich. We didn’t have money to buy clothes and food or go back to school. I used to have just one pair of socks so I used to wear it everyday, wash it at night and wear it the next day. That bad situation affected my father; he became very ill. He was very depressed after losing his house and his lands. He did not know anything about his relatives who were living in Gaza and Jaffa. Two years later he died.”

Suddenly the electricity came back, but my grandmother who was very tired, both emotionally and physically, fell asleep.

I was really surprised by what my grandmother had told me. I knew that my grandparents fled to Bethlehem when the Israelis occupied their village but I never imagined how much they suffered. I noticed how much the Palestinians have suffered. I think that they will suffer more because the violence of Israel seems to increase. They repeat their atrocities. The Palestinians are facing the Israelis and resisting them but that’s not enough. We need help.

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: or

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