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History Repeats Itself

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Manar Atick

I made an interview with Nasri Ghattas, my uncle’s cousin. Nasri was born in 1936. He started talking about how life was in the past before 1948.

“At that time all the people were in a similar situation. They were sometimes poor, not so much financially but rather because their life was simple. There was no electricity and people took water from the well. Despite all that they lived a comfortable life. All of them, Moslems and Christians, stayed awake to tell stories. There was a room where old people talked while others, especially the young, listened. Now young girls and boys spend their time watching TV. In the past the family used to eat from one big plate called batieh. They used to get heat from kerosene stoves. They showered in a big tray-like container called lagan. They heated up the water under the hot summer sun. They didn’t buy their children clothes but made them themselves. Each girl had two dresses: one for every day and the other for Sundays. As for food, they didn’t have refrigerators but the food was put in a namlieh, a pantry that had a clip on the door and a screen to air the food and to prevent worms or insects from getting in. They hung meat on a kullab, a metal rod with a hook at the end of it. I saw it in my uncle’s parental home; they use it as an ornament. There were no beds; they used to sleep on the floor, which was covered by many quilts. The fruits were planted around the houses. They tasted a lot better because at the time people didn’t use chemical pesticides but animal manure. It didn’t damage the products because the air was fresh unlike nowadays. There were no fresh fruits all year long, so they ate zbib [raisins] and quttein [dried figs]; nowadays, people eat unhealthy food like chocolate.”

“Politically, Palestinians were obliged to leave their homes and possessions in 1948 and go away either on foot or on donkeys and camels. The United Nations gave the refugees an area where they would set up tents for them for ‘temporary’ use, as they were promised. But the Palestinians are still refugees and are still waiting to return to their homeland.” Nasri’s wife, Olga, said that in 1948 she and her family left Haifa as refugees. They went to Jordan first; then came back to Bethlehem. They were four girls. When they reached the Jordan River on their way to Zarqa, Salwa, one of the girls, fell in the river. Her father tried to get help and asked a man who was standing there to help him pull her out of the river, but he refused, saying: ‘Leave her, you don’t want her, she is just a girl’. My father was shocked and he saved his daughter’s life by himself. Girls at that time were not wanted by some ignorant people, but, thank God, she is alive now and a grandmother. She now tells her grandchildren the story of her own flight during the 1967 war.

Salwa’s father distributed leaflets against the occupation. He was wanted by the Israeli military but managed to escape. Their house in Haifa wasn’t sold; the Israelis took it, and they put guards around it. The house was empty and dirty. All of their neighbors became refugees; all of them miss their own homes and yearn to go back. Nasri said that the Palestinians were never comfortable or secure ever since he was a child up until now. “I’m 64 years old and I have never tasted freedom yet. There are some similarities and differences between the first Intifada and second Intifada that we live in now. But conditions are more difficult and complicated now.”

These days we see that there are many people who protect their lands by throwing stones while a few use guns. The situation is more dangerous than it used to be in the past. The Israelis are using tanks and helicopters to kill us. In the Intifada in 1987, young people used to write graffiti on the walls and put the Palestinian flag on top of the houses. The Israeli soldiers demanded to erase the writings on the walls and to put the flags down. He reminded me that once I went to my aunt’s house and a soldier started shooting. I became afraid and vomited. Now I’m 16 years old and the problems are still there. Nasri said that history repeats itself.

At last he expressed his hope that the war will end and we, the Palestinians, have our freedom, peace and security and that the whole region in the Middle East would one day enjoy all those valuable and essential elements of a decent life that seems so farfetched at the moment.

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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